One of the more unexpected aspects of the Olympic Park is just how little branding there is. Sure, the megacorps have their individual pavilions, which are basically three-dimensional walkaround adverts, and lots of people seem 'proud to only accept Visa'. But hit the food courts and you'll see signs only for 'jacket potatoes', 'fish and chips' and 'drinks'. It's like walking into an alternative reality, where KFC, Yo Sushi and Starbucks don't exist. Only McDonalds has crept into this parallel universe, with two huge burger caverns where the queues look like this.
So what's the other food like? We've tried several of the brand-less street food vendors on our visits to the park, with varying degrees of satisfaction.
We opted for the vegetarian version of the massaman and rice, which clocked in around £6 (sorry, we failed to take a note). For a vegetarian dish, it was liberally decorated with an uncustomary amount of meat. On reporting the slip-up (and after the ravenous meat eater in the group had devoured the otherwise pleasant offering), we got an apology and an explanation that "the lamb curry does look a bit like the veggie curry, we may have got confused". If you're a strict vegetarian, perhaps look elsewhere for your grub.
Tapas for two (pictured) came in at around £12, which felt like reasonable value for the quantity and variety. You get the choice from around a dozen dishes, including different paellas, spicy meatballs and various salads. None of it's exactly haute cuisine, but for £6 a person, you get your fill.
Fish and Chips
Olympic Park purveyors of our erstwhile national dish hit the headlines after reports that they couldn't sell chips without an accompanying dish, because McDonalds had the official and exclusive rights to such transactions. As it turns out, the chips are lacklustre anyway: the kind of dismal variety you'll be familiar with if you frequent London's late-night kebab takeaways. Disappointing, given that the proper chip-shop chip is one of Britain's great contributions to world cuisine. The fish, on the other hand, is surprisingly good, with a generous portion size and decent haddock-to-batter ratio. The free sachets of tartar sauce were also a welcome sight. Total cost £8.50, which is on par with some central London chippies.
The shortest queues can often be found at the deli shops, which sell pre-packaged and refrigerated snack food, ideal for taking into sporting events. These are absolutely fine — pricey, and average quality but efficient, and perfect for food-as-fuel rather than an enjoyable experience.
Some drinks vendors attract long queues, others are fairly quiet, so move around if you don't fancy waiting in line. Alcoholic drink options are limited to one type each of red, rose or white wine, Heineken, cider, an unbranded 'ale' and something Pimms-ish. The prices, as you can see below, are inflated, but not outrageous for a festival site. Happily, you can take your drink more-or-less anywhere on the Park, just don't lob your empties at Usain Bolt.
There are many other options around the Park that we haven't yet tried, including a couple of 'Sea Food and Champagne bars', which offer a perhaps welcome refuge from the garish colours plastered all over the rest of the Park. One of our writers also tried a "Mexican" thing that was "completely, almost impressively, flavourless. Also, a latte from "Speciality Coffee" that had a crust on it".
Please do share your experiences, good and bad, in the comments below.
Other Things To Do In The Olympic Park