Everyone has a horror story about it (I once arrived at midday and didn’t leave until midnight). Couples enter hand in hand and leave barely speaking to each other. Shopping here means we live in identikit houses with the same furniture, the same pictures on the walls and the same cheesegrater in our kitchen. There are websites dedicated to how to survive a trip there and how to get out quicker (be a rebel and don’t follow the arrows on the floor). On the other hand, where else can you buy such good value furniture, with everything you’d possibly need under one roof, choosing between plain and simple or colourful and trendy, and pick up a packet of Swedish meatballs on the way out?
I am of course talking about Ikea. The first sentence above is true – when I bought my first house with my ex in Hampshire, we were on a budget and drove all the way to London which was our nearest Ikea at the time (there is now one in Southampton which would have been a heck of a lot easier). We hired a van if I correctly recall, arrived at midday and had lunch in the Ikea cafeteria then walked very slowly around the entire shop, writing down the codes of where we would find everything in the warehouse. When we came to pick everything up, we found that the wardrobe doors we needed were out of stock – we decided we lived too far away to come back, so would buy a different wardrove. Which meant buying a different chest of drawers and bedside table as we wanted them to match – so back on the shelves went the boxes we had already put in the trolley, and round the shop again we went. By the time we had finished, grabbing a quick snack of a hotdog at the checkout, I looked at my watch, and was amazed to discover it was midnight. We can’t be the only people who have spent 12 hours in Ikea, surely… on the plus side, we managed to furnish an entire house for less than £1,000 other than sofas and dining table and chairs, which we bought elsewhere.
This time around, that figure seems amazing when I look at what we have spent on the ‘must have’ TV stand and matching coffee table, the super king size bed, the reclining leather sofas… but even though we have upgraded and most of our furniture has come from more expensive shops, we have still found ourselves doing multiple trips to Ikea. There’s nothing like the Billy bookcase – I have what I’ve always wanted, an entire wall of books in one of the spare rooms, and a bookcase in the kitchen for my cookery books, with glass doors to protect the books from smells or dust. We’ve also picked up a Malm chest of drawers for the spare room and a Kallax unit – what was the iconic Expedit – to display some ornaments and bring a bit of colour in the living room.
My boyfriend was adamant that we would avoid the crowds and go to Ikea at the least busy time, which we decided was a couple of hours before closing on a Tuesday night. I had fond memories of Swedish meatballs from my last visit eight years ago and thought that if we were going straight from work we may as well have dinner there. As we only needed a few things and knew exactly what we wanted from researching online, the shopping trip didn’t take too long. The cafeteria or restaurant is located after the main furniture section and before the ‘marketplace’ – the area where you can pick up anything from a tin opener to a set of bed linen. I had told my boyfriend that they did Swedish meatballs, salmon, all sorts of things – having seen adverts for both those dishes previously – but we were quite dismayed when we got to the hot food counter and found the choices were literally Swedish meatballs, salmon, or macaroni cheese, with sides of mashed potatoes or chips – nothing else. We had been expecting a little more choice, and unfortunately my boyfriend is a very fussy eater and doesn’t like salmon, doesn’t really eat pasta and eyed the meatballs with a degree of suspicion, asking what they were made of (a mixture of minced beef and pork, I believe). So he made do with a slice of cake and the intention to stop at a drive-through Burger King on the way home!
I was too hungry to wait and didn’t really want BK so did order the meatballs, though they were a bit disappointing and tasted very mass produced with a suspiciously smooth texture (I always think mince should look like mince, even when it’s formed into meatballs). The meal was filling and good value, and did taste OK, just not great. At £4.80 for 15 meatballs – which is a pretty big portion – or £5.80 for 20, with mashed potatoes and optional lingonberry sauce on the side, you can’t really fault the value for money. I had a piece of krokant cake to follow (again quite reasonable at £1.85) – a sort of chocolate cake which I think had crushed nut brittle on the top. It was OK but nothing special.
While Ikea does not fill me with dread and, unlike a lot of people I know, I actually enjoy going there, next time we might just stop at Burger King on the way home.