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Borough Market

October 18, 2013

Borough MarketTourist. Somehow this has become an undesirable term, a dirty word. Associated with snaking crocodiles of dull-eyed sentries, coaches like ant-hills spilling people, couples touting backpacks and lenses; tourist equals undiscriminating, while traveller means adventure .  “Borough Market’s not what it used to” seemed to be the common consensus among my friends who live in London. “It’s for tourists“. But sometimes you have to admit that’s exactly what you are; I haven’t lived in London for over twenty years and Borough Market was something I needed to tick off my list as a self-respecting foodie, albeit rather late in the day.

Emerging, with crowds of commuters to street level, from the Underground, the first thing that struck me was not a proliferation of bright fruit and vegetables but the disconcerting spire of the Shard at close proximity. Viewed from the angle of a very normal London high street it looks incongruous and slightly menacing.

Explore the Southbank

Stepping into the dark cavern behind the Borough Market sign, just after 9am, I was faced with boarded up stalls. It seems that the aftermath of cocktails at Fifteen had clouded my brain when reading the opening times. Desperate for a bacon sandwich (also due to aforementioned cocktails) I toured the periphery but had to settle for a flaky croissant and coffee at Elliot’s. There were few people about except for a ginormous queue for coffee at Monmouth (which I couldn’t face joining).

I pottered around  the market seeing it come to life. Braving the servers who didn’t have a square centimetre of flesh that was wasn’t tattooed, pierced, tunnelled or embellished, I downed a welcome fresh juice with lots of ginger. Out in the central courtyard various street food stalls were setting up with promising aromas, and ingredients starting to be chopped, seared and simmered. I decided to take a stroll along the South Bank and return when it was all fully up and running.

This part of London is rich with sights and sounds – with the Thames to your right, you pass The Golden Hinde, The Clink Prison Museum, Vinopolis (wine tasting, classes and exhibits), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and end up at the Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge all within a very short walk (see pics here).


By the time, I’d wandered back to Borough Market it was a different place. Stalls were thronging with people buying and tasting, there were queues for the fish and chip restaurant which had been ghost-like less than an hour before. The street food sellers were doing a roaring trade and I looked longingly at a vast array of Arabic mezze, Jamaican stews, a home cured salt beef stall and a proliferation of burgers and pies. Pitchers and beakers brimming with fruit-laden Pimms seemed to be everywhere.

Back inside, the fresh fish stall was gleamingly beautiful, staffed by keen looking chaps in striped aprons. The fruit and veg area was a series of painterly still life arrangements of produce. Tourists (and there were a lot of Chinese visitors wielding lenses) were tasting their way around, so I took the ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ attitude.

No surprises that a lot of cheese tasting was involved – Gorwydd Caerphilly, Belper Knolle from Jumi, and Comté from the Borough Cheese Company are worth seeking out. Mushroom pâté from Pâté Moi was flying out of the dishes as soon as they were filled (and gave me an idea…more anon). As I was meeting someone for lunch and travelling by coach later on, I did more browsing than shopping but I found space for one special thing in my back pack.

British Charcuterie

In Poland, in the summer of 1996, my Uncle went out and fetched some salami from his friend. Made from a locally kept, free range pig, the savoury spice was deep and layered, the fat creamy and sweet, the meat softly chewy. I hadn’t ever tasted charcuterie as good – until I found Cannon and Cannon. Doing a brisk trade but still happy to give samples to some enthusiastic 10 year old boys who were negotiating bargains, the stallholder found time to discuss Gloucester Old Spot pork, tell me about their producers and guide me through a tasting ranging from chorizo to some salami made with Kentish cob nuts. It was my introduction to the British charcuterie scene and I’m now on a mission to taste more…..much more.  Having lunch with my sister, devouring most of the haul paired with freshly picked tomatoes in my Mum’s garden, is one of my best food memories of the summer.

While the feel of the old market is still there, a new glass covered structure in the centre adds a modern touch, softened by plants like olive trees and hops. This is a hub for cookery demos or just somewhere to relax. The  variety of restaurants around the market, from old fashioned pubs to wine bars (there was a wine education session in full flow at a table in Bedales) keeps it buzzing outside market hours.

So should you visit Borough Market? Absolutely. Go hungry and blend in with all the other tourists. There will be crowds so take your time. Have a late breakfast in one of the surrounding cafes, stay for lunch, walk it off along the South Bank and the ingredients for dinner to take home with you.

Borough Market is located near the London Bridge Station, at 8 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TL.

The best food markets in London

In addition to Borough Market, there are many more thriving markets:

Maltby Street Market On a Saturday morning, Bermondsey comes alive when coffee roasters, bee keepers, gin distillers, preserve makers, and many more open their doors. Monty’s Deli Jewish soul food has a cult following, my friend Dana sells her fabulous Arganic oil and Brambletye Fruit brings biodynamic fruit from orchards in East Sussex. Popularity means it has spread to two adjacent venues; The Ropewalk (by the railway arches) and the Spa Terminus where producers are based throughout the week. The Ropewalk, 41 Maltby Street, SE1 3PA

Brentford Market  There had been a market in Brentford from 1306, until it closed in the 1930s.  With the aim of selling high quality, affordable food, and revitalising the high street, this market was set up again in May 2013 to give local people an alternative to the supermarket and the chance to buy direct from the producers who care about the food they produce. Market Place, Brentford, TW8 8AH

Brixton Village Market and Market Row The place to go for foods from around the world, with cafés, restaurants (the destination for budget eating in south London:Time Out) and shops that sell everything from charcuterie to cheese. Nearby Brixton Station Road Market also has a Food Corner and other food-related events. Electric Avenue/Coldharbour Lane, Brixton SW9 8JXBorough Market

Broadway Market This half century old market is a fusion of more than 80 food and vintage stalls. Taste street food and buy fresh produce including a wealth of cheese. London Fields park to Regent’s Canal, Hackney, E8 4PQ

Brockley Market Shortlisted for the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2012 best food market, this is a weekly Saturday market in Lewisham, with a mix of grocery shopping (fruit, veg, bread, meat, poultry, game and fish) and ready prepared foods focussing on locally sourced produce. Lewisham Way, SE4 1UT

Real Food Market The aim of this weekly 3-day market on London’s Southbank is that you can trust the provenance of your food by buying direct from the people who produce it.  Producers are also unified by an environmentally responsible and sell everything from grass-fed beef, artisan cheeses, traditional beers and ales, seasonal fruit and vegetables, real bread to charcuterie. Southbank Centre Square, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX

Farmers’ Markets in London

Alexandra Palace Farmers Market  30 – 50 producers every Sunday in Muswell Hill, with Kentish fruit and veg, pressed fruit juices, local rare breed pork and sausages, fresh fish, organic bread, handmade pies, cakes & biscuits, etc and hot food stalls too.

London Fields Market  A farmers market that takes place every Sunday in the school yard of London Fields Primary School, Hackney.

Islington Farmers’ Market London’s first ever and most established farmers. market takes place on Sundays in Chapel Market between Baron Street and Penton Street with at least 30 stalls each week. Wide variety of produce from cheese, to game, to cider.

Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market Voted Farmers’ Market of the Year in 2012, it’s also a favourite of Yael Mejia, the driving force behind the original Farmers’ Market in Dubai.

Visit London Farmers’ Markets site for more.

Are you a tourist or a traveller?  Are there any other ‘must-visit’ markets in London?

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  1. October 18, 2013 7:44 am

    I think Borough Market is a classic victim of its own success. Yes, some great produce. Yes, some fine places to eat (Tapas Brindisa is a gem). But at busy times you can barely move for crowds of tourists and the already tricky walking surface of cobbles is made even more dangerous by a sheen of discarded food. Choose your tine is my advice. 25 years back, thanks to a friend who worked there, I explorer the underground cold stores and cellars – fascinating! Some great history too – the bollards keeping traffic off pavements are cannons from the Napoleonic War, which gave the template to the rather odd design. And lurking under one of the railway arches are a tiny handful of some of the oldest surviving houses (too grand – maybe dwellings) in the city.

    • October 18, 2013 8:40 am

      I love this bit of history about the market Dave – and yes agree with choosing your time. I really enjoyed wandering around as everyone was opening up. The cellars do sound fascinating.

  2. October 18, 2013 9:04 am

    Lovely pictures and story Sally. I been weary to write about Borough just because of the touristiness but I actually think they manage to balance that and still selling freh produce and wares quite well. agree that timing is essential.

    • October 18, 2013 1:27 pm

      It is a bit of a cliche – especially for Londoners – but it was new to me. There was still loads to investigate – and that whole area is a pleasure to visit.

  3. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    October 18, 2013 10:16 am

    In my neck of the woods there aren’t too many markets of note, however next time I visit I will do something on White’s Market in Sunderland, they have a fabulous fishmonger and a pork shop to die for, but all pork shops are to die for when you have been here as long as we have 🙂 lovely pics x

    • October 18, 2013 1:25 pm

      My sister has just moved from Sunderland to Newcastle. Should have visited that pork shop when I had the chance 🙂 There is a novelty factor about ordering pork on a menu that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of.

      • therealgeordiearmani permalink
        October 18, 2013 2:23 pm

        I am NCL bound just before Christmas if you need me to be postman 🙂

      • October 19, 2013 7:26 pm

        Bless you – not sure where she’ll be then though.

  4. October 18, 2013 10:41 am

    What a great write-up on Borough Market and the other markets around London! I will definitely come back to this post next summer when I visit London – I really want to try and explore some of these places.

    • October 18, 2013 1:24 pm

      Me too Erum – so many markets, so little time 🙂

  5. October 18, 2013 11:55 am

    Nice to visit again. I used to have a studio in Southwark, a biscuit’s toss from Borough Mkt. When I left London, in 2001, the market was in its infancy and not that well known. I haven’t been back, so it was interesting to see how it’s developed. I have good memories of Brindisa. Excellent post.

    • October 18, 2013 1:23 pm

      The restaurants that surround it are interesting and there’s a good atmosphere despite great crowds of tourists. Still a bit scruffy round the edges. Not loads of chain restaurants like Spitalfields.

  6. October 18, 2013 12:17 pm

    an awesome place! I dream of visiting this fabulous market someday…



    • October 18, 2013 1:21 pm

      It was a good experience Rosa – but I’d love to visit some of the smaller markets too.

  7. October 18, 2013 1:41 pm

    I’ve yet to make it to the Borough Market but it’s ALWAYS on my list!! Thanks for the virtual walk-through… I agree with you about some of the smaller markets too though…

    • October 18, 2013 1:51 pm

      We should have visited together Mardi. Which are your favourite markets in France? It’s more a way of life there – or is it changing?

  8. glamorous glutton permalink
    October 18, 2013 2:22 pm

    Maybe it is a haunt for tourists but what a haunt. I love it. I was brought up in London and that ‘Haunt for tourists” usually really meant – heaving with people. That’s VERY true of Borough Market but push shove and you will have a wonderful flavourful, enlightening experience. Thank you so much for the market list. GG

    • October 19, 2013 7:27 pm

      Actually didn’t have to push and shove that much so it was fine. I couldn’t find a definitive market list so I put my own together – tantalising doing so …now want to visit every one.

  9. October 18, 2013 3:38 pm

    I always come away from Borough Market with the most random selection of beautiful food that doesn’t always go together…but that’s part of the fun! it’s inspiring and even if there are crowds and a lot of tourists I still love to go there, especially with people who haven’t been before.

    • October 19, 2013 7:25 pm

      I’m so glad I went – a great experience. I love local farmers’ markets too.

  10. October 18, 2013 3:40 pm

    I’m very fond of Borough, despite the crazy crowds. I didn’t know about Cannon and Cannon and will definitely seek them out. I dislike a great deal of the big-name charcuterie brands with their metallic-tasting produce – C and C sounds like a real find, Sally.

    • October 19, 2013 7:25 pm

      I am totally craving their charcuterie. Found some British charcuterie at Stroud Farmers’ Market too – the pancetta was incredible.

  11. Kay permalink
    October 18, 2013 8:07 pm

    Great article and pics Sally. Emily is always waxing lyrical about Borough Market – you have reminded me to put a date in the diary

    • October 19, 2013 7:21 pm

      Or we go and meet there next summer?

  12. October 20, 2013 1:55 am

    I love markets! They are always the first place I hunt down when I visit a new city. I have never been to London (only flew through Heathrow) but it is very high on my list!

    • October 20, 2013 8:16 am

      Hope you get to visit Mallory

  13. October 20, 2013 2:45 am

    I still love Borough Market. Yes, way too many tourists, but there are all these small nooks and crannies you get to discover…and so I am still one who goes there after many many visits to London.

    • October 20, 2013 8:16 am

      It’s a rabbit warren of spaces isn’t it?

  14. October 20, 2013 5:08 am

    Sometimes it’s fine to be a tourist, isn’t it? Great post.

    • October 20, 2013 8:15 am

      Agreed – can’t let labels put us off!

      • October 20, 2013 8:39 am

        I’ve nothing against tourists – after all, I guess I’m one when, as an expat, I return to my native London. What depresses me about Borough Market and so many other places are the organised groups that clearly are working their way through a list of ‘interesting’ things to do. When I was there last, the entire churchyard was taken up by groups of foreign teenagers with clearly no interest in food except where the nearest fast food outlet might be. There was zero chance of buying a few tasty items, finding a quiet place to sit and just enjoying the ambience. But then I’m sure the local users of Barcelona’s La Boqueria probably think much the same.

  15. October 20, 2013 11:35 am

    I love Borough Market but it’s time for something new. Thanks for the list. We shall explore some of them next year 🙂

    • October 20, 2013 12:00 pm

      Love to hear how you get on – I’m itching to go to Maltby Street

  16. October 20, 2013 11:27 pm

    Great post Sally. Love London markets and this us a brilliant round up of all London have to offer

  17. October 20, 2013 11:28 pm

    Oh and gorgeous gorgeous images

    • October 21, 2013 8:26 am

      Thanks – the lighting inside is quite challenging – but lovely to just wander with a camera.

  18. October 21, 2013 1:26 am

    Strangely enough, I ended up at Borough Market this afternoon. It was just closing up after Apple Day and there was cider and singing and stuff. I also wasn’t considering myself a tourist, but of course I am!! It is a bit twee but I think it’s a great place to grab a bite to eat and sit and people watch.

    • October 21, 2013 8:21 am

      Read all the tweets about apple day and wished I was there. I would be happy to have my lunch there every day.

  19. October 23, 2013 7:29 pm

    I decided a few years back that I am content with being a tourist and not a traveller – adventures will find you whether you like ti or not, so no need to go and look for them, I say 😉 I have lived in London for 13 years and I like nothing better than being a tourist in my own town. I love Borough Market, tourists and all and I think much of the criticism is unfair – saying it’s “just for tourists” implies that “proper” food is no longer sold there, but as you saw that’s patently untrue. The fresh produce is outstanding as are many of the artisan producers that sell there. I’m sure all the traders are quite happy for the increased footfall in any event 😉 There’s also a rather good farmer’s market in Stoke Newington FYI 🙂

    • October 23, 2013 7:34 pm


      Not sure anyone said Borough Market was “just for tourists”, merely that the market’s popularity is an inhibitor at times for4 those visiting it as a real food destination as opposed to another ticket on the tourist bucket list…

      • October 24, 2013 7:35 am

        Tourists to the market seem to be in a different frame of mind to people who go to by produce for cooking/eating at home. The real shoppers seemed to talk to the stall holders and bought produce. The tourists tasted, bought lunch but moved on. It’s a different atmosphere completely to the Stroud Farmers Market for instance.

    • October 24, 2013 7:36 am

      It’ll be interesting to see how Borough evolves won’t it….

  20. October 24, 2013 6:03 pm

    Ah you’ve inspired me to visit Borough Market as soon as possible. I usually avoid it for the crowds, but don’t think there is anything else like it in London. Also, nice to see you’ve mentioned the London Fields Farmers Market — love this little Sunday market with no lines! See pics here:

    • October 26, 2013 7:41 am

      I’m so glad you left this link – so good to get a real glimpse of the market. It looks exactly the kind of place I’d like to visit. Very different from Borough, each have their appeal.

  21. October 25, 2013 4:18 pm

    Love, love, love this post! I can’t wait to visit some of these I haven’t been to yet the next time I’m there 🙂

    • October 26, 2013 7:38 am

      So glad you enjoyed this Devina. As there is no way I can visit them all (much as I’d like to) it’ll be great to hear your experiences.

  22. Phil Head permalink
    October 27, 2013 10:03 am

    Thanks for this – very nostalgic for me – many happy & special memories of Borough Market so very interesting to see it now. I can remember tea & toast at 4am in the Market Porter served especially for the traders & buyers! Great article & pictures – It’s now on my ‘re-visit’ bucket list! Thanks again.

  23. October 31, 2013 8:21 pm

    I love markets. And I love the excuses being a tourist gives me!

    I love the photos – and I’m glad you’ve rekindled memories of your delicious Polish charcuterie!

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to Borough Market. On my list now

  24. November 3, 2013 11:04 pm

    Love this breakdown of the markets Sally, thanks. I will definitely refer to it next time in London. Borough Market is a fave when I have jet lag and I’m there at 8am camera in hand whilst the traders set up for the day. Will have to go back at Christmas….

  25. November 29, 2013 5:16 pm

    Some fabulous looking stalls there…and that street food looks gorgeous. London is so lucky to have so much choice.


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