Tourist. 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.
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 8JX
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.
Visit London Farmers’ Markets site for more.
Are you a tourist or a traveller? Are there any other ‘must-visit’ markets in London?