Food & Drink | Borough Market in London - Foodie Paradise.
London is one of the most diverse cities in the world and offers a unique melting pot of languages, cultures and - of course - food. One could spend happy weeks exploring all the different food corners of the city, from the curry houses of Brick Lane to the Dim Sum places of Chinatown. But if you find yourself in need of a quick bite when visiting one of the many attractions in the east-central part of the city - like the Shard, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Tate Modern - then I recommend you visit the oldest market in London: Borough Market Tracing its origins back to the year 1014, it has been a hub of trade in food, produce and livestock for hundreds of years, even despite a devastating fire in 1676 which required it to be rebuilt in its current location next to Southwark Cathedral. As I walked through the stalls last Sunday looking at the ornate building I could easily imagine how it once towered over the market stalls and the milling throng of people. Today it is itself overshadowed by a much younger building towering over London's skyline: The Shard. This gleaming tower of glass acts as a beacon with London Bridge at its base, and from here it's only a minute's walk to Borough Market - so it's easy to find.
My appreciation of the architecture was cut short as I moved into the market and was suddenly surrounded by a myriad of lunch choices. The sizzle and smoke of a large wood burning grill was the first to reach my nostrils and demand my attention. The wafting smoke and burger assembly line took me back to summer BBQs and garden parties, despite being able to see my breath in the frigid winter air. Next door was another mobile kitchen, instantly transporting me on from my back garden BBQ to the coast of Spain where three meter-wide pans were filled with steaming rice and prawns: Paella! The temptation to stop for lunch only a few steps into the market was strong but Borough Market is renowned as a source of genuinely exceptional produce and I was on a mission to explore it's expanse of stalls sprawling under the railway bridge... Moving on to the section dedicated to fresh produce and groceries, I passed a butcher wrapping someone's soon-to-be Sunday roast lamb, adding fresh rosemary and seasonings whilst giving the buyer advice on Hasselback roast potatoes and the best mint sauce to drizzle over the lamb. Fishmongers were calling at passers-by to try their fresh oysters being shucked a dozen a minute: a queue was forming and those who had already got some were gathered nearby adding their red wine vinegar and slurping away with those evocative guzzling noises you get when knocking back oysters. Cheesemakers further down were boasting of their booze infused cheeses, each wedge coated in its own paired liqueur to emphasise the flavour within. A bakery with a rainbow of macarons on display was slicing fresh sourdough for samples - perfect for mopping up my oyster juices. After a few morsels of this salty and perfectly crunchy bread I was really hungry!
Many of the market’s stallholders are themselves producers: the farmer who grew the vegetables, the fisherman who caught the fish, the farmer who reared the animal, the baker who baked the bread. Other traders have built their businesses on seeking out small-scale artisanal producers and bringing their wares to Borough, and provenance is proudly highlighted. So there is a reassuringly short supply chain between the producer and us, the consumers. It may be true that prices here are sometimes higher than for similar produce in supermarkets, but with supermarkets desperately competing for market-share and forcing costs down, we are entitled to suspect quality can be sacrificed. Sometimes you get what you pay for. So at a time when we are increasingly concerned about the sources of our food, Borough Market is a valuable reminder of what top quality produce is all about.
Crossing Cathedral Street to the cooked food vendors - beneath the occasional rumbling train on the bridge above - I stopped at a small stand selling a simple yet satisfying bratwurst; the hot dog’s German cousin. Of course I also opted for a mound of sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) on top and the authentic mayonnaise. Taking my first bite while still fumbling with my credit card (yes, most stalls accept these) I was punished for my impatience by a burst of hot juices searing the roof of my mouth, but that was quickly soothed by some cooling sauerkraut and mayo. Delicious!
There are also some enticing restaurants to be found in the market, such as Padella, just on the left of the market entrance, a fresh hand-rolled pasta bar that had a queue wrapping around the corner - an impressive feat given the temperature last Sunday! Applebee's Fish, nestled under the railway bridge, has earned a reputation here serving seafood since 1998, ranging from fresh Monkfish to a classic fish & chips. Not to mention a couple of great pubs: The Wheatsheaf and The Market Porter.
So If you do find yourself visiting the sights in the city and looking for anything from Paella to pizza, or for something fresh to cook for dinner, or even just fancying a walk through historic Southwark, you will surely find what you're looking for in Borough Market.
Website for details: http://boroughmarket.org.uk/
Note: the market is open everyday from 10:00-17:00, except Friday's when it stays open until 18:00. If you're visiting outside the Christmas season bear in mind that you don't have the luxury of 7-day opening hours, as the market is open from Monday-Saturday the rest of the year.