When in London, do as Londoners do and go to Borough Market to browse, buy and indulge in an all-day lunch. Actually, I hesitate to say ‘Londoners’ as Borough Market is more a pit stop these days for tour groups than city dwellers out to shop for their supper. A good 15 years ago, when still known as a chirpy, cheeky Naked Chef rather than a global brand, Jamie Oliver put Borough Market on the map for non-Londoners; it was his go-to place to purchase fresh produce. Breeze through his early books and you’ll see Borough stallholders featuring. His TV series would include a good banter with them as he bought.
Borough Market has a long and veritable history dating back to the 11th century. A market has stood on the current site since 1756. As you approach, probably having walked along from the South Bank past landmarks like the Oxo Tower, the Tate Modern and Blackfriars Bridge, it’s likely you’ll sniff the market in the air before seeing it as it’s off up a side road slightly away from the Thames.
I can’t understand why I’ve never made that extra 100 metres deviation given that I’ve trekked along the Queen’s Walk every time I’ve visited London. Now, for sure, I’ll be popping in to Borough’s street food market to eat every time I’m up in town! Crowded and cramped on a stretch of cobbles next to the undercover food market proper lies a feast for the eyes and stomach: the outdoor stalls with their bubbling, hissing, spitting, smoking pots, spits, grills and griddles, all jam packed with honest, glorious food. Tourists like myself and Jacob jostled through the stalls, our attention caught by the next pot, our eyes roving trying to work out which of Borough’s lunchtime vendors held greater promise
Should we try curried mutton (not lamb, but definitely mutton dressed as it and with an aroma to die for!) from SoulFood or go for an Indian vegan option from Gujarati Rasoi? We opted for the German Deli’s frankfurter with full Sauerkraut trimmings; it was the perfect messy street food – Jacob lost half his to the pavement! As we queued for the giant sausages, I looked wistfully at SoulFood next door and decided to try mutton or the jerk chicken next time. The cooking aromas mingled intoxicatingly, making choosing impossible. It all looked amazingly tempting. Our dessert was a Gourmet Goat artisan goat-milk ice cream. Their goat pittas looked delish too.
It would be easy to dismiss Borough Market as a tourist trap these days, but while I was sceptical at first glance about its merits as a true market of yesteryear, I did find plenty of traditional butchers, cheesemongers and fruit and veg stalls. They were there holding their own with regular customers among the quirkier, upscale artisinal brands of appeal more to those on a day out seeking photo opportunities. The cheese seller may have been ‘approve’ par Raymond Blanc’ but it had an overwhelming stack of regional English cheeses, from age-old favourites to quirkier newer varieties. It was doing its bit to help spread the word about the merits of British cheese. The stallholder was happy to spend ages explaining the provenance of varieties and the love that goes into cheese making.
I snapped not just the street food but also the more traditional vendors; the butchers in bloody glory, the heaps of seasonal veg on a stall which was choc with English rhubarb and asparagus when we went. I hunted about for Mountain’s Boston Sausage on strict instructions from my Lincolnshire born mum to bring back a pound or two. The seller kindly packed them in gel freezer bags as it was a very hot day and we’d another four hours in London and one hour of train before the bangers would be in a fridge. I didn’t eat one while we were with my folks, so hope it lived up to my mum’s childhood memories of authentic Lincolnshire sausages.
As we left Borough, I spotted Hobbs Meat Roast under the railway arches advertising its pulled pork. I sighed. Another mouthwatering meal that I’d have to leave to a return visit.