Monday, October 03, 2005

Borough Market

On his way to sack London in AD 43, Aulus Plautus and his Roman legions found a market on the south side of the river near what is today London Bridge. 2,000 years later, you too can launch a raid on the most exciting place to buy food in London.

The colourful and grimy Borough Market, which operates as a wholesale produce market to the trade during the week, converts in to the gourmet market par excellence on Friday and Saturday. This is where the leading UK producers, food celebrities such as the Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, locals, City workers, foodies and tourists congregate, consume, discuss and buy food. So popular is Borough Market that in 2003 it won the top prize for “totally London experiences” nominated by the public, ahead of Hyde Park and the South Bank Arts Centre.

The focus at Borough Market is on British artisan producers and it is here you can find every kind of wild mushroom, exotic chillies, truffles, award winning cheeses, and sausages as well as meats and fish and beautiful fresh produce. There is a stall dedicated to garlic, another to blueberries and one devoted to honey produced in greater London.

Compared to the upmarket food halls, the real pay-off in shopping at Borough Market can be found in the opportunity to interact with the individuals who grow, raise and produce what you buy. The stall holders are proud of their offerings and delighted to discuss technique, ruminate on the market and swap recipes. This is where people who love food love to go. This is the place even my French friends respect.

If the food alone weren’t enough, the 4.5 acre Victorian market under a railway viaduct is worth a visit just based on the number of films that have shot scenes there: Bridget Jones, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Howard’s End and The French Lieutenants Woman. You rarely visit this market without seeing a film crew in operation.

From a “No Crowds” perspective, it is best to get to the market early when the vendors have time to chat and the best products are available. On Fridays, those in the know immediately make their way to the stand of the Spanish provider, Brindisa, which offers a chorizo sandwich hugely popular with City workers. By 12:30, the line for these sandwiches winds around the block. If you are in the mood for a wider selection and a place to sit down, Brindisa operates a lively tapas bar on the border of the market which is also always full so arrive early. In addition to Brindisa, there are tons of great things to eat and drink ranging from real German sausages, seafood, chilli, falafel, grilled venison, specialty coffees and teas and much more.

It is also worthwhile to stop in at Southwark Cathedral on the edge of the market where it is thought that a church has been operating for over 1,000 years. This impressive and historic structure can be visited in peace and quiet, and without an admission charge, unlike the Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s. To experience a different kind of living history, stop in for a pint and at the George Inn, mentioned by Charles Dickens in Little Dorrit and the last remaining galleried coaching inn in London. The George Inn can be found at 77 Borough High Street.

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