EN VOYAGE – London’s Larder

10 Dec 2002

It’s no coincidence that Borough Market, held in the British capital’s Southwark neighborhood, is nicknamed ‘London’s larder’, since Londoners have been coming to shop for food here for well nigh a thousand years. Originally a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, for a few years now it has been selling all manner of quality food—from bread to cheese to coffee.

The streets of Southwark traditionally come to life by night and in the early hours of the morning, in which time all the Borough Market wholesaling gets done. At around two o’clock in the morning, the fruit, vegetable and meat producers arrive and unload their goods in the adjacent Stoney Street. A little later, the city’s shopkeepers and restaurateurs come along to stock up on the freshest produce available. The bargaining goes on until the nine o’clock in the morning, when the wholesale market closes for the day.

Recently, much to the joy of the consumers (not to mention small-scale producers), the market decided to open to retail trading and, during weekends, it stays open until well into the afternoon.

The idea has been a tremendous success with the general public and, especially on Saturdays, crowds of people flock to the stalls, which sell fresh produce from all over Great Britain. About fifty stalls are set up every weekend and now even the shops in the surrounding streets have started specializing in quality food produce.

The best days to visit the market are Friday from midday to six and Saturday from nine till four. A Saturday morning at Borough Market is a must for Londoners, who dart around under its wrought iron roof, shopping bags at the ready.

One stall that deserves a visit is De Gustibus, which sells organic breads—from the Cotswold Cobbler, made with malt and wheat flour, to Split Tin, a typical British white bread—while cake lovers can’t afford to miss the stall of Konditor & Cook, the London shop run by the German-born baker Gerhard Jenne, which specializes in cakes, chocolate, scones, muffins, biscuits, and brioches. All Jenne’s products are made with top quality ingredients—butter and eggs from organic farms—hence their unbeatable flavor. There’s no shortage of cheese at Borough Market: the Bourne’s Cheshire Cheese stall sells cheeses produced according to traditional methods since 1930. Well worth a taste is Mrs Bourne’s aged Cheshire, or her Cheshire smoked with oak wood. The best meat stall in the market is undoubtedly that of Northfield Farm, which sells meat from the rare breeds it raises directly, including Dexter veal and Tamworth pork, from one of the oldest pig breeds in Britain. Not to be missed either is the stall of Frank Godfrey, who sells hens raised using natural methods and without antibiotics and left to grow for about 12-14 weeks (supermarket birds are normally allowed to grow for just six weeks).

But Borough Market is more than just a cluster of stalls and producers displaying and selling their wares twice a week. The streets round the market—Park Street, Stoney Street and Borough High Street – pullulate with food shops that, on Fridays and Saturdays, have become a popular port of call for Borough Market regulars. One of the best known is Randolph Hodgson’s Neal’s Yard Dairy, which moved here from its historic premises in Covent Garden to specialize in the selection and aging of the fines traditional cheeses of the United Kingdom and Ireland. On the shop’s wooden shelves, besides butter, milk and yogurt, it is possible to find rounds of artisan Caerphilly, Appleby and Cheshire. A few meters on is Monmouth Coffee, where it’s possible to taste excellent steaming hot coffee or buy coffee beans from Anita Le Roy, who owns another popular coffee shop in Covent Garden. If you fancy a pint, try the first floor lounge at The Anchor, a pub which, its regulars claim, dates back to Shakespeare’s time. The George Inn which dates from 1542, still conjures up the presence of the punters of yesteryear: the merchants who sold their wares at Borough Market, or the travelers who used the place as a ‘watering hole’. A pub that’s packed from the early hours until late at night is the Market Porter. In the morning, as the name suggests, it’s the porters from the market who meet here; in the afternoon it’s taken over by people stopping for an after-work pint and curious tourists. For a more substantial but affordable meal, a good place to go is Soup & Sauces, run by Rebecca Pitfield and Jacky Smeaton, who try out new recipes and flavors every day using the produce from Borough Market. On cold winter days you can enjoy their warming mushroom, leek and tomato soup with hot toast for about three pounds.

”Borough Market is the best market in London without a doubt,” says Enrica Rocca, an Italian chef who lives in the city, where she runs the Enrica Rocca Cooking School. On Saturdays, Enrica shifts her workshops to Borough Market itself. She and her students meet at nine in the morning and spend a couple of hours strolling round the stalls, talking about the ingredients and the importance of quality and, above all, seeking to understand the differences in quality between products that arrive directly from producers and the industrial products you find in supermarket. Each student then chooses a recipe, buys the ingredients and goes back to Enrica’s kitchen to prepare it.

Borough Market is a feast for the senses—the colors, flavors and smells, the voices of the stallholders and the visitors, the clanking of the trains going by—but the real importance of it and other farmers’ markets in the various London boroughs is that they have at last brought people round to the need to buy healthy food produced using natural methods. From the economic point of view too, this phenomenon marks a renaissance for the multitude of British farms that were struggling to compete with supermarkets. Now the producer sells directly to the consumer for the benefit of both, and in a big city that’s a result not to be sneezed at. That the idea works is evident not only from the crowds that pack the place every weekend, but also from the growth of the phenomenon throughout Britain, where such markets are now becoming the places where people go to buy their food. In short, Borough Market isn’t only a paradise for ‘food-lovers’, but also living proof that Britons are gradually rediscovering healthy food traditions.

ADDRESSES

Borough Market
Southwark Street, London SE1 1TL ‘
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

De Gustibus
Unit 10, Wotton Road, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 1LD
Tel: +44 (0) 1235 555777

Konditor & Cook
22 Cornwall Road, London SE1 8TW
Tel: +44 (0) 171 261 0456
Nearest underground station: Waterloo

Bourne’s Cheshire Cheese
H.S. Bourne, The Bank, Malpas, Cheshire SY14 7AL
www.hsbourne.co.uk/index.htm
Tel: +44 (0) 1948 770214

Northfield Farm
Whissendine Lane, Cold Overton, Oakham, Leicestershire LE15 7QF
Tel: +44 (0) 1664 474271

Frank Godfrey
7 Highbury Park, London N5 1QJ
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7226 2425
Nearest underground station: Arsenal

Neal’s Yard Dairy
6 Park Street, SE1 9AB, London
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7645 3550
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

Monmouth Coffee
2 Park Street, London SE1 9AB
Tel: +44 (0) 207 645 3585
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

The Anchor
34 Park Street, London SE1
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7407 1577
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

The Gorge Inn
77 Borough High Street, London SE1
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7407 2056
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

The Market Porter
9 Stoney Street, London SE1 9AA
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7407 2495
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

Soup & Sauces
1 Stoney Street, London SE1
Nearest underground station: London Bridge

Enrica Rocca Cooking School
Flat 1, 227 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 6HG
www.enricarocca.co.uk
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8870 9676
Nearest underground station: Ladbroke Grove

Silvia Monasterolo is the Slow Food Award secretary

Photo: http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk

Adapted by John Irving

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