Monday, 17 March 2008

Market Day in Old London Town

On Saturday, I went with my friend Rosalind for what began as a food-lovers' day out in London. My better half came too and very kindly carried all our goodies home on the train when we'd finished so we could spend the rest of the day indulging ourselves in the out-of-this-world shopping experience that is central London.

Our first destination was Borough Market

Borough Market is the oldest wholesale fruit and vegetable market in London,

and now also a prime spot

for buying fine foods from all over the country: meat, fish, bread, cheeses,

preserves, coffee, cakes, and all manner of organic and ethnic food. This is a chocolate brownie mountain:

First, though, we fortified ourselves with a breakfast of coffee and wild boar sausage and onion sandwiches from a caff conveniently placed near the entrance.

Then we sallied forth to forage, buying pies from Pieminister and Mrs King's Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, smoked duck and goose from Rannoch Smokery, fresh pasta from La Tua Pasta, wild boar sausages* from the Sillfield Farm shop, artisan breads from De Gustibus and the Flour Power City Bakery:

and Easter eggs from Burnt Sugar which specialises in fudges, toffees and caramels made from unrefined sugar. The company also cleverly runs an online book club (just in case you thought there was nothing bookish in this post) in support of Book Aid International which sends books to libraries in the dveloping world. What better than to curl up on the sofa with a tub of delicious guilt- and additive-free fudge and a good book, all in an excellent cause?

I was especially delighted to find some best end of neck of mutton from a butcher's stall whose name I can't remember. I've never cooked mutton before so am looking forward to this as mutton is reputed to have a wondrous flavour and is impossible to find where we live.

On the streets bordering the market are several super shops, including Konditor and Cook
which sells divine cakes and pastries. For us this was a noses-pressed-up-against-the-window exercise as the cakey delicacies are both expensive, and calorie-laden to the extent that you can feel your waistband tightening even as you drool. Round the corner was

Neal's Yard Dairy which not only stocks a wondrous array of cheeses and other dairy produce

but also breads, chutneys, biscuits - and a hard-to-get-down-south favourite of mine: Staffordshire Oatcakes which are floppy discs of oatmeal, delicious not only with cheese but also with egg and/or bacon, and even jam and cream. You can grill or fry them, or you can stuff them, roll them up and pop them in the microwave.

Many of the market stallholders are real enthusiasts.They'll talk to you about their produce and offer free tastes of their wares. You'll certainly want to sample the many stalls selling all manner of street food from all over the world. And if, after all that tastebud overload you need to wet your whistle there's Vinopolis a few minutes' walk away, with its Brew Wharf bar/restaurant which has its own microbrewery.

Southwark Cathedral is worth a visit whilst you're in the area, a place of tranquility and spiritual refreshment between the bustling market on one side and the equally busy Square Mile financial district of the City on the other.

It was built on the site of a Roman villa, some of whose pavement was incorporated into the church floor. There's been a church on the site since the 11th century. First it was a priory church, St Mary Overie (over the river), then after the Reformation, it was reborn as the parish church of St Saviour. It only became a cathedral in 1905 when the Anglican Diocese of Southwark was created. Inside the Cathedral there's a Shakespeare memorial in the form of a stained-glass window depicting characters from his plays and a reclining statue of the Bard beneath. Shakespeare's brother Edmund, also an actor, is buried here in an unknown tomb. The Globe Theatre was (and is again) just a short walk along the South Bank of the Thames. So it's fitting that there's also a memorial here to Sam Wanamaker, the actor/director whose vision and energy fuelled the nearby reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe. The tomb of John Gower, the poet and contemporary of Chaucer is here too, and there's a simple, moving memorial to the people who died in the Marchioness tragedy of 1989, when a pleasure cruiser sank nearby in the Thames, drowning 51 birthday partygoers.

*On Sunday I used the Sillfield Farm wild boar sausages to make a scrummy herby, garlicky cherry tomato and sausage bake from Jamie Oliver's latest book Jamie at Home. Delish, as the Essex lad would say.

Right. That's enough food. We parted with Ian and his enormous culinary swag bag at London Bridge Tube Station, he to go home and watch the rugby whilst we soldiered valiantly on to Portobello Road Antiques Market.

What a cornucopia! Everything from jewellery to silverware, clocks to antiquarian books to paintings, doll's house furniture and retro clothing. I was tempted by, but decided against, a Biba blouse in one of the retro shops. I never had anything from Biba when I was of that age, except the name which I borrowed for a cat we once had to rid our student flat of mice.

Except for the weekend hordes, Portobello Road is a pretty backwater, with little pastel-coloured terraced houses, hidden mews cottages and cherry trees just coming into blossom along the pavements.

In the market arcades and galleries we dithered over coffee spoons and silver-handled magnifying glasses, early editions of Beatrix Potter, Victorian necklaces and rosewood writing boxes. But in the end, Rosalind bought 2 pairs of earrings (one of oval turquoises and the one set with marcasites), and I bought this ring:

Next we ambled down Westbourne Grove, ogling longingly at the unaffordable (for me, at any rate) clobber in Joseph, Whistles, Ted Baker, Jigsaw and L K Bennett. And then, descending from the sublime to the ridiculous, we popped into an Oxfam shop across the road, hoping that some of the wealthy denizens of Kensington and Chelsea might have donated their last year's boutique clothes to it. To our delight, everything was £1. No clothes appealed to Rosalind but she bought a Trinny and Susannah book and Wicked!, the latest Jilly Cooper. I was thrilled to get an Agnes B cardigan and a collection of Milly Molly Mandy stories (the latter for my granddaughter in case you were worrying that I might be entering upon my second childhood).

Then we hopped on a bus to Oxford Street for a late lunch at Carluccio's in St Christopher's Place,

a little gem of a square hidden behind Oxford Street, before diving into Selfridges which was full of bizarre shoes, outre clothes and some of the most hideous furniture you've ever seen in your life

(so that's why they were selling it at 20% off). Still, the in-store Tiffany shop was interesting (no prices so if you needed to ask you couldn't afford it), and The White Company shop was selling something I never knew I needed: perfumed ironing spray! But that was nothing to The Wonder Room whose website is a splendid joke (at least I think it's a joke...).

Before leaving Selfridges, we had a merry time trying the Jo Malone scents and lotions and as usual the Selfridges windows were wonders of eye-catching artistry, all lit up as we left at dusk. The current mannequins all resembled Boadicea with long, fiery red hair and defiant, warlike postures. Some of them looked as if they'd just sacked Londinium.

And that was it, folks. We shopped till we dropped and returned home, tired but contented, to a snifter of

Oh, and just in case you're feeling peckish, here's a couple of the aforementioned Mrs King's Melton Mowbray Pork Pies:


Gabriele C. said...

Now I'm hungry. And I want a dram of Laphroig. :)

Kirsten Campbell said...

Look at that brownie mountain!

That sounds like a wonderful day out. All that food... mm... no. No - I've just had my tea. :)

I remember the Milly Molly Mandy stories! My gran gave me a pile when I was little. I must go and see if they're still lurking around our house somewhere. They probably are...