Words: Mallory Legg
There is an eccentric pull that I feel to Borough Market. It is not just me who feels this way because each and every time I am drawn there I am joined by hundreds, if not thousands, of others. People litter the streets and the stalls, they sit on the curb-sides with their pastries or bowls, they wait in terribly long queues and weave in and out of the alleyways that lead through busy streets and crowded paths. In most cases, this description would do nothing but deter me… but this is not just any old market, this is Borough Market. It is never the same, ever-evolving, constantly changing with the tides of the London scene. Never losing its relevance and never dulling its edge. On offer, it has some of the best bites in the city. But with dozens of stalls and storefronts, the conversation must be had: what do you choose when faced with so many options? Who and where is worth the wait? It is a good thing an invisible string ties me to the place because now I have got the experience to compile a faultless guide to Borough Market.
Look around and try to find the yellow awning of a coffee stall. Change Please, it is the coffee I would often get on my way to work. You would initially be drawn in by the smell of a freshly brewed, strong cup just to find that it is one of the stalls in Borough that is alive for a greater cause. Change Please provides homeless people in London with the skills, equipment and support to make and sell genuine high-quality coffee to the people of the city from mobile carts. On top of that, they sell the best hot chocolate in London in the winter, thick and pure and the perfect comfort to begin a stroll through the hectic and wonderful food market.
The best way to go through the market is to follow the aromas that catch your scent. The good ones, the strong ones, the convincing ones, even the peculiar ones. I am always stolen away by a certain smell that makes me take a hard right when attempting to cross Middle Road as I traverse into the Borough Market Kitchen. The place is Bread Ahead, you may have heard of it. Every day, bread is delivered from the oven inside to the stand on the curb, infesting the surrounding streets with this nostalgic, undeniably addictive smell that drags you toward it. There, you will find freshly baked pizza, pastries, and my favourite, the pistachio pain au chocolat. If it is a staple you are looking for, grab a loaf of sourdough to toast and lather with butter at home, or better yet, head to Elsey & Bent like I do to browse and shop for all things toast toppings.
Elsey & Bent
Moving towards the section where the smoke from the grills alters the makeup of the London air there is Elsey & Bent. it has been around for years and rightfully so. If it is not your keen eye for unique and special produce that initially draws you in, it will be the vast sea of bright and beautiful colours that does. I could spend what feels like hours in this little nook of the market where time seems to move a little slower. White asparagus, figs, melons, chilis, it is nothing like anything you have seen in your local Tesco Express’s produce section, they are completely different worlds. Take your pick of the many mushrooms to butter and saute to make mushrooms on your Bread Ahead toast tomorrow morning. Or whip up some shishito peppers to have as the centrepiece at your next dinner party. Or simply grab the city's best apples to join you as you ramble on through the market and towards the big signs with long menus and lingering smoke.
Richard Haward’s Oysters
Speaking of establishments that have been around for ages, Richard Haward’s Oysters goes back seven generations of oystermen that have been operating in the same stretch of the Salcott Creek since at least 1792. The place stuck out to me when I brought an old friend on a trip to Borough Market. As we walked, I heard them say, ‘Oh, look at those. I’ve never had an oyster before.’ Obviously, I could not let that slide and disappear into the quickly passing stalls, so into the *long* line we went. And the wait was worth it, these oysters were fresh and chilled, shucked right in front of you and flavorful. They are the perfect first oyster, as well as the perfect appetizer for the rest of your crawl.
It might sound like an exaggeration, but I can assure you it is not. The best drink I have ever had was found in Borough Market. And surprisingly, no, it was not a cocktail. It was not coffee. It was not a soda. But an iced earl grey tea from Oroshi which is consequently my favourite spot in Borough. The drink was subtly sweet yet refreshing and thirst-quenching. And its coolness only made more room for the strong and hearty bowl of Pork Belly Ramen that I had ordered with it. Or, eventually, the Pork Ribs and Pumpkin Tofu Dumplings that I would order the next time I visited. The bar seats overlooking the chefs in their corners make it a sheltered oasis, and the food they have on offer expands the senses to bring all of the surrounding commotion to reach total peace. It's a must-visit.
Nana Fanny’s Salt Beef
Moving right around the corner is an obvious favourite to Borough market-goers. Following along with the theme of family-based businesses being passed down through generations, ‘Nana Fanny’ developed her salt beef recipe which has been passed down two generations and has now ended up in the heart of Borough Market. It is traditional and simple, the staff and stall are incredibly kind and always reel me in with a knowing smile. The best there is on offer has left me with some tough choices, but to leave out their take on the Reuben would be a crime. With Russian Slaw and Latke Bits all tucked into a Challah Roll, it is spectacular, a huge elevation from a classic standard. That or the falafel bowl which I would often tuck into on the curbside during my lunch breaks. With so much bright flavour packed into one to go bowl, there is no better place in the market when it comes to getting your money's worth.
If you find yourself still hanging around the market as the stalls begin to pack up and the sun begins its slow descent over the city and if you are anything like me, it may feel like it could be time to sit down for a cocktail with friends… maybe even some more plates, too. El Pastor, right on Stoney Street, is where I go when I crave tapas and a bitter drink with some spicy salsas on the side. Whilst its a bit of an oasis from the noise, it also incorporates the vivacity of the area. The people inside are excited and the energy is lively. After a long and good day of happy endeavours, it is a place to go and maintain that high. The salsas are a must as the table centrepiece, and they will stay that way throughout your meal judging from their bottomless quality. 5 for 5, too (bargain). My go-to's are the Tuna Tostadas. the Al Pastor Tacos, and definitely the Esquites. A well-rounded meal providing you comfort, crunch, spice, sweetness, and tanginess. As always, round it off with a classic negroni or maybe even venture over to the mezcal and tequila menu. There is something for everyone, making it a true Borough Market staple.
All photos from Borough Market