London: A Taste of Two Markets

You can go to a food market and take pictures or you can go to a food market and eat.  It is hard to commit to both things at the same time.   If you happen to be in London and are thinking about visiting the Borough Market (maybe on your list) or Brixton Village Market (probably not on your list) for a bite(s) to eat, do yourself a favor and leave the camera behind.   Based on the few photos I did take, I obviously had my priorities right.

Borough Market is London’s oldest and most well-known market near the London Bridge.  Everyone knows it like they know Pike’s Place Market in my hometown of Seattle.  Set under a rail viaduct, the market snakes around into several sections that you are best to scope out before calorie committing.  Much of the market, which includes traditional food stalls and lots of street food takeaway options, is under cover.  The full market is open Thursday-Sunday with only a portion of it open on Monday-Wednesday.   It seems like the week days are geared toward the food wanderer in search of a £5 lunch and the weekends to the home cook collecting for a gourmet meal.  It certainly was busy with business suits and students at Tuesday lunch time but definitely not unbearable.   There is limited seating in the greenhouse or the garden of the Southwark Cathedral (which you must enter through the Cathedral to access) or you could take your food along to the South Bank.   Or you can inhale it while standing.    

I choose the longest queues, which in one case I had no idea what for until I saw the hog on the split.   After the salty, fennel seed spiked pork goodness on a ciabatta roll with rocket salad and a simple dressing at Roast Hog, I lined up for vegetable pad thai at Khanom Krok (which though tasty really isn’t a pleasure to watch being cooked as street food), and finished with seared scallops topped with a fistful of crunchy bacon bits over a stir fry of veg at Shellseekers.   That all happened in two hours.  I did toss the ciabatta roll to “make room.”  There was a killer toasted cheese sandwich I’d read about, Ethiopian food that looked delicious and so.much.more but without a partner in dining crime, I had to surrender until dinner.

On Wednesday morning I was back in Borough Market for a slow filter coffee at the seriously good Monmouth Coffee and a to-go piece of ginger cake at Bread Ahead.   Because Borough market is right near the London Bridge Station, it was conveniently on my way to Wednesday’s market exploration further south and outside central London in the up and coming neighborhood of Brixton.

Brixton Village (aka Granville Arcade) is everything Borough Market is not.   While Borough Market is filled with students, young professionals and tourists, Brixton is a multi-ethnic community largely of African and Caribbean descent, musicians and young people.  Brixton is the last Tube stop on the Victoria Line.  You’ll notice you aren’t in central London as soon as you exit the Tube.  There’s a lively street market that runs down the spine of the mixed residential and chain store neighborhood.  You’ll see every kind of fruit, vegetable, meat, fish, and flea market junk along the street market which leads to a covered arcade called Brixton Village.  Quieter and clearly gentrifying, Brixton Village is filled with nice vintage shops and a vibrant range of eateries that would take days to sample.  It’s more casual sit down than take away.  Brixton Village is where you go to eat your heart out and then pick up a few gifts. 

With an article in TimeOut London as my guide, I had a hard time choosing between Caribbean fried fritters at Fish, Wings and Tings, South American empanadas at El Rancho Del Lalo, Pakistani street food at Elephant, dumplings at Mama Lana and thai food at KaoSarn.  I decided on Thai and was blown away by the classic Larb salad of minced chicken with ground roasted rice, chili, mint and lime juice.  Reviews on Trip Advisor (why do I even check anymore?) say prices have gone up and they run you out over the dinner hour, but I still consider a £8.90 a cheap eat and the lunch hour was definitely leisurely and they were happy to chat with me.  It was only a salad but it was the best Thai I’ve had since the US.  If you are hungry and not sure what you want to eat, you will no doubt find something that strikes your fancy and doesn’t hit your wallet at Brixton Village.  And there were several good looking coffee shops too.

Later that night when I was back near the Borough Market, I bellied up to the tapas bar for a glass of wine and waited my turn for a table at very popular Brindisa Tapas Kitchen.  There are 5 locations throughout London.  A cute guy, who also happens to be my husband, met up with me there after his work and my 36 hours of eating.   Finally I had a partner in dining crime and while not as as heavenly as what you'd get in Spain, the fried sea bass with mash and charcuterie and queso plates were terrific.

If you are on a time budget when in London, Borough Market is a sure bet for a quick lunch and an eye-popping food experience.   If you time to commit to a longer lunch, the range of food options available at Brixton Village is well worth the adventure.