I don’t ordinarily send Hideaway Report members beneath a viaduct to eat, but snacking one’s way through London’s Borough Market makes for a refreshing change of pace from the city’s more-formal restaurants. The popular, sprawling market has only a handful of produce vendors nowadays; they’ve been replaced by increasingly upmarket food stalls serving everything from oysters to pasta to duck-confit sandwiches. We spent a delicious couple of hours noshing on whatever caught our fancy.
Only the gluttonous will be able to gourmandize their way through this entire itinerary.
Visiting the Borough Market, on the South Bank between The Shard and the Globe, requires a little strategy because of its popularity. I recommend avoiding overcrowded weekends entirely. Mondays and Tuesdays see some stalls closed, so visit on a Wednesday or Thursday if possible. Even on those days, the market can be quite busy after 1 p.m. I prefer to start eating around 11 a.m. or so.
Only the gluttonous will be able to gourmandize their way through this entire itinerary. Alas, you may have to make some choices.
Most great meals begin with bread. Start your market tour at Bread Ahead, which has a range of gorgeous baked goods. Skip the too-large loaves and purchase a cheese-and-olive stick, a perfectly fresh ficelle-size breadstick with a toothsome crust and a soft interior. The savory cheese and briny olives contrast each other beautifully. (In addition to its market stall, Bread Ahead has a storefront in the market offering baking classes.)
Most guidebooks tout Padella’s pasta, but even at 11 a.m., you’re likely to find a line out the door. Instead, I followed the recommendation of a Sicilian doorman at the Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, because if a Sicilian tells you to eat something, you should eat it. Turn away from Padella and head around the back of the large Roast Restaurant to La Tua Pasta. As the doorman promised, the quality there was excellent. I indulged in a small bowl of rich wild-boar tortelloni in a mushroom cream sauce. It was a decadent, al dente delight, with no queuing required.
Part of the Furness Fish Markets, the Furness Food Hut specializes in fresh French oysters. The massive Essex oysters they displayed were “just salty,” according to the Francophile shucker, but the tourists ahead of me in line insisted on downing two of the monsters (for social media purposes, it seemed). When the shucker asked me if I preferred sweet or strong, I requested one of each. The L’Océan de l’huitre oyster did indeed taste brightly briny and sweet, whereas the Ostra Regal had a bracingly savory note mingled with its brininess. Both were impeccably fresh.
Just across from Furness, Shellseekers also offers oysters as well as cooked seafood dishes. I couldn’t resist some hand-dived Dorset scallops with “stir fry” (bean sprouts) and crumbled bacon. They must have added some fish sauce to the dish as well; the sweet, meaty scallops and salty bacon had something of a funky note. But a little fish sauce goes a long way. This dish was too intense for my taste.
In need of a palate cleanser, I headed to The Cider House, which had four hard ciders on tap: sweet, medium, dry and vintage. I opted for the last, which was aged longer than the others and made from just one variety of apple, the Kingston Black. It felt more pétillant than sparkling, making it all too easy to drink.
I was ready for the main course. Le Marché du Quartier specializes in one of my all-time favorite foods, duck confit. I opted for a sandwich on ciabatta bread, rather than a wrap, and asked for it without Comté cheese, which would have just gilded the lily. Some fresh red lettuce and caramelized onion were enough to leaven the sublime richness of the duck. Although this was technically a sandwich, I found it easier to eat with a fork, nibbling at the bread separately. Sensational.
If duck is not to your taste, head instead to Ginger Pig, a top-notch butcher that also sells ready-to-eat items, notably warm sausage rolls. A large, savory sausage flavored with sage came wrapped in flaky, buttery pastry. It was absolutely delectable. Sausage rolls aren’t anything fancy, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better version than the Ginger Pig’s.
Now it’s time to enjoy a well-earned digestif. The East London Liquor Company offers free samples of a number of spirits, including gin. I tried two of its premium gins, Batch No. 1 and Batch No. 2, which made use of different botanicals. Batch No. 1, which incorporated cassia bark, pink grapefruit and Darjeeling tea, among other ingredients, had appealing notes of citrus, peppercorn and something delicately floral. I also liked Batch No. 2, inspired by British and Mediterranean gardens, which used sage, thyme, lavender, fennel, winter savory, coriander and angelica. This gin tasted fresher and more complex, with a sense of richness under its spiciness.
Of course, one can’t depart without a little dessert. I headed into the adjacent and less formal Green Market, where I discovered the Greedy Goat, a tent selling British goats’ milk ice cream. In order to have the full English experience, I ordered a dish of rhubarb-and-custard ice cream, which was wonderfully fruity, tangy and creamy. It was just the thing to tide me over until high tea.