Maltby Street has been on my itinerary for some while now, but I keep waking up on Saturday morning and each time the weather brings all of my plans to a screeching halt. This weekend, faced with more wet and cold weather, and the dismal alternative of packing boxes for our move, I decided to suck it up, pull out my winter parka and get down south to Maltby Street.
Bear with me, a little history is crucial here. This stretch of food vendors is just a ten to fifteen minute walk from the famous Borough Market I’ve written about before and is housed within the many brick railway arches that run under the tracks (not the most inviting neighborhood, believe me). For years, as rents rose, various sellers at Borough stored their produce and what-have-you in these storage units. Well, about a year ago seven well-respected traders dared to open their railway arches and sell out of them as well as Borough Market, the trustees of the Market weren’t too pleased, and so their stalls at the Market were revoked. This, along with what sounds like a right fussbudgety group of Market trustees, has forged a charming group of food purveyors in a very unlikely setting, Saturdays only, from 9am – 2pm.
|Map of the area to get you started|
So through the drizzle I walked, having to make my way through Borough Market which was already heaving with tourists (standing right in the middle of the walkways, maps open, mouths agape, cameras at the ready) and I felt smug as thought to myself, I’m going somewhere even better! However getting there left me feeling a little less self-righteous. I was cold and had walked by the truly ugly Shard construction site an age ago. In and out of tunnels that snake under the train tracks with few people along the route and no sign of anything like a market. Many scooter shops dotted the way, salvage yards, a moving company. I kept stopping to check my map. Surely I had walked far enough?
|Tayshaw’s seasonal offerings|
Then very suddenly, as promised, there was a riotous display of fruit and veg. In pride of place, all of the latest seasonal offerings: asparagus, thin and thick, green and purple, artichokes, big and baby, rhubarb stalks, butter lettuce and an abundance of wild mushrooms. Happy to have found something at last, I ducked inside and started picking up produce like a child grabbing at toys. Tayshaw sells to top restaurants and now to me! Squash blossoms, shiso leaves, kumquats, wild garlic. As I kept reaching in for more, I had to restrain myself, I’m alone at home right now and we’re moving. Not exactly ideal for going all gourmet and crazy in the kitchen. So I stopped there but tucked away in the back of my head all of the amazing ingredients (microgreens, chilies, galangal, morels) that I needed to come back for once we were settled in our new home.
The walk in the spitting rain continued and so did my quest, buoyed by my success. I walked back under the tracks (the tunnels are quite forbidding) and the smell of brewing coffee grew stronger and I knew my map hadn’t steered me wrong. Monmouth Coffee Company has their offices and roasting operation in three of the vaults and set up an espresso machine, a counter, a chalkboard and a few bins for whole coffee beans, and voila and hopping coffee joint. Monmouth has a cult following here in London having started roasting coffee in the basement of a shop in Covent Garden in 1978 (http://www.monmouthcoffee.co.uk/). People will queue for an age to get their fix and unlike Starbucks who’s opened far and wide, these folks still maintain only two permanent shops. My latte in one hand and chocolate croissant (which could rival any I’ve had in Paris) in the other, I moseyed on.
I saw a series of green umbrellas just down to my left. A sort of impromptu group of food sellers line Rope Walk here. I stopped to talk to a man that had thick sides of smoked salmon hanging like bright orange blouses behind him. They were smoked in beech wood and juniper he explained – a Norwegian family recipe that dates back 80 years, now produced in a warehouse in North London and selling to some of the city’s top restaurants. I tried a bit of the smooth and smoky fish and his tartines with creme fraiche and dill looked tempting but I tucked it away for next time (http://hansen-lydersen.com/).
Along this route, which is also home to an incredible architectural salvage shop, there are a couple more bakeries, some guys slicing Iberico ham with much more skill than I ever did up at the hunting lodge, Christchurch Fishmongers have a small table, and then a table of cured meats and cheeses caught my eye. This guy is selling Austrian cured meat, something I’ve never seen here before: wild boar ham, venison ham, wild boar salami, and on and on. I tried a little bit of each energetically flavored meat and decided to bring home some of the cured venison ham to snack on. (http://www.reiner-reiner.com/)
Full of confidence I walked on, but it was a long stretch between the friendly confines of Rope Walk and the next smattering of sellers. There were still really no crowds to follow or anything to indicate I would ever find a friendly fellow foodie again. Instead it’s very bleak here, council housing from the 20th century rubbing up against the train tracks (I’m guessing it wasn’t ever very desirable to live next to a noisy train route) and littered with rubbish and deep murky puddles. And I was cold, in spite of my winter jacket and big scarf.
The next little grouping offered me Mons Fromager Affineur where I bought a yellow stinky round of washed rind Langres cheese (http://www.mons-cheese.co.uk/). All of the cheeses here are aged in caves in France and then brought over here. Delicious! Next door is the famous grilled cheese spot, Kappacasein, without any wait!! Neal’s Yard Dairy also has a little table in this railway vault space and after much deliberation and tasting I decided the goat curd was exactly what I needed to fill the delicate squash blossoms in my basket. A couple of doors down is The Ice Cream Union which I’ve read much about but it was closed (and I don’t blame them because who in the world would eat ice cream on a day like this?).
I checked my map again and despaired when I thought I was going to have to walk around here and over there to get to the final group of shops, but then I saw a little sign that brightened my day that pointed me through a narrow alley to the final, and arguably best cluster.
|Gorgeous Butchery display|
The Ham & Cheese Co. offers delicious salumi from Italy and big rounds of Parmesan and Pecorino Romano. I’ll take a chunk of Parmesan, please! Next door is the Kernel Brewery, named “Brewer of the Year” by the British Guild of Beer Writers (seriously?). If I drank anything alcoholic I knew I’d fall right asleep and was sort of dreading the long walk back to the Tube, but I picked up bottles of their Pale Ale 4C and their India Pale Ale Cask and tucked them away for when my lovely husband returns (http://thekernelbrewery.com/). At the end of the lineup in The Butchery Ltd, perhaps the prettiest butcher I’ve ever come across. A large blackboard touts upcoming butchery and sausage making courses (I may sign up). Owners Nathan Mills and Ruth Siwinski are from Australia and have set out to sell only rare breed, British and seasonal meat (http://www.thebutcheryltd.com/).
|Simple but lovely, The Kernel Brewery|
|Fern Verrow’s bouquets|
Across the way I started with Fern Verrow which offers produce from the biodynamic and organic farm on the Welsh – Herefordshire border. Their gorgeous vegetables come from a mere 10 acres of farmland. They also sell meat from animals they rear themselves, eggs, and a variety of canned jams, chutneys and relishes (http://fernverrow.com). I grabbed a bag of nettles and some gorgeous purple sprouting chives – resisting the urge to buy one of their very pretty bouquets (where in the world would I put them in my upside down flat?).
Next warehouse down the way, the London Honey Company started by Steve Benbow ten years ago when he decided he wanted to keep bees on the roof of his ex-council block near Tower Bridge. Apparently it worked a treat and he now sells to very posh shops throughout the UK. I came away with a honeycomb produced by Dorset Bell Heather hives – it tastes full of flowers and just a tad bitter. I’ve been munching on the waxy sweetness ever since (http://www.thelondonhoneycompany.co.uk/). Finally, The Little Bread Pedlar – handmade croissants and brownies delivered by bicycle – what could be better? Just divine, with the smell of baking bread filling the damp and dreary air. I bought a sourdough loaf to accompany all of my other treats (http://lbpedlar.com/).
The rain had gone from minor annoyance to outright horrible while I was blissfully trotting between the railway arches. I got on the phone to call my husband and found myself tripping over my words. That’s how excited I was after my food adventure. I think he must have thought me mad as I went into great detail about each little place, all the goodies I’d secured to take home with me, and my plans when I got home. All this exuberance helped the walk go by a little quicker and I slipped through Borough Market without even a glance at what they had on offer, so pleased was I with my own haul. The tourists have no idea what they’re missing (thank goodness)!
|My basket of goodies|
(Note: recipes on all of my experiments with these finds to come this week!)