Maltby Street Market, London
People who love food are my favorite type of people to be around. I would estimate that 96% of my current relationships are proportionally based on how much those friends enjoy food, want to be around food or plan on eating food in the near future. Using these baselines, I’m fairly certain I would have been best friends with London diarist Samuel Pepys if I had lived in mid 17th century England. After the last outbreak of the bubonic plague in London, in 1666 the city experienced one of the most horrific tragedies in its history - the Great Fire of London. Supposedly started in the aptly named Pudding Lane by a baker who didn’t clear the embers from his oven, the 1250°C fire ravaged the city for four days. Destroying a majority of the current City of London, only 6 deaths were recorded as many inhabitants were able to move out of the path of destruction. Samuel Pepys was one of them who tried valiantly to save his most prized possessions, including a giant wheel of Parmesan cheese, which he buried for safekeeping. After protecting his most prized possession, Pepys headed across the Thames and in one of the oldest pubs in Southwark, watched the city burn. His diary is unclear about whether he was able to recover his beloved cheese (which would have been incredibly expensive at the time) but anyone who takes that much effort to protect a nutty, sharp Parmesan is a friend worth knowing (although he does only mention taking a bath 1 time in 9 years).
Modern London continues to be a city obsessed with magnificent cuisine. From the uber-British classic Rules to Spanish tapas at Barrafina, unparalleled Indian at Dishoom, modern Middle Eastern at Ottolenghi and updated classics at Duck and Waffle, London is an evolving foodie paradise. While the Borough Market remains one of my absolute favorite places on earth, on my last visit I ventured a bit further afield to the incredible weekend only Maltby Street Market.
Running under and alongside Victorian train viaducts a few blocks away from London Bridge Station, the Ropewalk Maltby Street Market is a feast for all of your senses. This is not an old fashioned farmers market. The sheer amount of ready to eat exotic bites available is staggering. My advice: arrive early with an empty stomach. The crowds arrive around 12, we got there at 10:30. Our visit was on the heels of our trip to St. John for their Saturday only donuts, but we were still ready to indulge in all the market had to offer. Some vendors have carts or stalls, while others set up shop under the cavernous brick caves. Seating is limited so be prepared to juggle your goodies as you walk. The atmosphere is young, hip, trendy and welcoming. Not being young, hip or trendy I was glad the vibe was welcoming. Vendors wanted to talk about their food, share recipes and discuss the latest episodes of Black Mirror. Everything we ate was amazing - homemade, with premium, inventive ingredients created by passionate purveyors. Here are a few standouts:
Ooey, gooey grilled cheese from The Cheese Truck was our first stop. A variety of grilled sandwiches were available but we chose a classic English mix of Keens cheddar, onions and bacon. A lavish, generous coating of melted butter was applied and bread and cheese were slowly smashed into a crispy, toasted, melty pile of goodness on a flat griddle. Dare I say that Samuel Pepy’s would have traded that wheel of Parmesan for a glorious cheese pull bite of this sublime sandwich.
Next, my husband was thrilled to indulge in his scotch egg obsession at the market courtesy of Finest Fayre. Easily large enough to share, these decadent eggs come in a variety of flavors. Haggis (I just couldn’t bring myself to try it), chorizo (yes, please) and Haddock (maybe?) amongst others. We went with black pudding. The yolk was golden and runny and the spiced black pudding was well balanced with the egg. The crispy outside coating contrasted with the soft interior. My husband left a contented man but we were not done gorging ourselves quite yet.
To balance our meal, we stopped in for some spicy Mexican street corn at Elote. Chargrilled with lime and queso fresco, this was a perfect veggie contribution to our foodie meanderings. The charred golden corn was saturated in a smoky chipotle glaze and dusted with lime and salty cheese. Conveniently served on a stick, it was a superb handheld treat that allowed us continue our market tour with ease. The other offerings at Elote looked incredibly tempting, especially an adobo braised lamb mint quesadilla. Alas, we had already decided on our last stop before dessert(s) at the market.
Returning to my first love cheese, at our last savory spot we satiated ourselves with a heaping helping of tartiflette, a luxurious gratin of potatoes, ham, onions and white wine topped with melting glorious chunks of gooey Reblochon cheese from Comptoir Gourmand. In a giant paella like pan, this French dish is slow cooked and crisped for hours while huge pieces of ripened soft cheese are melted over the top. The salty ham balances the nutty cheese and the acidity of the wine cuts the richness of the potatoes. The generous portion was delicately seasoned for an appropriate continental finish to the savory portion of our food tour. Fellow Americans take note, you cannot purchase true Reblochon in the USA so get your fill here!
Sweet offerings at the market included incredible salted caramel treats from Fatties, whose proprietor was kind enough to share the recipe with me for their Golden Cornflake Cake. I was initially drawn to this treat for the sheer beauty of it but it is literally one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. Salty and sweet with a soft crunch and an insanely indulgent rich rose bronze caramel glaze made these delicious cakes absolute heaven. Complementing my sugar overload was Fatties’ rich salted caramel hot chocolate topped with a torched marshmallow ring. A variety of gorgeous, decadent cookies was also available. Pack your elastic pants - Fatties isn’t messing around.
Looking for an appropriate, distinctive (and not too overwhelming ) finale to our food extravaganza we ended back at Comptoir Gourmand patisserie to choose from their astounding variety of Instagram ready pastries, macarons, eclairs, tarts and cakes. The delicate chocolate macarons were fresh, with a cracked exterior, a supple deeply flavored interior and a lovely ganache filling. The lemon citron tart was bright and sharply acidic with a sweetened shortbread crust and was a sublime contrast to the rich chocolate macaron. I wanted to try about 14 other items but my stomach could not fit one more bite. Fortunately Comptoir Gourmand has a permanent store at the market and is open 7 days a week for all of your sugar needs.
In addition to the purveyors mentioned above, additional savory offerings included Greek wine and goodies from Maltby and Greek, spiced peri peri burgers and other African delicacies from African Volcano, unctuous jamon iberico from Tozino, authentic Black Forest sausages from Herman ze German, fresh briny oysters from The Walrus and the Carpenter and charcoal grilled rare steak with triple crisped chips from The Beefsteaks (number one on my husband’s list on our next trip). Sweets include the Bad Brownie Company, Waffle On with their gigantic sweet and savory shareable sized waffles and Wheelcake Island who specializes in the puffy, filled Japanese street food dessert.
Additionally, a couple excellent gin establishments, a cidery and a few breweries are all in or within a block of the market. It’s going to take me a few more posts but I intend to fill you in on the the wonders of the Bermondsey area and my new number one way to spend a Saturday afternoon in London.