I got to spend some time in London this month. It was the first time I was back since I finished my degree and everything felt so wonderfully familiar. While I love the feeling of discovering a completely new place, there is something nice about returning to a city that holds so many great memories. I basically wandered for hours upon hours every day, the only structure often being a number of food markets I wanted to stop by along the way. This trip confirmed that I am a market addict. I realize that most people would not centre a trip to London around the food markets (that are absurdly and wonderfully abundant), but I certainly did.
Before I get to the markets though, there were actually a few restaurants I went to that I really enjoyed. The first, is Bone Daddies. There are very few restaurants that I would be willing to eat at when it’s 30C outside, when I only intend to eat hot soup, and where I know I will be dying of heat in a small space with very little air circulation. Needless to say, Bone Daddies gave me a reason to suck it up (and sweat it out) twice. I have very rarely had the opportunity to eat at a ramen place where the vegetarian fare that they offer is so delicious and satisfying. The mushroom broth was packed full with mushrooms, noodles, tofu, greens and a perfectly runny boiled egg. I can hardly imagine how they get so much flavour into the broth, but I’m going to have to try. In fact, that will probably be a recurring theme over the next couple of paragraphs: I have to try and make this at home.
I also went back to some more familiar places, like Fleet River Cafe. My reference for a great scone is definitely the ones at Fleet River. Not only are they the perfect texture but they are stuffed generously with cream and jam. I was thoroughly overwhelmed with a sense of satisfaction as I sat in the quiet space in the back, looked out the window onto streets I used to walk on all of the time, and enjoyed one of my all-time favorite treats. I don’t know why I never serve my scones with cream at home, but I’m definitely going to have to start.
Another discovery that I made happened when I was wandering through Angel. I walked by a restaurant that made me do a double take. The desserts in the window were so mind-blowingly beautiful, I even went in to the restaurant (and I never do that) to goggle at the beautiful looking savoury salads and pastry hiding inside. As I left, I looked up at the sign and realized it was actually one of Ottolenghi’s restaurants. I own two of his books and have read them back to back. I find his approach and flavour combinations so inspiring, let alone the beautiful photography (the food is just as beautiful, if not more so, in person) that makes you want to eat everything he cooks. If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, I think my love for Ottolenghi’s food and cookbooks has come through. Whenever I decide to share something here (and here and here), I make the slightest of changes to the recipes and can’t help but share them with you, despite my lack of originality. Once I realized that it was his restaurant, I went back inside and stood there, gaping at the spread, trying to absorb some of his brilliance through osmosis, until one of the people working there asked me if I actually wanted to eat and I decided to have a relatively expensive lunch of salads. By far, the best of the three that I tried was the eggplant with parsley yogurt sauce, but really, just eating there was pretty thrilling.
Other than markets, I am definitely a sucker for the many ‘underground’ bars that exist in London. They range widely in terms of how gimmicky they are (a jazz bar in a converted toilet? walking through a fridge in a restaurant after asking to see “the mayor of scaredy car town”?- you get the picture), but the more kitschy, the better, in my books. Lounge Bohemia, a bar in Shoreditch is less secret than extremely easy to walk past without a second glance. Even if you do manage to find it, you have to have a reservation to drink at it (which my lovely friend and host had the forethought to arrange). The carefully crafted cocktails that are served with a little piece of food along with it were pretty unique and tasty. I honestly can’t even remember what was in my drink, but it had an Asian theme, I think yuzu was involved, and it was served with popped quinoa and papaya ‘sushi’.
In the end though, I would take visiting the many markets across London above any restaurant or bar, any day. Even though I lived in London for almost a year, the sheer number of markets that exist across the city makes it so that you can always find something new and exciting. On this trip alone I discovered Exmouth Market, Leather Lane and Whitecross, which were all up and running during the week, feeding people on their lunch breaks. I also found Maltby Street Market and the Real Food Market to satisfy my cravings on the weekends.
I have the most fond memories though of Borough Market, which I used to live down the road from. It’s pretty busy and expensive but I love the architecture of the space that it is housed in, that they have produce, different small-scale producers of various products (chilli, cheese, mushroom pate etc) and places where you can get a meal.
The most exciting discovery though (a close second to Maltby Street Market) was Street Feast, in Dalston. I had honestly never even been to Dalston but from what I read, it’s a neighbourhood that is starting to become very trendy among young people in London. As you walk down the streets, you can really notice the new cafes, restaurants and bars that are clearly popping up everywhere and catering to a hipster-ish crowd. Street Feast, which is set up in a semi-industrial, open air type area (and only runs on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer) was really cool. Like I mentioned, I am a total sucker for colourful, ‘cool’, out of the way places, and this ticked all of the boxes. I pretty much wanted to try everything the second I got there but my wallet and my appetite only allowed me to taste stuff at a few stalls. The cocktail from the cocktail shed (grapefruit, lychee and an aperitif) is definitely worthy of re-making at home, the steamed mushrooms buns from Yum Bun really reminded me of these (which are astoundingly easy to make), and the beet and chickpea concoction from Rola Wala was pretty spicy for my taste, but if you can handle the heat, it may be a good choice. We also came across Red Market, which was similar but has live music as well. For some reason all of the people there the night that we went were such amazing dancers, we were actually convinced a huge group of professionals had attended together- it was utterly entertaining.
I also made a return visit to Broadway Market, which is in a great neighbourhood to walk around in and is probably the best in terms of having samples of the different products available to try. I had a halloumi burger from Veggie Table for lunch,
which I’ll have to try to re-create in some form or another which I’ve successfully recreated. We also tried a German cheesecake with fruit from Artisan Foods. I am always in awe at how beautiful all of the food on display is. Food-lover heaven in my opinion.
Overall, it was so inspiring. I can’t even count the time we passed something and I thought (or was told) “You should definitely try that for your blog”. I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen, experiment with some things that I tasted and saw, and share the successes in this space, sometime soon.