Last weekend a bad thing happened: I went to Borough Market on a Saturday morning. I haven’t attempted this for upwards of eight years and, whilst it wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret back then, now it is something akin to the London Eye in terms of the hoardes it attracts and the experience it offers which is, I imagine, how cows feel when they are being herded into a large barn for their morning feed.
There are still wonderful suppliers, and wonderful food at Borough, but they are lost amidst the crowds. The most delicious of meals is no fun when eaten standing up in the midst of a group of shouty German adolescents who are spraying their pheromones all over your pulled pork.
So this weekend I ventured half an hour away to Maltby Street, which is Borough-lite, a modest street market with a growing reputation in Bermondsey.
Firstly, I have to say that Bermondsey was a bit of a revelation: I don’t know the area well and always think of it as the armpit of the South Bank, but it’s all grown up now: clean, gentrified and with a mouthwatering array of cafes and restaurants and those little charming little gift shops which make you actively want to part company with £50 for an old milk crate. So, well done Bermondsey on your coming-of-age.
Maltby Street is just off a residential street from which you can, satisyingly and smugly, see the Shard in all its disappointing un-pointy glory. Cafes and restaurants are housed in a series of railway arches, including a St John bakery, which points to the fact that I have missed the boat in my discovery of Maltby Street and that its already transitioned from underground to being circled by LEON executives who are eyeing up it’s hip young customers and scheming to set up a branch.
There are probably six cafes and fifteen-or-so stalls. You can whizz around in twenty minutes, or linger for hours drinking cocktails. There’s a lovely buzz about the place: a mix of hipsters and ordinary folk without feature beards.
I was alone, and en route to elsewhere, so I just inhaled some treats and skedaddled – looking back, I probably wasn’t as adventurous as I should have been. I bought three treats, and all of them are things which are, always, whether they’re from Costcutter or Harrods Food Halls, delicious: smoked salmon from Hansen & Lydersen, a ‘breakfast’ scotch egg with a perfectly runny yolk from Finest Fayre and a couple of brownies to go: salted caramel and peanut butter from Bad Brownie. The former is sprinkled in golden powder and did, it has to be said, taste other-worldly when I bolted it down mid-afternoon half-cut and hungry.
Maltby Street is one of those lovely London experiences where you don’t mind paying £3 for a piece of sourdough with three modest slices of smoked salmon on it, because you’re not just buying the food, you’re buying the excitement about the food, the smugness of finding this little gem,and the feeling that you’re on the set of some kind of hipster reality tv programme which is yet to be made (and voiced over with an irony which she doesn’t quite understand herself by Miquita Oliver).
So make sure that on the next sunny weekend morning that you’re searching the Time Out website and feeling overhwlmed by options, yet strangely uninspired, head over the Maltby Street – eat breakfast waffles and drink cocktails from strange screwtop Steins whilst musing that you should really get, like, a proper ‘look’ and start wearing more red lipstick and create some kind of signature dish which you can sell here and which everyone will love and you’ll become quietly famous for.
Go to Maltby Street, because Maltby Street is the anti-Angus Steak House, and for all its pretensions, you should shake it by it’s hand and hang out there as soon as you can.