In a city rich with markets, Borough Market is foodie central.
While it doesn't rank with Buckingham Palace or the Tower of London as a tourist destination, the word is out that it's a market not just for Londoners.Frequented by top chefs (Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay) and a location for movies ("Bridget Jones's Diary," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Howards End"), it is a place where running into a celebrity shopper ("Is that Helen Mirren?" "Did I just bump into Keira Knightley?") can add extra spiff to the scene.
But Borough is more than a fashionable, trendy place. Located in the Bankside area of London south of the River Thames and the London Bridge, it is a market where visitors can engage the fishmonger who caught diver scallops off the coast of Dorset that morning, the London woman who will share a secret or two about her steamed puddings, the Cumbrian farmer who is determined to elevate mutton's not-so-tasty reputation and a cheesemaker from Cheshire whose family has been making Cheddar for about 200 years.
They come from far and wide, the 85 or so vendors (depending on time of year), some traveling hundreds of miles for just two days of hectic trading each Friday and Saturday.
"Borough Market is a reflection of Londoners' growing interest in food and concern about its provenance," said Henrietta Green of the group Food Lovers Britain. "Shopping at Borough is top of a foodie's list of where to go. Not only is there sumptuous food to buy but producers to meet and great food-to-go to munch on as you wander around."
One such producer is Peter Gott of Sillfield Farm, who makes the weekly four-hour trip from his farm near Kendal in the Lake District of Cumbria. Dressed in a bowler hat and breeches, he is a ringer for the late actor Peter Finch. Pig is Gott's specialty, and he keeps 150 rare breeds (Middle White, Tamworth, Saddleback). He also has a herd of about 75 wild boar. His products include just about anything that can be made from the animals.
Equally passionate about his livestock is another Cumbrian farmer, Andrew Sharp, who breeds Herdwick sheep. A distant relative of Sharp's was a shepherd for a more famous breeder, author Beatrix Potter, who bequeathed her flocks of Herdwick sheep to The National Trust when she died in 1943. Sharp raises Galloway Beef, too, but it's from his Herdwick sheep that he produces charcuteries like air-dried mutton and mutton salami. Horns from Herdwick sheep are on display at his Farmer Sharp stall.
Another vendor, Lizzy Vines, makes a four-hour drive to the market. She and husband Richard own Wild Beef Farm in Devon, where they raise native breeds of cattle, chiefly Welsh Blacks and South Devons that "are reared off permanent and unimproved pasture," according to Vines. But the cattle are not wild, despite the farm's name.
"It is a rather an odd name, isn't it?" Vines asked. "But it makes people stop and after we tell them about the beef, they usually buy some."
Centuries of trade
The Borough Market is London's oldest food market, first built by the Romans. Once known as "London's Larder," it has been moved repeatedly since Roman times, arriving in its present location in 1756. Today it's a semi-open air market spread over several streets. The present buildings date to 1851, with additions made in the 1860s and a new entrance designed in the Art Deco style added on Borough High Street in 1932.
For more than a decade, the London architectural firm Greig + Stephenson has been working to enhance and bring back some of the original look of the market. In 2004 the firm moved the South Portico from the dismantled Floral Hall (previously at Covent Garden) to the market.
A turning point for the market came in 1995 when the board of trustees decided to revive the retail market that existed during the 18th Century. And the event that helped kick-start the market's present success was the 1998 "Food Lovers' Fair," organized by Henrietta Green, that showcased a variety of products from 50 British vendors. (Sillfield Farm, Farmer Sharp, Turnips, Mrs. King's Pies and The Ginger Pig--all in the current market--were among them.) Over a three-day period, the show drew 30,000 people, and convinced the organizers that there was an audience for such a market.
Today it's easy to wander the market and follow your nose to the scent of ripe fruit at Turnips, the aroma of chocolates at Dark Sugars, the briny smell of fish at Furness Fish.
Many vendors encourage tasting of their goods, such as the dozen or so olive oils at Apulia Blend, the cider at New Forest Cider Co., olives at the Fresh Olive Co., cheese from vendors such as H.S. Bourne (exclusively Cheshire) and Neal's Yard Dairy (with a wide variety from the British Isles) and hand-carved Iberico and Serrano ham at Brindisa, a purveyor of Spanish food.
It doesn't take long to see why the retail part of the market attracts about 17,000 visitors a week.
Depending on the season, it's not uncommon to see whole boar, wild rabbits, pheasants, grouse, venison, wild ducks and partridge. Always present are butchers carving carcasses into rump roast, lamb chops, tenderloin and the like.
At fishmonger stalls you might see a sea creature or two you didn't know existed.
And you might even hear Kevin Loe, a tenor who works as a greengrocer at Turnips between operatic engagements, making like Enrico Caruso with his rendition of "O Sole Mio."
Meeting the vendors
"You can spend a whole day at the market, eating and gawking," said Heather Hay Ffrench, British food authority and editorial consultant for the VisitBritain.com/Taste Web site, who gave a recent tour of the market.
"But I think a great thing about the market is being able to meet the producers."
A stop by the H.S. Bourne stall found vendor John Bourne, who has been making cheeses for 40 years, offering samples and chatting with onlookers. One was Londoner Maureen King, a loyal customer. As she sampled, King said, "The cheeses are consistently good, but they're never exactly the same. You always have to taste them because you're never sure. Like that blue Cheshire. Mr. Bourne and I disagree about the taste. He thinks it's magnificent. I don't like it.
"And his wife agrees with me on that," she added with a laugh.
During Friday lunch, professionals from nearby offices queue up for "takeaways," some eating as they go from vendor to vendor, others taking their food to the grounds of Southwark Cathedral, opposite the market.
Many of them head for Brindisa, where chorizo sausages are grilled over charcoal and topped with grilled peppers and rocket (arugula).
Other options include Maria's Market Cafe for bubble & squeak (a mixture of cabbage and potatoes); grilled ostrich burgers at Gamston Wood Ostriches (ostrich feather dusters also for sale); venison burgers at West Country Venison; Melton Mowbray pork pies (meant to be eaten cold) at Mrs. King's Pies.
Anyone looking for something more substantial can head to one of several restaurants at the market such as fish!--a spot where you'll find fresh John Dory, sea bass and fish pie.
Or Tapas Brindisa, for hot and cold tapas, regional charcuterie and cheeses, as well as sherry, cava and other wines, and a "Spanish breakfast" on Friday and Saturday mornings.
Or Roast, for British cuisine and a sleek second floor dining room (first floor to Europeans) that overlooks the market. Chef Lawrence Keogh draws upon the market for many of his selections.
"How can any good cook not be inspired when they arrive at Borough Market?" he asked. "I do not want to put items on the menu . . . from afar . . . like lamb from New Zealand . . . when there is wonderful seasonal produce on my own shores and only maybe 100 miles away."
Indeed, chef Keogh.
Lucky are the folks who can scoop up those local diver scallops from Shellseekers or the greens and veggies from Turnips. The market may even inspire some tourists to consider renting a flat for a future London visit in order to shop like a native and turn its bounty into one fine British dinner.
Learn more about Borough Market
For more information and recipes from Borough Market, go to www.boroughmarket.org.uk.
For product information from the Borough Market, check out the vendor links on the Web site.
Neal's Yard cheeses are sold in several specialty markets in Chicago, including Pastoral, Whole Foods Markets and Fox & Obel.
Also, look for the 2005 book "The Borough Market" from Civic Books, found at various online booksellers, including Amazon.com, for about $30.
For more British recipes, go to greatbritishkitchen.co.uk or foodloversbritain.com.
Tuna steaks with chili, ginger and cilantro
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 7 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Adapted from a recipe in the Borough Market newsletter. Serve with new potatoes and asparagus.
1 each, seeded, coarsely chopped: red and green hot chili pepper
1 piece (4 inches long) ginger root, peeled, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon chili powder
4 tuna steaks
1/4 cup creme fraiche, optional
2 limes, cut into wedges
1. Puree peppers, ginger, cilantro, olive oil and chili powder in a food processor. Brush mixture on top and bottom of tuna steaks. Set aside.
2. Prepare a grill for high heat. Grill tuna 3 minutes on one side; turn. Cook to desired degree of doneness, about 4 minutes for medium. Garnish with creme fraiche and lime wedges.
Nutrition information per serving:
306 calories, 28% of calories from fat, 9 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 107 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 50 g protein, 101 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber
Beef osso buco
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 4 hours, 20 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
Adapted from a recipe from the Wild Beef shop in Borough Market, London. Serve with rice, potatoes or polenta.
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ribs celery, cut into 1-by-1/4-inch pieces
4 carrots, cut into 1-by-1/4-inch pieces
2 onions, halved, cut into thin slices
4 pounds center-cut beef shanks
1/2 cup each: flour, white wine
1 can (14 ounces) each: chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, beef broth
4 sprigs assorted parsley, rosemary, thyme
1 tablespoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrots and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a plate; set aside.
2. Meanwhile, put the beef shanks and flour in a food storage bag; shake to coat beef. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the Dutch oven; heat. Add beef to Dutch oven. Cook, turning, until meat browns, about 5 minutes per side. Remove meat; set aside.
3. Add wine to the Dutch oven, stirring and scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add cooked vegetables, tomatoes, puree, broth, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Return meat to the Dutch oven. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat; cook 2 minutes. Cover; transfer Dutch oven to the oven. Cook until meat is falling off the bone, about 4 hours. (This paragraph as published has been corrected in this text.)
Nutrition information per serving:
360 calories, 41% of calories from fat, 16 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 22 g carbohydrates, 31 g protein, 1,407 mg sodium, 4 g fiber
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
This simple and delicious leek and potato pie casserole comes from the H.S. Bourne Cheese Co. in Borough Market, London. The firm's mature Cheshire cheese is used, but any aged Cheddar would work. This can be cooked in a microwave oven at full power covered with plastic wrap; stir at least twice.
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 potatoes, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons flour
2 leeks, trimmed, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rings
10 ounces aged English Cheddar, grated
3/4 pint (1 1/2 cups) whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking dish with butter; rub with garlic. Sprinkle potato slices with flour. Alternate layers of potatoes, leeks and cheese in the dish. Combine cream, salt and pepper to taste in a bowl; pour over the layered ingredients.
2. Cover with foil; bake until the potatoes are tender, about 1 hour. Remove foil; bake until top is browned, 15 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving:
729 calories, 69% of calories from fat, 57 g fat, 36 g saturated fat, 197 mg cholesterol, 35 g carbohydrates, 22 g protein, 780 mg sodium, 3 g fiber