There was a time when every corner of London had its own street market and costermonger was a proud trade. Then came the supermarkets, and stalls selling food went into decline. Street markets, such as the famous one on Whitecross Street, which has been going since the 17th century, had to reinvent themselves. Fortunately, they have enjoyed a resurgence in recent times, for which much of the credit must go to the farmer’s market movement.
Queens Park Farmer’s Market in NW6 has become a popular venue for a Sunday- morning stroll. The exact line-up varies slightly each time, but you’ll usually find the Stocks Farm stall selling organic meat and poultry and Jane and David Barker with biodynamic vegetables from their Norfolk farm. Susan Broome’s stall selling homemade cakes is also worth looking out for. Add cheese, Italian delicacies and wild game and there’s plenty to work up an appetite for-that’s when the Grasmere Farm hot-sausage sandwiches come into their own.
An old, established market with a soaring roof and elegant cast-ironwork, Borough Market, SE1, is in a state of flux. It started as a wholesale market, and several stallholders worked during the week selling to restaurants or retail outlets. Now, at the weekend, it becomes one of London’s top 10 tourist attractions, so stalls selling hot food have edged out those selling ingredients. But word has it that some former Borough stalwarts have opened premises in nearby Maltby Street and Druid Street-seek out Monmouth Coffee’s roastery, Neal’s Yard Dairy, Tony Booth (the mushroom king)-and the restaurant St John has moved its bakery to a railway arch in Druid Street. So now it’s Borough for the craic and surrounding streets for the adventurous.
Ealing Farmers Market in W13 was in the vanguard of the farmer’s market movement and, for several years now, has quietly gone about its business. Each Saturday, Leeland Road is closed to traffic and the market sprawls along the length of it. Ixhill Farm really does bring country to town-in the past, it has sold farm-shot rooks and squirrel, but its lamb and beef have a keen following. Other regulars include stalls selling herbs, rare-breed meats, honey, and a notable one with heritage apples-whichever is in season.
The whole of Portobello Road, W11, is given over to Portobello Road Market. At the top of the hill is the antiques section (Chepstow Villas to Elgin Crescent), then it’s food down to Talbot Road. New goods run to the West-way, then there’s the Fashion Market centered on the Westway, and, finally, second-hand goods towards Goldbourne Road. The food section is a mixture of unpretentious fruit and veg stalls with fishmongers and cheese and butchery stalls. Dedicated food shoppers will combine a wander down the stalls with visiting the decent food shops nearby-Garcia’s for Spanish ingredients, the Coffee Plant and Mr Christian’s.
The people behind the Real Food Market, SE1, are an enlightened bunch, and operate a policy of encouraging small producers (there’s a subsidy for attending based on turnover). This year, as well as the regular monthly market, they are holding an extra one in mid December. The market is located in a square on the south side of the Southbank Centre. Expect an eclectic range of stalls including chocolatiers, Polish delis, cheese affineurs, Portuguese specialities, organic fruit and wild game.
Where and when – the best London food markets
Queens Park Farmer’s Market Salusbury Primary School, Salusbury Road, NW6 (www.lfm.org.co.uk/markets/queens-park). Every Sunday, 10am-2pm
Portobello Market Portobello Road, W11 (www.portobellomarket.org). Food stalls between Elgin Crescent and Talbot Road. Monday-Wednesday, 8am-6.30pm; Thursday, half-day closing at 1pm; Saturday, 8am-6.30pm
Real Food Market Southbank Centre Square, SE1 (www.realfoodfestival.co.uk). First weekend of each month (except January), plus December 17-19. Friday, 11am-8pm; Saturday, 10am-6pm; Sunday, noon-6pm
Borough Market 8, Southwark Street, SE1 (www.boroughmarket.org.uk). Thursday, 11am-5pm; Friday, noon-6pm; Saturday, 8am-5pm
Ealing Farmers Market Leeland Road, W13 (www.lfm.org.uk/markets/ealing) Every Saturday, 9am-1pm