Thursday, 10 July 2014

Accidental Visits: Borough Market without the crowds

Visiting Borough Market is a classic thing to do with visitors in London. Plenty of my friends who've had relations and pals come and stay for a weekend have marched them down to Borough in Southwark to wander and eat on a Saturday morning. They have stocked up on yummy bread and cheese, stuffed themselves with free samples, and brunched on gourmet sausage sandwiches. It's a classic city entertaining move. And I commend them, but I have never been brave enough to do it myself. Borough Market is one of the busiest markets in the city, and Saturday mornings for me are times for peace and quiet, civilised conversation and the first well-deserved skinny cap of the weekend. And I can't be enjoying all that with hundreds of other people jostling me to grab a sample of tapenade on an oatcake. 

The market operates for wholesalers every weekday, but is only open to retail customers (read: normal Londoners and their out-of-town visitors) from Wednesday to Saturday. This Monday afternoon, long after even the morning's wholesale trading had wrapped up, I found myself down near Borough Market, so I popped along for a lonely, peaceful wander around the place...

The first thing I noticed, with a clear market before me, was that the place is green. Green from the bottom of its market stalls to the top of its barrel roof. Who knew?! Borough Market claims to have been in existence in some form or other since the 11th century, but most of its current structure appeared in 1851, and then renovated about ten years ago. And it's a very fine structure indeed - the high glass roof up above the stalls is topped by surprisingly ornate ironwork; it's almost like an ancient railway station...but filled with fruit and prosciutto and baguettes rather than steam trains.
The space contains around 100 different stalls, some small and filled with shelves of olive oil, others larger with in-built kitchens and space for customers to perch with a glass of organic wine. Most were shuttered and closed, with crates and equipment stacked inside, ready for the next day's trading. Many of the shuttered roll-down doors had gaps through which one could peer, to spot shelves of jars and bottles, and storage buckets ready to be filled with water and ice. A handful of businesses were still open however - notably a tiny barbers, squashed up next to a wine merchant that was also still doing a brisk trade, and the Spanish food shop, Brindisa. 
Stepping out of one side of the market you walk into a busier, open space filled with food carts, busily frying and stirring and feeding the tourists who had misread their guidebooks and expected the main market to be in full swing. Some were consoling themselves however, by posing outside the door behind which perpetual singleton, Bridget Jones, lived in the film, 'Bridget Jones' Diary'.
Bridget's front door is the black door on the far left
This area also seemed to be where the chefs from the restaurants that surround the market were recovering from the lunchtime service, studiously ignoring the signs declaring Borough Market a 'no smoking area'.
As I wandered along Bedale Street, past Bridget's house, it began to rain, and I dashed back inside the main market to take cover. The drops pinged down on the glass high above my head, and other soggy people dipped inside to shake off their umbrellas and take a dry short-cut through the market. I took a last look around at the familiar foodie names above the quiet stalls, the acres of tarpaulin covering cold units and packing crates, and the kitchen in the middle of the market valiantly still selling take-away paella to rain refugees. Then I imagined the place heaving with people, clamouring for their truffle oil and 28 day-aged beef, and I shuddered and headed out into the rain.

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  1. Oh wow, I would love to experience the market like this as I am guilty of being one of many visitors on a Saturday morning! Thanks for another London insight. The French in me is very proud that the wine merchant seems to be permanently open. And I suppose there wasn't a crazy queue outside the Monmouth coffee place?! xx

    1. Oh yes, they were working pretty hard at the wine merchant! Fascinating fact: that wine shop was turned into the Greek restaurant in which Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver come to blows in the Bridget Jones film...

      Oh, and yes, Monmouth was still doing a roaring trade too! x

    2. I love that fascinating fact! The people working at that Monmouth joint clearly need coffee as much as the customers x

  2. I miss Bridget Jones! Where did she go? As for borough market, it really feels quite weird to see it empty like this...

    1. She got married and had babies...and then she briefly reappeared last year:

      It's very different when it's so empty isn't it. But it does allow you to notice different things. I love exploring the city when I have time and space to look around though, so for me it's fascinating!


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