Markets have been a facet of urban life for time-immemorial.
Now, alongside pop-up restaurants, they have become the test centre for food businesses to gauge customer reaction, and also to court would-be investors with proof-of-concept.
The trajectory many take – from street food trader to bricks-and-mortar premises– is mostly meritocratic, and it has seen the advent of a new kind of fairly priced food offering on the streets of London.
The street food trade and market industry have been invigorated by this youthful energy, ambition and enterprise, and passionate innovators whose offerings are as accessible as they are brilliant have raised the bar.
Archways on Maltby Street Ropewalk and Druid Street have long been the locations for warehouses or production units of a handful of food brands who sit at London’s top table.
Its current reputation as the destination for London’s Food core grew around the presence of operators such as Monmouth Coffee, St John and Neal’s Yard Dairy.
Later, the much-publicised clash between the Borough Trust and the market traders resulted in the rejection of the more established food market and subsequent migration to Maltby Street.
The market is open at weekends – on Saturdays (9am-4pm) and Sundays (11am-4pm) – and is a rich mix of old and new, market traders and permanent resident shops, bars and cafés.
With choices ranging from Tozino jamón, Reubens at Monty’s Deli, Weligama egg hoppers or Craft coffee, it’s the perfect place to spend a weekend day, just far enough to escape the chaos of central London, but close enough to access easily.
Received wisdom states that 40 Maltby Street is the pick of the bunch. Stephen Williams’ Mediterranean-influenced cooking, in the premises of Raef Hodgson’s Gergovie Wines warehouse, is some of the most imaginative and delicious to be found anywhere in the city.
Williams is a chef’s chef: the likes of Brett Graham (The Ledbury), James Lowe (Lyle’s) and Florence Knight (formerly Polpetto) all name 40 Maltby Street among their favourite restaurants in London.
Ex-advertising copywriter Mark White (aka Marky Market), operates under the strapline, “Your man at the market.”
Three times a week he visits Billingsgate fish market and Smithfield meat market in the middle of the night to wrestle with the wholesalers for the catch of the day or prime cuts.
With only an Oyster card and a couple of heavy-duty Coleman cool boxes in tow, he fetches his haul back to central London, advertising what’s for sale through Twitter – his principal market place.
Though he will come and meet customers at home or at work, he usually trades and can be reliably found at one of his ‘offices’ – either the Blue Posts in Soho or the Hemingford Arms in Islington.
It’s sensible to allow an extra half hour to order a half of whatever he’s having and sit down for a chat.
It also makes sense to sign-up to his weekly newsletter, the Marky Mail, which lists the market prices and picks out what’s in season or looking good.
He will also happily take orders – and if the markets have it, he’ll get it. And, of course, Marky, an honest London Peculiar, can guarantee a fair mark-up.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the precise moment when east London’s renaissance began, but it’s safe to say that Hackney’s bourgeoning food scene was precipitated by the clamour surrounding Broadway Market following its revival in 2004.
This outdoor trading place is the nucleus around which offshoot sites such as Netil Market (home to the original Bao and Breddos Tacos) have since arrived, and the street on which some familiar names have moved in for a slice of the action (sourdough pizza chain Franco Manca, for instance).
Nearby must-visits include Climpson’s Arch (currently home to chef Leandro Carreira’s Portuguese pop-up), Dandy Cafe and Ellory.
The Saturday market (9am-5pm) plays host to a plethora of food producers and market traders, including purveyors of gourmet popcorn, organic fruit and vegetables from Kent, wild mushrooms and pea kachori.
On the street itself it’s hard to ignore London institution F. Cooke pie and mash shop (there since 1900), but more recent arrivals such as Pavilion Bakery, Fin & Flounder, Hill & Szrok, Climpson & Sons and Noble Fine Liquor are representative of the area’s current place on the city’s food map.
And it wouldn’t be a proper London street without a couple of good pubs: the Cat & Mutton is the cool kids’ choice, while further down the road the Dove services a more eclectic clientele.
If the surge in property prices has rendered east London a non-option, then south East London’s comparative affordability has attracted swaths of artists, writers and the like.
Alongside a number of locally known favourites, such as Silk Road, Peckham, Camberwell and New Cross, Lewisham has seen a swathe of exciting new restaurant openings, shops and pop-ups.
Brockley Market is one of the hubs around which this community thrives.
The multi-award-winning market on Saturdays (10am-2pm) is a celebration of local traders and artisan producers, including Blackwood’s Cheese Company, House of Sverre smoked salmon, Van Dough pizza, The Potato Shop, Mother Flipper burgers and Aston’s Bakehouse.
Brockley has established itself as one of the leading food markets in London, visited by both tourists and locals alike –as much for its street food offering as for its comprehensives election of fresh ingredients and high-grade groceries.