Maltby Street Market, London

If you’re at a busy central London food market and you see someone alone precariously photographing their food with a phone, and then stuffing their face, it’s probably me. I had nothing planned last Saturday and with my husband playing hockey I had a hankering to eat lots of delicious food so I hopped on a train and made my way to Maltby Street Market.

10 years ago I absolutely hated my own company and I didn’t do anything on my own. But something clicked in my late-twenties brain. Oh my god, I can do this thing that I really want to do, I don’t have to organise someone else’s time so they can come. And then we end up doing what they want to do, rather than what I actually wanted to do in the first place. Thankfully I now feel comfortable being alone, dining alone, being a history nerd alone and not giving a rat’s patootie what anyone thinks of me. It’s rather liberating and I highly recommend it.

I walked to Maltby Street Market from London Bridge station – it’s basically a straight line down Tooley Street and even if you don’t know where you’re going just follow the crowd. And the smells. The railway arches en route are full of bustling small businesses from a bakery and a brewery, which I had to drag myself away from, and a garage specialising in Porches with lots of impressive cars parked outside that I won’t pretend to know anything about.

The first thing I loved about Maltby Street Market were the lines of flags flapping in the wind above my head. The second thing I loved was the smell. Stalls were sizzling away and as I walked through the market for the first time the array of smells was just fabulous: melted cheese, sweet sugar, meaty steak, fresh coriander, and spicy paprika to name a few.

I walked up and down the row of stalls 4 times before finally deciding on the very first stall outside the market: La Pepiá. I’d never heard of arepas (I know, which rock have I been living under?) before or had Venezuelan street food before. The clincher for me was the sizzling hot plate at the front of the stall where they were melting piles of cheddar to create big cheesy crisps to adorn the filled arepas.

I chose a carrot bun filled with black beans and avocado, the vegan choice, until I opted for a cheddar crisp on top. Cheese will forever be my weakness.

Suffice to say it was absolutely incredible, if a little tricky, to eat. It went all over my fingers and my face, but it was 100% worth it. I did not give a rat’s patootie that anyone was looking.

After finishing my arepa I walked back through the market two more times and set my sights on a brownie from Bad Brownie Co. They had an immense selection of flavours from vegan salted caramel, triple chocolate, and oreo, to raspberry and prosecco. I decided on peanut butter because I’m a firm believer that anything with peanut butter added to it is instantly improved.

I tapped my Monzo on the card reader and pocketed the brownie; I was not ready for sweet yet.

My head had been turned at the start of the market by gnocchi. I’d never been a huge fan of gnocchi until I met my husband who took me to Padella one time and it turned out I had just been eating rubbish gnocchi all my life. I walked through the market for the 6th time and stopped at Gnocchi at 84 for the beef short rib ragu. Oh. My. God. It was absolutely unreal.

The whole caboodle was divine and I ate half the box before I was completely stuffed. I found a sunny spot outside the market and had a break for 20 minutes to let my food go down – there was no way I was leaving any gnocchi to waste. I finished it up, walked through the market twice more and then decided that I really was full now.

I spent the rest of my afternoon walking along the north bank from Tower Bridge to The Strand, which took about an hour. I ate my brownie overlooking the Thames along the way.

The last time I was on Tower Bridge I was running over it during the 2016 London Marathon. It was lovely just being a tourist this time and I walked just under 10km along the river.

For me Maltby Street Market encapsulates the best of London: people from all over the world getting together and lapping up food from all over the world. It’s a treasure and I can’t wait to go back (perhaps with some pals next time so I can try more food). From Vietnamese Banh Mi to Moroccan falafel and British scotch eggs, the array of food on offer is fabulous and I implore any foodie to go.

Vivat Bacchus, London Bridge

‘Would you like to visit the cheese room?’

I was first told about Vivat Bacchus a few years ago by a friend of mine as a suggestion for somewhere to go on a date. I never took my date there. Instead I’ve been three times, all with my best girls and let’s face it, cheese and wine is the very best fuel for a life catch-up and gossip sesh.

Anyone who knows me well will know that my vice is cheese. Birthday parties in my twenties were defined by cheese puns, melted camembert and yellow party dresses. Who doesn’t dress like their favourite food on their birthday?

Just me it would seem.

It wasn’t my birthday when I went last month and I wasn’t wearing a yellow dress. It was an overdue catch up with an old friend and I was wearing a giant coat because it was pouring down with rain and -100 degrees. I arrived early and was seated in a corner downstairs, where another woman was waiting alone too. I ordered a glass of the restaurant’s own red wine, VB Red Blend, which was smooth as silk and warming like a log fire in a country cottage at Christmas.

The first time I ate at Vivat Bacchus we were so excited by the cheese that we gorged on a massive board first and then were too stuffed to eat our main courses. This time we ordered our mains and had a cheese board for ‘dessert’. I ordered the confit leg of Barbary duck, braised red cabbage, sautéed new potatoes and a cinnamon orange jus. My friend had the ‘potato-less’ salmon fishcake special.

I didn’t take a pic of the fish cake as it felt a bit mean shoving my phone over my friend’s food. My duck leg was rich and delicious, potatoes crispy, cabbage succulent, and complemented perfectly by the sticky sweet orange jus. The whole thing, with the red wine, was exactly what I needed on a chilly, damp February evening. I always eat too fast but this meal slowed me right down. You know when you’re eating something really good and you slow right down to savour the flavours? For once I actually took my time over my food because every mouthful and sip of wine was a treat.

We nodded enthusiastically as the waiter asked us if we wanted to visit the cheese room and 10 minutes later we followed the green-fleeced cheese expert into the cheese room. It stinks, and it’s amazing. I mean, if you don’t like cheese or if you only like cheese a bit then you’ll probably find it a bit offensive on the nostrils. The cheeses were arranged by country and we worked our way around the world trying a couple from each place. We settled on an English brie and goats’ cheese, Spanish Manchego and the ultimate, my absolute favourite, French comté.

I would swim the channel tomorrow for Comté. I came to Comté quite late in my cheese journey; I was working an event about seven years ago and I was making small-talk with a visitor who turned out to be a cheesemonger. I grilled her about her favourite cheeses and she said hers was Comté. I’d never really eaten it before and was obsessed by Brie and Camembert (basically anything I could melt and dip things in). I tried Comté and fell in love with its deep nutty taste.

Our cheese board arrived 5 minutes later, laden with crusty bread, apple slices, quince jam and crackers.

This photo doesn’t quite show how big the board actually was and we joked about a recently published article that said the recommended portion of cheese per serving is ‘the size of your thumb’. Suffice to say the amount of cheese on the board was about 20 thumbs worth. If you’re going to do something, do it properly, and a cheese board is not worth skimping on in my humble opinion.

We were two very happy people after I took this photo, although kind of sad that it was over.

We’d had 4 glasses of wine, 2 mains, a portion of chips and a large cheese board, and the bill came to just under £100 including a tip. It was expensive but absolutely worth it. And I can’t put a price on the way cheese makes me feel.

 

Deliciously Ella, London

‘The milk isn’t milk!’

Bless my friend’s mum as she was asked whether she wanted soya or oat milk in her cup of tea. The concept of a plant-based café would probably be lost on my parents too, forgetting that milk is in fact an animal product. I’m told that oat milk is the better choice – I actually don’t like tea and I’m fully aware that probably makes me not entirely British. I’ve made my peace with that.

Deliciously Ella was chosen by one of my best friends to fuel our bridesmaid dress shopping trip on Oxford Street two weekends before Christmas. Bonkers idea but it was actually great fun. We had a personal shopping appointment booked at Debenhams where we tried on a multitude of dresses in different shapes and fabrics, giggling at the awful ones, pretending to be catwalk models in the fancy ones, and eventually all agreeing on a dress that was the other end of the colour spectrum to what the bride wanted, and over budget. Woops.

At least we’d started the day in a calm environment because it inevitably finished not in one. I’ve followed Deliciously Ella on Instagram for a long time and I’m fully aware I’m about 5 years late to actually visiting her cafe. I’ve always admired how she’s managed her health issues by changing her diet and sharing her experience for people going through similar things. I don’t have the same health issues as Ella but I do care about the planet so I try and be flexitarian and responsible. I’m open to eating plant-based and have to say I’m always amazed at how good the food tastes (apart from in my work canteen where the vegan options are regularly a sludgy mess of lentils and under-cooked rice).

The counter at Deliciously Ella was incredibly tempting although I risked emptying my bank account trying everything on offer.

I was almost opted for pancakes by settled on sweetcorn fritters with spiced baked beans and avocado smash for a reasonable £6.95, which in central London is pretty good value for breakfast. It didn’t take too long to come and was a good sized portion. Everything on the plate tasted fresh and flavoursome. The only thing missing was a poached egg – I know, I know, vegan fail, sorry.

The rest of the bridal party had a selection of baked treats including banana bread and brownies, which the mums thought tasted odd but the rest of us thought were tasty and prompted a game of ‘guess the vegan alternative ingredient’. For 20 minutes we debated what kind of ground nut, date or syrup had been used instead of sugar or an animal product. Suffice to say we were the only ones having this discussion as the cafe was dotted with super cool young women in oversized pastel jumpers and Doc Martins who were cooler than any of us could ever be and clearly dedicated to the plant-based cause.

I enjoyed eating at Deliciously Ella and I’d definitely go again to try the tempting array of granola on offer. I imagine that won’t appeal to everyone but I’m a cereal fiend. The décor was delightful, there was water on tap and I liked their ‘philosophy’ board displayed by the stairs –

I agree with the last point most of all – ‘listen to your body’. I do my very best to eat lots of veg and if I am eating meat or fish I will buy organic and responsibly sourced, supporting local businesses as often as possible. But sometimes we fall off the wagon and after a heavy prosecco brunch at the weekend my body wanted a Big Mac and it solved all my problems. Sorry, Ella. I’ll do better next time.

 

Half Cup, King’s Cross, London

‘Magenta hummus, hello’

I had earmarked Half Cup for brunch about 3 months ago after seeing an abundance of beautiful photographs on Instagram. I was due at London Paddington later that afternoon to catch a 3 hour train to Plymouth for a weekend of 30th birthdays with my school friends and decided that a delicious plate of food was needed to sustain me on the journey. Half Cup was bustling at 1pm when I arrived. I was welcomed with a smile and given a spot in the window to read my Harry Potter book, watching the world go by.

The menu was comprehensively tempting and I text a Whatsapp group of girls to ask what I should have. Numerous grumpy replies followed about being hungry and not there, but suggesting I go for the smashed avocado, grilled mushrooms, beetroot hummus, grilled vine tomatoes on charcoal sourdough, which I did. And added a poached egg because it’s illegal to have smashed avocado without poached egg didn’t you know?

I wondered how big it would be and if I’d be a greedy guts to get the Oreo cookie French toast as dessert. I looked around me and saw that the portions were sizable and, given that I was about to spend the weekend with a group of women turning 30, I reined myself in and stuck with one dish.

I waited about ten minutes for my food to arrive, during which I snapped a few photos of the colourful, floral décor and talked myself out of buying another branded tote bag that I really didn’t need.

My mouth watered as the plate was put in front of me. A magenta smear of beetroot hummus had two giant Portobello mushrooms stacked on top of black sourdough, with my poached egg on the side and a tower of rocket on top. I’ve never seen food so colourful so I took a series of photos, pushed aside my phone and demolished it.

The vine tomatoes could have done with a bit more grilling for my own personal taste (I prefer to grill the hell out of my tomatoes) but the hummus was divine and the poached egg poached perfectly. The charcoal sourdough was the tastiest black food I’ve ever eaten.

I need to go to Half Cup again and have the Oreo French toast. And the Banana Bread. The whole menu just sounds so good. Just take my money now.

Casa Cannoli, King’s Cross Real Food Market, London

‘Take photos, we love photos’.

I thought I was being subtle trying to take photos of the rows of sugar dusted cannoli when the trader at Casa Cannoli encouraged me to keep taking more, and to share them on Instagram. I always feel awkward taking photos at markets because, to be honest, I just feel like a lemon. I’ve been following Casa Cannoli on Instagram for a while and vowed to get one during my lunch break, and a Thursday hammering down with rain seemed like the ideal time to go. An old American colleague of mine introduced me to cannoli a few years ago. She was flabbergasted that in my 20 something years on this earth I’d never eaten one, and once I’d had one, I was too. The joy of cannoli is the second bite. The first one being insanely delicious, and the second one being a mixture of panic and hilarity at how it’s disintegrated and you have to shove it all in one go rather than attempting a third bite.

Thankfully the rain had stopped when I got to the real food market outside King’s Cross station as I spent a good few minutes deciding which flavour cannoli to go for. Classico, coconut, pistachio, chocolate chip, if I hadn’t have just eaten a giant lunch from Hanoi Kitchen and eaten 3 biscuits at my desk already that day I’d have gone for the 3 for £5 box. I did however choose salted caramel which was handed to me in a Casa Cannoli branded napkin, which I immediately photographed and had to start eating because the ricotta started to spill out and I didn’t want to lose any.

As described above the cannoli crumbled after my second bite and I scoffed the rest of it in one very happy mouthful. After sorting out the ricotta on my fingers with my tongue and a napkin I resumed photographing the rest of the colourful cannoli on display. The awful weather didn’t seem to have put people off their cannoli because lot of the trays had been decimated.

I can highly recommend cannoli as an naughty but compact lunchtime treat to get you through the rest of your working afternoon. I’ll definitely be coming back – I’ve already decided on trying the pistachio cannoli next time – and I’m planning to take a box home for Christmas. Considering all this came about from following Casa Cannoli on Instagram I hope they give their social media person a well earned high five. And a cannoli.

BBQ Dreamz, KERB King’s Cross, London

‘I’m so cold, but this is so good’

When I left my office to go to KERB, the food market in Granary Square, the sun was high in the sky and its warmth took the edge off the cold wind. Minutes after sitting down with my chicken satay curry from BBQ Dreamz the dark clouds rolled in and I regretted leaving my umbrella in the office. I moved from the square to the giant concrete steps by the canal to escape the wind and thought about the last time I’d sat there in July eating sweet and salty popcorn and watching the Lion King with my friend Laura in 30 degree heat. I was grateful my curry was warm and delicious, so I persevered eating my lunch al fresco.

I’d spent a good twenty minutes online looking at the different vendors who would be at KERB that day, trying to decide what I was going to eat. Granary Square was getting busy as I arrived and I decided to do a walk round of the other stalls to make up my mind. I chose BBQ Dreamz partly because the queue wasn’t so massive that I’d have to wait around for ages, but because I’d spying other people’s food and their curry looked big and colourful. I stepped up to place my order, a large chicken satay curry for £9, gave my name which was scribbled on the box and paid by contactless. After a few minutes my name was called and I stepped up to the trailer. It made me smile that the ledge to step up on was a Reebok fitness step, but instead of exercise the reward for stepping up was a steaming box of curry.

As I stepped up I could look into the wooden bowls that were on the counter top and they were filled with fresh ingredients to top the curries – peas, slaw, coriander, spring onions, pineapple, lime wedges, crushed peanuts and chilli flakes. I asked for everything, although to go easy on the chilli because I am a wimp.

The final result was a box of curry with every colour of the rainbow in it. I took a photo but the wind was getting stronger and I was getting hungrier, so I headed for the canal to sit down. The curry was delicious despite having to fish my own hair out my mouth thanks to the wind. I’m not a massive fruit fan, so I admit that I ate one cube of pineapple and left the rest. Fruit with savoury just doesn’t work for me (pineapple on pizza is a no no), but if it is your thing then I’m sure you’d love it. The chicken was full of satay flavour, the rice was cooked perfectly and the array of toppings provided crunch, freshness and punches of flavour whether lime, chilli or peanut.

I will definitely be donning my thermals and coming back to KERB (once I get paid) over the coming months. The vendors change from week to week and I look forward to trying out the other feasts on offer. If you have any recommendations then leave me a comment.

KOOX, Store Street, London

‘This is a fancy pants wrap’

The parade of shops on Store Street have a very satisfying smart and quirky aesthetic with matching dark green signage and pristine window displays. KOOX fits the aesthetic perfectly and every single thing from food to décor is intensely Instagrammable. You can tell even the smallest details have been thought about, from the scrupulous placement of indoor plants, the soft shade of light from the lanterns, even the fire extinguishers were a bright silver colour. They display their Instagram handle on the wall as you walk in and they’d probably be sad if you didn’t take out your phone and photograph everything.

Despite being outwardly ‘fancy pants’ as I described it to my husband, KOOX actually had a very welcoming feel. Perhaps it was because I went in at 5.30pm and the only other people in there were office workers sipping tea and demolishing a smart looking tart. I’d heard on the grapevine that KOOX’s egg and spinach miwam (such an unnatural word to type) was something not to be missed.  I ordered one, and a chicken and mushroom Hot Kone. It was expensive, £10.90 (I’d have got 15% off if I was a student) but I’m used to London food prices by now. I was paying for the words ‘Michelin starred chefs’ painted on the wall. My miwam arrived after a few minutes…

… on a slate. And then one minute later, my Hot Kone, in its own stand.

I told you it was fancy pants. I did feel a bit silly eating a waffle off a slate and a wrap off a plastic stand, but I put aside people’s stares and enjoyed the food. The miwam was moreish and I loved the texture of the waffle. Having stared at the wrap for a minute thinking ‘how do I eat this’ I went in with my fork, taking bites of the wrap in between forkfuls of chicken, spinach and mushroom. It was going swimmingly until I got to the last couple of mouthfuls of the wrap when creamy sauce squirted out the bottom of the wrap and went all over the table. There was no styling it out so I mopped up the mess with my napkin and was glad I didn’t have more of an audience otherwise I would probably be on Instagram right now.

I helped myself to a glass of minty water from a communal jug that was next to the trendy fire extinguishers and a jar of paper straws. It’s a simple thing to offer water to diners and I’m always appreciative when food places do it. The server said thank you and goodbye as I was walking out. Overall I liked KOOX a lot and I will be going back to try the chocolate mousse which I picked up and put back, and now regret not trying. Dessert regret is the worst.