Bread Tree, Southbank Centre Food Market, London

‘It’s like summer in a bite’

Following my day at the Women’s Rights festival at Conway Hall last Sunday, I wanted something light for fourses (like elevenses, but at 4pm). I’d eaten an egg and halloumi toasted sandwich for breakfast, a blueberry bun from Fabrique Bakery for lunch and was due to have dinner at my parents-in-law later that evening. It wasn’t a particularly nutritious day so far, and I’d been wanting to visit the food market at the Southbank Centre for months having seen it from my train window many times as I rolled into Charing Cross.

It was a glorious day and I’d walked from Holborn to the Southbank, which took about half an hour. I do my best to avoid the tube when I’m in central London and get as much ‘fresh air’ as possible. The food market was packed at 4pm with winding queues for stalls like The Athenian, Greek street food, which is now firmly on my list when I don’t already have dinner plans. As I walked round the market I was tempted by cannoli, muffins, smoothies, fried chicken, chocolate dipped fruit, but given my lunch was a sticky bun I opted for savoury rather than sweet.

I knew as soon as I saw the bright red and green letters spelling ‘Bruschetta’ that’s what I wanted.

The vendor served me with a big smile, offering me the choice of either mozzarella and basil pesto or vegan bruschetta with aubergine. Unfortunately aubergine doesn’t agree with me so I went for classic mozzarella and basil pesto, which cost £5. It was a bit pricey but then I was at a central London food market and it was the price I expected to pay. I asked the vendor if it was alright for me to take a photo and, after straightening up the bruschetta on display, he said yes.

I settled in a quiet-ish corner in the market to eat. I love it when minimal ingredients create such a flavour explosion: fresh tomato and garlic, creamy mozzarella, rich pesto, and crunchy bread. I’ve had bad bruschetta (mostly in the UK), I’ve had incredible Bruschetta (in Rome they served it regularly as a side with a glass of white wine, whatever time of day), and this was well up there.

I’m looking forward to exploring the Southbank Centre Food Market and discovering what else they have on offer.

Fabrique Bakery, Covent Garden, London

‘It’s got blueberries in. Healthy’

I don’t know why I even tried to convince myself that my blueberry bun from Fabrique Bakery was anything but the decadent treat it was. I had heard about their cinnamon buns from various people and forward planned a pitstop at Fabrique on my way to a Bloomsbury Festival event on women’s rights at Conway Hall in Holborn. I’ve walked the route to Holborn through Covent Garden from Charing Cross a thousand times as I used to work in the area, and yet I completely failed to find Fabrique and had to resort to Google Maps. It turned out to be, in panto style, behind me.

First things first I snapped a pic of the outside of the shop which had an array of buns gleaming in the window. As I walked in the cinnamon smell was glorious and rows and rows of shiny sticky buns were on display calling out to me.

A man and woman wrapped in warm coats were sat inside the bakery excitedly eating generously filled sandwiches made with what looked like rich and crusty sourdough. I watched them out of the corner of my eye as they seemed to be enjoying their lunch immensely, barely coming up for breath in between bites. Flour-dusted crusty loaves were lined up behind the counter and I was distracted for a moment away from the rows of tempting buns at the front of the counter. I had originally planned to get a cinnamon bun but the blueberry buns which were golden brown and speckled with dark purple gooey blueberries seeping out the sides, caught my attention.

For £3 my blueberry bun was bigger than the size of my open palm and I happily placed my Monzo card on the reader. As I walked out the bakery I pulled the bun out its paper bag to take a photo and immediately got sticky fingers – I licked them clean, attempted a photo and stuffed my phone into my back pocket so I could eat.

I did get a few strange looks as I walked from Fabrique to Holborn. This was perhaps caused by my Cheshire Cat grin and my technique of trying not to bite too deeply in an attempt to avoid smearing my chin with sugar. As I walked through Seven Dials a waitress from Hotel Chocolat handed me a sample of their salted caramel hot chocolate. Despite the sugar overload it tasted lovely and complemented my blueberry bun.

I arrived at Conway Hall 15 minutes later and went straight to the bathroom to wash my hands because, despite my best efforts, I indeed had sticky fingers and a sticky chin. The blueberry bun turned out to be my lunch as it was so filling, and it saw me through 3 hours of inspiring and energising talks on women’s rights in the twenty-first century and the future of feminist activism. Thanks for the bun power, Fabrique.

Mother Clucker, Flat Iron Square, London

‘Ketchup – for the kid!’

Opting for ketchup over hot sauce from a stall called Mother Clucker was always going to be greeted with some mick-taking. For the rest of the evening my husband joked that I was a child for having ketchup on my chips. I did try the hot sauce on his chips and to my surprise it wasn’t as hot as I was expecting. Next time I will get hot sauce. We were heading to a friend’s birthday drinks in a pub in London Bridge and wanted a quick dinner beforehand. I’ve been to Flat Iron Square a few times and it’s a no-brainer for speedy and delicious food in the area.

Flat Iron Square is all-round cool, full of hipsters, quirky decor and a great selection of reasonably priced (for London) food outlets. We had initially planned to get thai food, but we walked past Mother Clucker on our way to the main food area and, to quote Love Island, our heads were turned. Big chunks of heavily seasoned chicken were tumbling into the fryer and coming out the most glorious golden brown colour and I salivated at the thought of biting into it. We deliberated for about 30 seconds and both decided that proper fried chicken with Cajun fries and sauce was exactly what we wanted. I chose chicken strips and Murtie went for the burger. £19 altogether.

The server asked me if I was a student, to which I at first said no, and then asked ‘if I’d said yes would you have believed me?’. He replied saying he needed to see a student ID and on hearing that I had one from 2007 he raised his eyebrows and said ‘wow that’s old’. Everything about Mother Clucker is cheeky and I love that. The stickers on the outside of the stall, the servers and the food left us smiling.

Our order came up relatively quickly, and the server was very generous with hot sauce, mayo and ketchup for me – the child. We sat down in the main food area with our compostable forks and got stuck in. There is something very comforting about fried chicken, and biting into the juicy, crispy chicken breast chunks was immensely satisfying. The cajun fries packed a punch of heat and I was glad of my mayo to cool it all down.

Watching Murtie eat his burger provided much entertainment as bits of hot sauce and lettuce seeped through his fingers. During our last bites we noticed that the boxes we’d been eating from were recyclable, as was the cutlery. I’m so glad Mother Clucker do this – every little helps. We’ll be back to Flat Iron Square at some point to get the pad thai we originally went in for. No guarantees though as the sushi, salads, pizza and doughnuts are definitely our type on paper.

Bun House, London

‘I have custard on my chin’

I’d just sat down to watch a production of Wise Children at the Old Vic Theatre with my friend Amy when I realised I had the remnants of a custard bao on my chin. In my defense it was extremely runny, as I had been warned, and I challenge anyone to eat one without getting custard all over their chin. I wanted a quick eat after work before the theatre and had earmarked Bun House a few months ago after eating dinner elsewhere in Soho. I remembered seeing Bun House that night and singing ‘bun house, a whole lotta fun, prizes to be won’ to my then fiancé. We agreed the 90s children’s TV show pun in Bun House was a happy accident, but now whenever I think of Bun House, I sing that line. Sorry Bun House. Whilst there were no prizes to be won, I did have fun as the bao were big, tasty and delicious.

When I walked into Bun House the kitchen was steamy and busy, with lots of happy looking diners sat at small tables devouring bao from bamboo steamers. The menu was varied and reasonably priced at £2.50 per bun. I’ve eaten in other bao places in London where a single bao of one bite is a fiver. Each bao in Bun House was a good 4 bites worth and very filling. I opted for a veg bun, a fish bun and a dish of lotus root crisp, mainly because I’d seen a photo on Instagram and was intrigued. My food came promptly and I took a seat on a leather bench in the window, which was open as it was a mild evening. As ‘fast food’ goes the buns were very flavoursome – I particularly liked the veg bun which had deep mushroom taste.

The lotus root crisps were crunchy and moreish, and gave a satisfying texture to the soft buns. I watched the world go by whilst eating and clocked a lady coming in and out of the restaurant with a giant bamboo steamer. When she went out it was full and when she came back in it was empty.  I finished up my lotus root crisps and went outside to investigate. I discovered that a vlogging company were giving out free, limited edition, pink custard bao to promote their new vlog platform. In all honesty, I was too excited to receive a free bun to remember the name of the company. As I was walking off the rep called after me saying to be careful as the custard inside the bun was runny. She wasn’t lying. I prepared myself and slowly took a small-ish bite. Custard squirted all over my chin despite my best attempts to suck it all up. On the plus side, the custard bun was sweet, satisfying, and just what I fancied to round off my dinner.

Although the custard solidified on my face, it did mean I got to taste it again whilst licking my fingers to rub it off at the theatre. Bun House was great for a quick dinner that didn’t break the bank but filled my tummy. Wise Children was also excellent and I recommend you see it before the run ends.

Singtong Burger House, Leather Lane, London

‘I’m being good, the wedding is 6 weeks away’. 

I’d just picked up our wedding rings from a jeweller in Hatton Garden and wondered what to do for lunch. It was the beginning of a half day off work and I was in a really good mood. I walked through the food market on Leather Lane, each stall sizzled and popped and gave off delicious smells. I dodged the queues of city workers and passed giant pans of paella, pizza slices and gourmet kebabs but couldn’t find what a wanted. SINGTONG BURGER HOUSE. I made a beeline to a small corner restaurant with lots of guys sat in the window stuffing their faces and chugging cans of Diet Coke.

I ordered the cheeseburger, not particularly adventurous considering they do a rather fabulous sounding chicken burger, but I was in the mood for greasy beef and fries. I got the lunch meal deal – burger, fries and a drink for £10. I sat at the bar and a few minutes later a try landed in front of me with fries spilling out a bag and an oozing cheesy burger.

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It felt kind of wrong having been in a fancy Hatton Garden jewellers 10 minutes earlier and now I was taking mammoth bites into my cheeseburger. I’d text my husband-to-be about 8 minutes earlier saying ‘I’m finding lunch in the Leather Lane market, I’m being good, the wedding is 6 weeks away’. By ‘good’ I clearly meant good at finding somewhere incredible to eat, and at that I was successful.

I marched off half an hour later, fancy wedding rings safely in my bag, slathering my hands in sanitizer and a big smile on my face.