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.

 

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.