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A morning in London's larder

Old railway arches on Druid Street in London.

Publication Date : 27-09-2012


Maltby Street Market in London's Southwark area has yet to become a major tourist attraction.

But for those who flock to this sprawl of independent shops to stock up on fresh produce and wholesome ingredients prefer it that way.

Maltby Street market is not a typical market but two stretches of shops under the railway arches off Maltby and Druid streets near London Bridge. It's near Bermondsey tube station and east of the more popular Borough Market. You need a good pair of shoes to walk there, or if you live in London, a bike will help you arrive there in style.

Since the summer of 2010, Maltby Street market has become a popular place for a leisurely Saturday stroll for many hardcore foodies. Many come as the shops open their doors to sip a cappuccino and enjoy breakfast at Bea's Diner, a simply-decked-out arch with Union Jack-lined walls that welcomes punters to its wooden-and-steel communal tables with an easy-going vibe.

Others come here to do their weekly grocery shopping. More and more Britons are looking for diversity in their menus and moving away from the industrial-style monoculture bounty. London has been at the centre of the British food revolution. Seasonal fresh and locally produced foods are praised and preferred both in the kitchen and restaurants in the city. Cooking has become chic and trendy again in British households with people looking for the next best new farmers markets to stock up on fresh ingredients. Maltby Street Market answers those calls and is gaining in popularity among those in the know.

At the top of Druid Street, a nondescript storage arch is filled to the brim with seasonal vegetables and fruits. A young couple in floral summer gear and tailored shorts is busy their backpacks with ripe figs, all kinds of berries, gorgeous heritage tomatoes and colourful assorted vegetables while chatting with the cashiers about next week's fresh-from-farm arrivals. Another buyer, apparently on her bike, discusses with a basket-toting lady the tasty differences between a myriad of mushrooms. They apparently come here not just to shop, but also plan their meals and make serious decisions about food. This is the new vibe of London's food markets, a flashback to the good old days when food was still the centre of our universe.

But Maltby Street Market is not only about fresh produce, it is also a great place for anyone looking for delicious nibbles. The owners of Hansen & Lydersen kiosk, unpacking and arranging their shop early in the morning, are handing out free samples of old-school smoked salmon and biscuits while next door Tozino's lures passers-by slices of delicious jamon. Freshly brewed coffee is available at a nearby café and bakery, selling fresh brews from the popular Monmouth Coffee beans. Walk across the railway to the other side on Druid Street and you come to St John Bakery and Wine where assorted home-baked breads, especially the famous brown sourdough loaves and custard cream doughnuts, are selling like hot cakes. Nearby, a butcher is offering a selection of freshly cut meat while a cheese specialist showcases his cheese, bread and yoghurts.

Despite being rather scattered and a little desolate compared to the compact Borough Market a few streets away, Maltby Street Market is gaining momentum and popularity and not everyone is happy. That's quite an irony considering that this market was born out of the extraordinary success of Borough Market itself. By 2007, high rents, the crazy crowding and camera-toting tourists were already driving away local patrons as well as some vendors. The following year, the Monmouth Coffee Company started to open its Maltby Street warehouse for a few hours on Saturday. Foodies followed and some traders went to see what the fuss was all about.

Traders who have strayed the less than two kilometres have been pretty much condemned for their disloyalty to the older establishment (Borough Market). The London Evening Standard reported in 2011 that the first groups of traders diverting from Borough Market was called the "Bermondsey Seven" for selling similar produce at the Maltby Street Market, driving away a bunch of customers who should have otherwise continued their shopping at Borough Market. They were later convicted from Borough Market and now just sell their produce at Maltby Street.

But Maltby Street Market is not only about Borough Market's former vendors acting on their frustrations. There are also many new vendors such as the Ice Cream Union, the London Honey Company, the Ham and Cheese Company and Coleman Coffee Roasters, whose presence here is the reason people come here in droves. Perhaps being small and a desolate also has its merits, as there is little better than a quiet and serene Saturday morning munching on delicious food and buying specialities from leading purveyors of British food.

Last October, The Observer newspaper awarded the Maltby Street Market the Best Newcomer award.

Maltby Street Market is Bermondsey, east of Borough Market. You can get off at London Bridge tube station and walk south or get off at Bermondsey and walk east.


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