Of all the markets in London, Maltby Street is the one which still has that “secret” vibe – this despite the hoards of foodies there on a saturday. I mean, this place is rammed, and that was even before our little crew turned up with three prams, two toddlers and a rather well-behaved baby. But it doesn’t have the sheer terrifying overwhelmingness of Borough, nor does it feel as strict as London Fields (which, with its two lines of stalls feels like you’re on a sort of Greatest Hits of Hipster Food London Tour sometimes).
Maltby Street is a bit different. I remember when I first read about it a few years ago, apparently born out of a dispute with Borough about tenancy and space, with big name players like St John, O’Shea’s and brewers like the Kernel creating a destination for other producers attracted by the roomy railway arches strung along the line heading into London Bridge. I’d always been a bit suspicious of it to be honest, feeling it was a place for foodies built by foodies, in a deliberately slightly awkward place to get to which was designed to exclude rather than include. The types of people who went were like me – destination food tourists who’d read a bit of Anthony Bourdain and fancied themselves as “gastronauts,” exercising the worst of the middle-class propensity to take good things and make them fancy and special (see “Craft Beer” for the worst offenders) and for a secret club of in-the-know experts who all know each other and air-kiss and go to fancy pop ups. Damn their hipster hides. But I digress…
In fact, “Maltby Street Market” is more of a loose collection of businesses all in a particular area around the railway line. It’s about a 15 minute casual stroll from London Bridge or Bermondsey Tube, and finds itself strung between two distinct areas. The first, the Lassco RopeWalk, is the more traditional-style “market” with a jumble of producers and traders crammed into the alley next to a interiors dealer/reclamation place. Lassco’s hard to describe, you can buy tat and £1800 bullion carts – it’s that sort of place.
The RopeWalk sees well-known names like Dark Sugars and Herman Ze German jostle alongside more local concerns like African Volcano (spicy burgers and wraps) and The Gay Farmer (gorgeous olive oil). A list of traders is here but it seems that there’s a rotating list of regulars. I was particularly taken by the presence of Hansen & Lydersen, a specialist smokehouse operating out of Stokey who a) kick H. Forman’s arse and b) do so while being painfully cool. I couldn’t resist snaffling a slice of sourdough topped with slices of delicious smoky fish and cool sour cream and dill. Naturally I managed to drop half of it on the floor, but still.
However, it’s not all about the Ropewalk. On the other side of the arches on Druid Street and down a little way towards Spa Road are a cluster of producers and brewers occupying the arches. These include stupidly fancy grocers (Natoora – they seem to sell very fancy tomatoes at prices you’d have to take a second mortgage to afford), bakers, Neals Yard Dairy, a honey guy (Apiarist?) and cheesemakers (cue the Monty Python joke about them being blessed…). This handy map shows you the different options and the dual-sided nature of Maltby Street and the environs. It’s well worth straying outside of the RopeWalk to find some treasures.
Of course, I couldn’t tell you about a visit to Maltby Street without picking out the big-name highlights. These are, naturally, the big hitters making Maltby Street Market a true foodie destination and frankly, they’re worth it.
Maltby Street has attracted (or maybe they were there first? Who knows?) some premium-grade brewers and distillers turning out some truly epic drinks. Among the brewers include the mighty Kernel Brewery, Brew by Numbers, and Partizan. There’s even a pub crawl you can do along the “Brewery Mile”, because most of the producers throw open their doors so you can try their wares before you buy. Most civilised.
It doesn’t stop at beer, though. You’ll also find Gosnell’s Mead and not one but TWO gin distillers – Little Bird on the Ropewalk and Jensen’s just beyond. The latter in particular is a real favourite of mine, turning out the fabulous vintage-style “Old Tom” gin – and I’ve not yet found a better for G&T.
2) St John’s Donuts
These are famous. Really famous. So famous that I’d heard about these for years before I made my way to Maltby Street a few months ago. By god I’m glad I did. A word to the wise – the vanilla is obviously The One but the chocolate and coffee options are pretty fly too. You’re not going to get your ordinary Birds custard jobbies here. It’s cream-heavy, whipped till light as air and piped into the crispy yeasty sweet sugary shell in frankly indecent quantities.
Lovely One didn’t like them – “ugh this is just like cream”. And his point? But he did offer a good description for continental types – they’re apparently very like a Berliner (of the famous Kennedy malapropism) except with a lot more filling. Flatmate, however, was delighted with the little coffee number we brought home for her so I think LO is well in the minority on this. My verdict? You should drop everything and go to Maltby Street. They’re worth it, people.
Let’s be honest. What could I possibly write about Monty’s which hasn’t been written already? I could tell you that their sandwiches are indecently big (but sandwich blogger par excellence Helen Graves has already done that), I could tell you that they’re expensive but worth it (see the sometimes-hilarious Tripadvisor reviews*), I could even go on telly and film them making a sandwich but Tom Kerridge has done that and all.
So I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
First up – don’t muck about, order the Reuben Special. I know it’s a tenner and I know that’s a lot but you’re talking an inch of pastrami topped with an inch of salt beef and oh my god it’s so incredibly good I can’t even tell you. Moist, fatty, melt-in-the-mouth and so damn good it knocks Brick Lane Beigel Bake Salt Beef into a cocked hat and believe me people I know whereof of I speak on this. It’s inspired me to reconsider having a go at making my own and even then I’m already sad because I know it couldn’t be this good.
Topped with oozy swiss cheese, tart thousand island-style dressing and a cloak of sauerkraut this decadent beast just dares you to dig in. Afterwards I felt like I was trying to digest a boulder but it was worth every bite. Even though I couldn’t in fact finish it and Lovely One was obliged to help out. Also worth noting were the excellent home-brined pickles. Lovely One, in a complete nationality fail, is possibly the only (half-) German in the world who can’t bear pickled things and so I got his as well. A good day, people. A blessed day.
On that note we headed home, groaning bellies and happy faces all round. And heck, I even forgave the gastronauts and thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to let this one slip by. Hey, if I can go and feel right at home maybe anyone can join the cool foodie club. You simply must go, dahlings.
*Tripadvisor reviews are just brilliant. I love the idea that people get so outraged about people liking stuff that they don’t like that they feel the need to just write stuff like “I DONT C WOT ALL TEH FUSS IS ABOUT ITS JUST FOOD” instead of y’know, something helpful. But the comedy potential is worth it – see the inestimably good Tripadvisarrgh for some real treasures.