Borough Market, a massive food and gourmet goods market in Southwark, is one of my absolute favorite (and regular) destinations in London. I visit every few weeks to get my eat on, and after months of careful and meticulous sampling, I’ve rounded up the top five eats in Borough Market so that you can make a surgical strike on your next visit to this glorious city.
But first, some history on Borough Market. The very short story is that Borough Market has been around in some form or another since medieval times, eventually becoming a wholesale produce market in the 1900s before experiencing a decline in the 1970s with the advent of supermarkets. The market was finally revived in the 1990s, as gourmet food purveyors such as Brindisa (importer of Spanish goods) began to set up shop. Today, the market is home to hundreds of traders ranging from olive oil to bakeries. It’s a go-to for any serious foodie, both for prepared foods (such as an excellent Indian thali takeaway, Gujarati Rasoi) and authentic British cheeses from Neal’s Yard Dairy.
That’s not to say that Borough Market isn’t still a go-to for incredibly fresh produce and quality ingredients. I regularly visit Borough Market when I’m cooking special occasion dinners or when I’m craving Mexican (thanks to Cool Chile, which sells real masa harina and perfectly melty Queso Chihuahua made in their London dairy).
So what should you check out if you’re just visiting Borough Market for the day? Well, let me point you in the right direction (or
1. Padella’s Pici Pasta
Oh, lord. Where do I begin with this pasta? Padella is a bustling handmade pasta joint occupying a corner of Borough Market right next to the market’s main entrance on Borough High Street. The place has a “queue” (i.e., wait in line) system that starts with eager beavers lining up at 11:30am, including yours truly on more than one occasion (sometimes I wait with a vanilla custard Bread Ahead donut, which is one of my other top-fives). The must-try here is the pici pasta, usually swirled in cacio e pepe (shavings of aged Pecorino and cracked bits of freshly ground pepper). The starch from these plump, chewy curls mix with the melted Pecorino in a creamy, sharp sauce that you’ll lick off your plate. In fact, go ahead and order two portions, even if you’re alone, because it’s just better to be safe than sorry.
2. Bread Ahead’s Salted Caramel and Honeycomb Donut
Up next on the top five eats in Borough Market are custard donuts from Bread Ahead Bakery. Bread Ahead is one of a handful of bakeries in Borough Market, and even though their signage is modest, their signature donuts set them apart. The donuts are yeasty and filled with silky custard in a few flavor options, including an excellent vanilla bean and chocolate, but the standout is the salted caramel with crisped honeycomb. I usually start my mornings at Borough Market with a good custard donut fix accompanied by a flat white from Monmouth Coffee, which is next on the list.
3. Monmouth Coffee’s Flat White
Before the hubby and I had kids, coffee was a weekend indulgence — something I liked to wrap my hands around on a chilly winter morning. Post-kids, it’s the fuel I need to get through my day because the nights before can be sooo long. One night not long ago, Meimei came out of her room at 3:00 am and flicked me awake on the forehead to ask me to walk her back to her room. I’m still not completely over it. The pot of Monmouth Coffee I had the next morning helped ease my suffering.
That’s why I make regular trips down to Borough Market for the variety and freshness of the coffee beans at Monmouth Coffee. The single-origin beans are roasted at their Bermondsey location, and I love that their beans are less acidic and bitter than other brands I’ve had.
There’s almost always a “queue” running out the front door for Monmouth’s pour-over coffees and made-to-order espresso drinks, but here’s a pro tip — if you buy beans, you can jump the line and head straight to the coffee counter to the right. After you place the bean order, you can also order any drinks you want. Don’t miss the flat white, which is a pour of micro-foamed steamed milk into a double espresso. They’ll even make it with the same beans that you purchase, if you’d prefer that over espresso.
4. Neal’s Yard Dairy’s Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese and Kappacasein Grilled Cheese
What can I say about Neal’s Yard Dairy except that it is often where I go in my head when I need to visit my happy place? This English dairy focuses on the best of British cheeses, from nutty bleu cheeses like the Stichelton (a variant of the classic British blue Stilton cheese typically eaten at Christmas) to hard, sharp white cheddars. My perennial go-to is the Lincolnshire Poacher, a sharp, hard cheddar with a creamy texture and fruity flavor. I ask for the cheesemongers to slice a “snacking” portion, which usually results in a slice that’s big enough to share between four people. The generous cheesemongers at Neal’s Yard will let you sample any cheese on display, so if hard cheddars aren’t your jam, you can literally taste your way through the dairy until you find The One.
Neal’s Yard also regularly holds cheese tasting and cheesemaking courses. I took their Fundamentals of Cheesemaking course over the summer, which I highly recommend for a glimpse into the basics of actual cheesemaking.
Okay, so maybe it’s cheating to include two foods in #4 of my top five eats in Borough Market, but if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right. Kappacasein Dairy used to be a little stand in the main market until it opened a standalone store on Stoney Street. In addition to selling its finely crafted cheeses, you can also indulge in a bubbly melted raclette over potatoes or a simply fantastic grilled cheese sandwich with melted, buttery leeks.
5. Richard Haward’s Colchester Native Oysters
Rounding out Borough Market’s top five eats are Richard Haward’s Colchester Native oysters. England is actually an ideal place to eat oysters — the waters are cold year-round, and there are oyster beds that have been cultivated here since Roman times (no joke). Richard Haward’s oysters are comically large, but seriously briny and juicy. Join the hordes of Asian tourists at 8:30am clamoring for platters of Colchester Natives for breakfast, or wait until a more reasonable brunchtime and enjoy yours with champagne. Either way, they’re a must at the market.
Of course, Borough Market’s top five eats aren’t the only delicious foods available for belly-filling good times. I love the gigantic paella, or the fresh juices, or the tacos at El Pastor, the mulled ciders, the paninis, the diver scallops, the sea urchin — oy. It’s an exhaustive list.
But you should get started with these five, and then let me know what you think about the other eats that are can’t miss . . .