Sunday, 2 February 2014

Weekend Markets: Maltby Street, Brick Lane & Spitalfields Markets

I have said this before and I will keep saying it because it is true - London, when drenched in sunlight, feels like an entirely different city entirely. The kind of city where people might conceivably have madcap adventures and fall in love in. While I don't fancy my chances with that, it's still deliriously nice to go out on a sunny day in London since those periods feel so rare. My plans for the weekend had involved sitting at home with readings for my dissertation, but I'd been so good during the week that when the morning sun gleamed rather insistently through my window, I figured I might as well make the most of the good weather. 

The main reason for my pilgrimage all the way to the wilds of South London and Maltby Street Market was to pick up a box of treats from Bad Brownie for our planned movie night sleepover at GW's. I'd eaten my way through a number of sampler boxes that they gave out at the making of Stylist's 24 Hour Issue last year, and had been thoroughly indoctrinated by that experience to think of their luscious Salted Caramel version every time the word 'brownie' is mentioned in my presence. It's that good. 

As you can see from this picture taken before SSH arrived at GW's, the brownies were extremely well-received - we decided to sneak a nibble first since she was late, and that nibble very quickly evolved into scarfing a quarter of the Peanut Butter, a third of the Raspberry Granola and half the Salted Caramel. When I was 8, I spent the year eating peanut butter out of jars after receiving a book dedicated to sweet and savoury recipes involving the stuff, and after that I couldn't touch it without feeling vaguely ill. I still get cravings though, and there's just enough of a chunky, crunchy layer on their Peanut Butter Brownie to satisfy it without triggering anything. The Raspberry Granola isn't very strongly fruity, but there's a nice mellow flavour running through it. There are also enough fibrous bits that you can easily convince yourself that it makes up a healthy breakfast.  

Since I'd travelled so far, it seemed a waste if I didn't at least sample more of what the Market had to offer. The plan was to have a quick jaunt round the place and peek at all the stalls before deciding what to have, but a few steps away from Bad Brownie was the very classy-looking Waffle On, and all thoughts of even searching for anything else just flew right out of my head. 

There were two machines chugging along and filling the air with the smell of buttermilk waffles, and two pans full of slow roasted duck, streaky bacon and biodynamic eggs that were driving everyone insane as we waited. You could see all the people who'd placed their orders awkwardly hovering around and pretty much swooping to snatch up their waffles once their names were called. 

They do both sweet and savoury waffles with toppings like Morello Cherries and Cream, or Home-Cured Scottish Salmon. The most popular though seemed to be the Streaky Bacon with Maple Syrup, which neatly occupies the grey area between the two. I got the special, which was Slow-Roasted Duck with Fresh Plum Sauce. It was Chinese New Year after all. 

Armed with my waffles in a small paper carton, I walked towards the dim and cavernous seating area, but before I found a seat I was waylaid at the entrance by the table of wine bottles that I spied. Life's a Bottle is a small independent wine stall with a very special range of wines, and I picked up a rather tangy glass of white from the friendly guy in a top hat running the stall. The wine went perfectly with my duck waffle. 

They were very generous with the chives, which is a plus point in my opinion. The slow roasted duck had a surprisingly subtle flavour, and the fresh plum sauce was refreshingly tart and deeply plummy. The waffles themselves were ridiculously light and fluffy. Really, the only quibble I have is that the servings are a bit on the small side, and once all the waffle is gone you'll feel quite bereft. 

Maltby Street Market is set up in LASSCO's Ropewalk (I.E. The street is owned by the architectural and antique salvage company) so the decor is distinctly shabby chic among the Victorian railway arches. You can probably spot vintage textiles and a few curiosities here and there in the market itself, but if you want to see more then it's possible to explore LASSCO's Bermondsey Depot, a veritable treasure trove. The Market was quietly started in 2010 (According to Time Out, but I've been informed by other sources that it officially opened in 2011), but it's since grown as more traders decided to get in on the act. It's much less touristy than Borough Market and less crowded too, so rather than a frenetically paced visit, it's the sort of place you can linger around. 

Further up the market, there's also a very poky looking beer stall selling craft beers from the UK. Don't let the extremely makeshift features fool you, the American who runs the stall has a small but extremely well-curated stock of beer. I asked for a good hoppy beer, and he pointed me towards Siren Craft Brew's Soundwave IPA. There are a few tables and chairs scattered around and he's more than happy to let you bring food in to enjoy with the beer, but I decided to take mine home to savour it. It was an immensely hoppy experience, dry and bitter but with lots of complex flavours that balanced it out. Definitely going to pick up another bottle soon. 

Movie night didn't happen in the end because by the time we got back from The Marylebone that night we only had about enough energy to have a bite of the brownies before we passed out. The next day, we went to the All Bar One round the corner from GW's to fortify ourselves before heading out to Brick Lane Market for a look-see. On a Sunday morning, it was blessedly quiet, making it the perfect venue for a hungover breakfast.

Got the Ever So Eggy Bread with bacon and maple syrup to sop up the remaining alcohol in my system, and in my weakened state it was the absolute best thing I'd ever tasted. We wound up lolling about on our seats much longer than we expected to, but it was necessary for our recovery before having to brave the wilds of Shoreditch. 

The stalls along Sclater Street before Brick Lane Market proper were ridiculously dodgy - I saw a man hawking a single dirty boot. When you get beyond the wastelands though, Brick Lane Market proper is absolutely buzzing on Sunday afternoons, and it's great to wade through the chaos in search of a cheap lunch. When I saw the long queue for Fins & Trotters' Fish & Chips, my very Singaporean hind-brain decreed that I had to join the line as well. 

They were pretty phenomenal Fish & Chips, and at £3 for the mini cone - a generous four pieces of fish on a full bed of chips - it made for a cheery and filling lunch as well. Loaded up on malt vinegar from the condiments counter, and the three of us savoured it slowly while perusing the rest of the stalls down the road. Three clothing stalls in we realized that one dress in particular kept popping up everywhere, and after shaking off the disconcerting sense of déjà vu I wondered if they all got their items from the same supplier.  

Gorgeous weather aside, we were at Brick Lane because I'd been informed that you could buy £3 Pina Coladas from a stall there on Sundays. It took a while for us to find it, but it turns out the stall actually does exist, even if they only do a non-alcoholic version of the drink. With our livers still recovering from our indulgent evening before, this worked out very much in our favour. Getting the drink in hollowed out pineapples costs a pound more, but most assuredly, it's a pound well spent.

The man running the stall told us that he can't wait for summer to come, which is when business usually picks up. Cold as it was though, we still thought the drink was splendid. With no beach holiday in our immediate futures, this was probably the closest we could get to the sun and sea. It felt quite fabulous walking down the busy street with a frothy pineapple in hand, humming The Pina Colada song under our breaths while taking sips of the freshly-made drink and thinking of it as detox. 

We made it all the way to Spitalfields Market, where the awful signage led us round and round in our search for a bathroom. By this point, we were beginning to flag, and if I saw another cowl-necked owl dress I was going to scream, so it was back home for all of us. Visiting the different markets had been a nice way to spend the weekend.

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