In what has seemed like a short couple of years in London, I have fast become a fan and follower of the capital’s many markets. These often-unnoticed pockets of quiet quirkiness, easy living and big city buzz are just waiting for you to discover them and their many secrets. Consider them oases; backstreet gems behind the relentless city roads, where you can join the in-crowd or retreat in a corner with a book and coffee and quietly observe the many flying and falling characters of this mad and glorious corner of the globe.
Only the best Londoners hang around markets on their days off. So if you’re new, use them to find out the best of what the city has to offer. And if you already lived here, and hadn’t yet acquainted yourself with some of the following, well, you’re about to get real happy. It’s London like you’d never known it before, and it’s all on your doorstep. Behold, our very finest…
Brick Lane Sunday (Up)Market
If you’re familiar with this famous lane, you’ll know there’s no where quite like it in London. It’s where Bengali mothers shop alongside beanie-clad grimesters, and where toothless old men banging on broken street pianos isn’t just a cliché immortalised in Dickens novels. It’s right there, next to the T-Bird perched on his motorbike playing guitar. Brick Lane is both a stomping ground for ‘the mad ones’ and one of the trendiest spots in London. And the markets aren’t half bad either! The Old Truman Brewery hosts the huge Sunday UpMarket, a fusion of everything you’d ever desire in a market; clothing, accessories, furniture, food, crafts and music. And the rammed, ready-to-eat food market in Ely’s Yard is unbeatable for sampling or filling up on grub from around the world.
DO Dress in your most ridiculous attire, or simply roll up in your hangover-friendly PJs. In these parts, anything goes and no-body gives a damn, so take full advantage of the fact that you won’t get evil-eye for rocking that garish 90s number you secretly want to wear 24/7. In fact, the likelihood is you’ll be stopped by the copious amounts of ‘street style’ snappers.
DON’T Falling victim to the never-ending Indian restaurants on Osborn Street can be easy. They’re door to door and their shameless waiters will chase you offering cheap deals on curry. Sometimes the only option is to run for your life, hurling abuse as you go.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE Relax with a Sunday paper at the little coffee shop in Blitz, the huge vintage department store on Hanbury Street. They also do tons of new books for only a few pounds each.
TOP TIP The food stalls slash their prices as the day comes to a close, so hit the market at around 5pm for the cheapest feast you ever had (and make sure you try the Ethiopian!)
Columbia Road Flower Market
Just off Hackney Road, something special is created every early Sunday morning, when the scent of stacked flora and fauna fills the air and the ‘barrel boys’ set up camp in what is one of the most successful long-running markets in London.
Regardless of the weekly Flower Market (one of only two street Flower Markets in the whole of Europe), Columbia Road has also made its name as a thriving backstreet. Its many independent shops, which lean towards the crafty-hearted, are lined side-by-side, dotted with age-old Columbia Road institutions such as Lee’s Seafoods and Café Columbia. Most of the pitch owners have been there for up to 40 years and it’s simply the best place to pick up some flowers, so join in with the many Londoners who live locally and take the trip to pick up your weekly bunch.
DO Make it your one-stop spot for gift-buying. The amount of affordable boutiques filled with unique homeware, accessories and handmade wonders is astonishing. Try Nom for the most beautiful hand-carved cedar wood kitchenware, Nelly Duff for reasonable one-off art work, and Jessie Chorley for bespoke journals, cards and more handmade beauties than you ever could imagine.
DON’T Arrive too late! Many shops shut around mid-afternoon and the flower market winds down from about 3pm. It’s a market for morning people.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE Pick the right moment to buy your flowers. Prices are halved at around the time traders begin to pack up and the street comes alive with cockney voices roaring “any two for a fiver!”
TOP TIP Visit Columbia Road on an off-market day, too! The shops are so wonderful that you’ll need time to browse through them all without the distraction of the Sunday crowds.
Chatsworth Road Market
Consider this your hot ticket into a London rarity. Chatsworth Road Market is still very quiet in comparison to other markets, perhaps due to its location (Homerton is often dubbed as ‘the armpit of the East’, bless them…). Despite being a thriving shindig of a market back in it’s 1930s heyday, it slowly lost its momentum and closed in the 1990s. Since reopening last year, however, it’s been given a new lease of life and is fast becoming a London hotspot, with in-the-know stall holders describing it as ‘the next Broadway Market’. The handful of quality stalls and its easygoing atmosphere makes now the perfect time to visit this understated corner of Hackney while it’s still quiet, so get up there on a Sunday and enjoy the cool calm while it lasts!
DO The affordable vintage homeware and antiques are second-to-none, so pick up something to brighten up your digs from one of the many stalls and bric-a-brac boutiques (try Proper Old and Hair Fashions).
DON’T Don’t be put off by the streets you pass through as you make your way to the market. Chatsworth Road is very much in a friendly pocket of its own so either catch a bus or get the overground if you really want to avoid taking the long walk through the dodgy areas. Regardless, it’ll all be well worth it.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE Brunch at Creperie du Monde. Enough said.
TOP TIP Visit L’epicerie @ 56, a lovely French cafe and deli that’s renowned in the area.
This off-track stretch of road between Regent’s Canal and London Fields holds host to my favourite market in London. Visit once and you’ll want to live there, forever. (Actually finding somewhere is something else altogether; believe me, I’ve tried.) Like London Fields itself, Broadway Market has been notorious as a rough part of the East. The market shut down several years ago, and reopened as a food market in 2004, when many restaurants and boutiques opened up to mark a new era. Even The Cat and Mutton, now a hip pub and eatery on the corner of Westgate Street, was completely transformed from its original status as a seedy Hackney local (rumour in fact has it that old Broadway Market partly inspired Eastenders!) The revamp led to Broadway as it’s known today: a laid-back and sophisticated food market with a trillion other things to see, do and discover, all elevated by an atmosphere you just won’t find anywhere else. My downside to Broadway Market? It’s only open one day a week. If only everyday was a Saturday…
DO Have a proper look around, including the non-food stalls such as vintage clothing, handmade lingerie and organic goodies. Then check out some of the canal boats along the river that often open up as mini cafes and book shops.
DON’T Avoid sitting outside. Crazy old boys resembling Robin Williams in his bearded years will come and talk at you ‘til kingdom come.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE Grab a window seat at my all-time favourite cafe, L’Eau a la Bouche, order one of their perfect flat whites, and watch the market go by (whilst laughing at those that made the mistake of sitting out front).
TOP TIP Broadway Market also comes alive at night. Most evenings during the week, you’ll find a mixed crowd of 9-5 professionals and students relaxing in the many pubs and little bars. Visit Off Broadway for candle-lit cocktails and Mexican food.
There’s no doubt about it, Borough Market is iconic. As well as being London’s most renowned food market, it’s also become a community of culinary passion, knowledge and understanding. If you find yourself intrigued by the London food scene and want to sidle your way in to see what the fuss is about, this is the perfect place to start. Be you a professional chef, self-proclaimed domestic goddess, restauranteur or amateur cook with an itch for good food, these oldy-worldy cobbled backstreets of London Bridge are a fail-safe haven for any individual who can’t deny the pleasures of good eating and fine drinking.
DO Sample sample sample. And when you’re done, grab lunch in the form of a piled-high burger at Northfield Farm in The Triangle; their beef is regarded as amongst the best in Britain. Wash it down with a locally-roasted coffee by the famous, must-visit Monmouth on Park Street.
DON’T On arrival, being tempted by the mass amounts of street food served up by cafes and restaurants surrounding the market is a rookie mistake. Barge on through to the main traders, ignoring how good that giant paella looks; you’ll be needing that stomach space for the good stuff.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE Give your kitchen cupboard a pampering by picking up some cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy, Mexican ingredients from the Cool Chile stall (Chipotle Paste & Corn Tortillas for homemade soft tacos) and White Truffle Oil from Tartufaia Truffles.
TOP TIP Being the gastronomic hub that it is, many events and demonstrations by top chefs take place throughout the year, so talk to traders and keep an eye and ear out as to what’s going on.