Sep 15, 2015
London for cooks - Blog - Tasty London: the Feast

Tasty London: the Feast

“I have always found London’s diversity very exciting. On the one hand it is a financial and cultural centre, rapidly changing, on the other hand and you always have a chance to feel like you are in the country side or even on a farm. Partly this feeling comes from visiting little fairs, family food stalls and Saturday food markets. This sometimes hidden side of London is the topic of our today’s blog”, Julia Varshavskaya of Russky London.

Anna, besides doing cookery classes you bring your customers to the London markets and help them choose the best products. How did you come up with this idea?  

Every time when I am somewhere new the first thing I do is to visit the market square, preferably on a market day. It is there, that you are able to feel the spirit of the city - see the locals, what they eat, how they bargain with the traders, what they talk about waiting for their turn to buy seasonal veg. Certainly, London is too big and dynamic to have only one market place. There are many of them. And each has a different feel to it.

Indeed, London has always had a string of markets. With arrival of supermarkets and chain stores the interest to small markets cooled down and only in the last decade it got a new breath. It came with the arrival of fashion for eco-friendly and local produce. And when I say local, I do not just mean British, I mean food produced in direct vicinity to your home. 

For example, in one of my local groceries you can buy honey produced somewhere in Regents Park or Hampstead Heath. The theory is, that honey from flowers which grow close to where you live is less allergenic for you, because your organism has adapted to the pollen already. I cannot say if this theory is true, but it sounds interesting!

In our first interview we talked about how it seems that Londoners trust mass products less and less and how a lot of people head to the farmers markets on Saturday instead of going to a supermarket. Buying products from a local market is considered environmentally friendlier by some people: the shorter the way of the product from the farm to the plate the less harm is done to nature. 

If you have time you can even go directly to the farm to collect produce and combine food shopping with a trip to the country-side. Take for example Garsons at Esher farm, they grow 40 different types of fruit and veg. Or Hewitts farm, where on the 78 acres of land there are at least 13 types of apple trees and that is besides other fruit and veg. Or you can go to Home Cottage Farm and if you are lucky you will see a guinea-fowl proudly walking between plum and apple trees.

But, I guess that a trip to the farm for a busy Londoner is rather an exception than norm. So where would you recommend going without leaving the city?

Indeed, getting out of town, especially on the weekend is not an easy and quick task. But, fortunately, we are spoiled by farmers markets here - both large and small. Almost every borough has it’s own farmers market. I often go to Hampstead Heath and we have a family tradition of stocking up with tomatoes and apples before embarking to the playground. There are no better apples than the ones we get there. We usually go for Spartan apples, Cox and Braeburn. In Islington there is Chapel Street Market, in Marylebone - Marylebone Farmers Market. You can find a lot of information about your local market here.

So what is the difference between all these markets and street-food markets?

I think farmers markets serve the needs of people who like to buy products to cook themselves . Street-food markets are for those who seek entertainment apart from shopping for fruit and veg. For example at the Broadway Market on Saturdays you can not only buy organic meat, cheese and bread, but also have a nice meal in the local cafe’s and restaurants, visit numerous stalls with vintage clothes and trinkets. And in the end relax in the grass of London fields weather permitting or even have a swim in the lido.

On the South side of the river (after a walk at the antiques market in Bermondsey) you can go to the Maltby Street - here you can have a great lunch (for example at «40 Maltby Street»), or buy delicacies to take home. For example you’ll find delectable smoked salmon in Hansen & Lydersen. In Tozino  they’ll cut you a piece of jamon and serve it with a glass of Cava. The fans of German sausages can go straight to Herman ze German.

If you are at the Berwick Market try pizza from Pizza Pilgrims, or buy meat at Jacob’s Ladder at Brockley Market at Lewisham.

A lot of good restaurants are located around these markets. For example a great Argentinean steak house Buen Ayre at Broadway market, Blanchette close to Berwick Street Market. There is a good opportunity to finish a sometimes tiresome shopping trip with a nice family lunch. 

Obviously, there are big and famous markets like Borough Market and Brixton market, but I think you know about them already.

When I started exploring gastronomic map of London, a lot of my friends recommended to go to it’s famous night markets. What you do think of them?

For those who are not afraid to wake up early, there are Billingsgate Market (fish market), Smithfield Market (meat market) and New Covent Garden (fruit, veg and flowers). Professionals come there at around 4 -5  in the morning - you can find the best, and cheapest produce then. But around 6-7 the market is still full of life - and you can always find something to your taste. 

I normally bring small groups of people there and tell them what to pay attention to, when choosing the produce, and after that I teach them how to create a delicious meal out of what we have just bought. You can get the information about the tours to the markets and master classes here:

This summer, I have mostly spent in Moscow and almost every weekend there is some kind of a food festival. I am sure this fashion came among others from London. In the last interview you told our readers that you were going to visit a couple of them and tell about your experience. Where did you manage to go to?

Oh, yes,two important London food-festivals took place: Foodies  and Taste of London. They are very different in nature: Foodies is something for a family day out and very casual, Taste of London is targeting foodies who want to try a wide range of dishes from known restaurateurs. This year, such chefs as Marcus Wareing, Pascal Aussignac,  Jozé PIzarro, Michel Roux Jr. took part in the fair among others.

Taste of London is no cheap entertainment. Apart from the entrance fee (17 pounds) you pay around 4-6 pounds for each plate. In the end you pay as much as you would for a meal at the restaurant. But I think it is sometimes worth to go, as it is possible to try the creations of the best masters of the trade side by side. In the end it is a beautiful gastronomic feast: the guests dress up, drink champagne, the chefs try their best to showcase their best dishes. 

Foodies is a more cordial event. You can try hot dogs, burgers and have a pint of craft beer with it. It takes place in the North of the city in Alexandra Park and you can lie down on the grass and have a picnic there tasting the just bought food. Small local companies present their produce there for the lovers of local food. 

Obviously, these foodie fairs in some way shape our gastronomic perception of the year. Which trends have you sensed on the past festivals?

Firstly, the influence from the Asian gastronomic culture is still very strong. You can feel it in almost all the dishes: it will either be a special sauce served with the pork belly, or kimchi, or soybeans. By the way, our readers have long been asking for a blog with this topic - so next issue of Tasty London harbours a surprise! 

Secondly - it seems that “molecular” cuisine, especially where it comes to decoration of the plate, has long passed its peak. You can still see a “foam” of artichoke or strawberry masked as a cucumber on the plate - but this trend seems to be dying out. The tendency of the last year is rather towards the “clean” product. With the help of special modernist techniques the chefs try to maximize the natural taste of the product and support it by accompanying sauces and other ingredients, be it meat or veg.

Also the trend, I have long seen on the plates is that the chefs try to use the whole animal. If some time ago, it was fashionable to serve prime-cuts like fillet, now it is more in to use the secondary cuts as well. Recently, at Lyle's I was served a most flavourful flank. Obviously it is also more eco-friendly to try and use the most parts of the animal. For example, St. John’s Smithfield - this restaurant has always been following the principle from the ears to the tail and you will find kidneys and liver and sweetbreads and ears and trotters on your plate. And they are delicious, I must tell you.

So, are there any other fairs or festivals, our readers can go to in the next couple of months to explore the world of British gastronomy?

This autumn promises to be very busy. There are a couple of great festivals you can go to: 

RHS London Harvest Festival Show . This festival takes place in October, and it is there that the farmers showcase the beautiful produce of their orchards and gardens. All the guests can try this years harvest and keen gardeners can even take part in a competition for the best pumpkin. The first prize is 1,000 Pounds!

End of October within the scope of the London Restaurant Festival a lot of famous restaurants will offer a tasting menu at reduced prices. 

In November the annual food show  BBC Good Food Show, takes place, where the best cooks of London will showcase their skills.

Well, and there certainly is my favourite  Dalston Street Feast taking place in Dalston Yard. Just try it out and you will see why I love street food festivals so much!

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