Writing this post reminds me that the amount of stuff I don't know is a lot. And sometimes finding something new that isn't new at all makes me feel like that last to know. However, that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the discovery of Borough Market while on a visit to a very frigid London in early February.
Growing up in California during New Wave '80s, London seemed like the best place on earth. It also was hopelessly foreign, not a place that I could actually go to. So it's still a bit of thrill that it's only a 2-hour flight from where I live. I went to meet up with a Bostonian friend I hadn't seen for 4 years. A friend from fresh-out-of-school youth - raw, not yet fully formed adults. Now we are middle-aged, married and parents, and this visit was a fun way (for me) to reconnect to that period and to somehow make our friendship relevant now. I wasn't disappointed - my friend spent part of his college time in London and had his favorite spots and lucky me, Borough Market was on the tour.
We headed there early Saturday morning while the rest of the city slept, recovering from the previous evening. It as amazing to glide through the city in the sunny but frigid air, the city itself nearly silent. The market was open, though drowsy, when we arrived. People were blowing in their hands to warm them. The stalls were either foods screaming local or careful imports from France and Italy. There was a lot of cheese.
The veggies were of the incredibly beautiful winter variety, similar to what we have been eating at home all winter - cabbages of all kinds, squash, chard, potatoes and leeks.
I was craving a 2nd cup of coffee so my friend introduced me to the Monmouth Coffee Company which immediately reminded me of some of the coffee purveyors in San Francisco. They clearly take the coffee very seriously (as apparently should we). Of course it was wonderful - either single-drip or espresso drinks. I waited at the standing bar while my friend ordered and right there in front of me was kind of manifesto - what it's all about. I quickly learned that I was not just in some random market coffee stall, but a kind of institution. Founded in the '70s in Covent Garden by hippie entrepreneur Nicolas Saunders, it has been run and owned by Anita Le Roy for more than 30 years. It has maintains just three London locations and refused to proliferate despite the growth of coffee culture (i.e. Starbucks and their ilk and Nespresso). What can I say? My caffe latte was excellent coffee house coffee. There is no picture because I put the camera down and drank it hot as soon as it arrived.
Walking through the market we were approached by a finger-glove and winter beanie wearing gentleman offering pill-cups of artisanal granola. It was excellent, nuts, grains and coconut spiced with ginger and sweetened with guava. I forked out the 5 pounds for a 300g bag. Basically $7 for 2 cups of granola. Outrageous and not for the every day. 2 weeks later I enjoyed with my homemade yogurt for breakfast while it lasted.
Then to Neal's Yard, the sister company of Monmouth Coffee. It was founded by Saunders at the same time, and is owned by Randolph Hodgson, Ms. Le Roy's husband. I knew immediately that I was in cheese heaven. While France flouts their cheese and the UK is constantly having to battle their reputation as inferior cuisine, I can say that the cheese at Neal's Yard was simply awesome. I shied away from the English-made, French style cheese - I don't need another camembert. We were there early and it wasn't busy but it was still humming. I'm sure later in the morning it was packed. The folks behind the counter were definitely cheese-crazy - pulling out tasting slices almost before it was asked and importing a lot of arcane information about each one. We had an interesting discussion about the cultural dimension of taste - we discussed the difference between Chinese, American, French and Italian palates. No doubt about it that taste is tricky but I can say there is nothing to shy away from at Neal's Yard. Eat it all.
A thousand thanks to J for taking me on his tour. Happy to share a 9am burger with you,anytime!