Although our blog is called Matt and Cat’s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide we have been known to make the occasional foray to the mainland to get the skinny on the latest restaurant and food fads. Brighton is a brilliant place to absorb the hottest trends of all sorts, not just food. But London-by-the-Sea is no match for yer actual London, so we popped up to the metropolis for a few days of what we euphemistically call ‘research’. Basically scoffing our way around the capital.
With our friend Klaus as our guide, we went on a whistle-stop tour of (mostly) street markets. Klaus is the proprietor of Artisan Foods, a business which has stalls at all of London’s popular markets, including the prestigious Borough Market in Southwark – so he knows The Places.
Auction Against Hunger at Street Feast, Hawker House
To kick off our street food adventure we had tickets to ‘Auction Against Hunger‘, a street-feast extravaganza. It is a great model for fund-raising. For sixty English pounds you can visit your choice of six street stalls at Hawker House, Canada Water – for that night the home of more than a dozen food vendors and several bars, plus pop-ups and guest chefs galore. A glass of Taittinger champagne helped lubricate our passage around the event. To start we queued enthusiastically to try delicious Denver steak. Then we tried kimchi, barrata and torpedina, followed by a portion of the most delicious crispy cod cheek steamed bun with kohirabi and gochujang mayo. Nope, to be honest we didn’t know what half these things were either, but we were keen to try.
As the evening and queues wore on, our eagerness to join them wore thin. At the next table celebrity event-endorser Gary Lineker didn’t have to wait for his nammet, but us mere mortals got a bit cheesed off with the forty minute shuffle in line for a speck of this and that. After eight o’clock, the six-dish limit went out of the window and all food and drink was on the house. A spectacular idea – if any of the vendors could make a decent fist of keeping up with demand. We didn’t even manage to get our six dishes, so successful had the organisers been at (over)selling tickets. Regardless of the carping about the queueing, we discovered that street food is more than a limp burger posted to you in a tatty napkin out of the hatch of a roach coach. No, siree – this is big business and London’s beautiful people were out in force to eat and instagram their way around this street food enclave. For us it was a great example this exciting food genre.
The next morning we had breakfast on the hoof at Borough Market, which describes itself rather euphemistically as a wholesale fruit and veg market. That may be true but it’s also home to some of the best artisanal baked and dairy goods, plus the Island’s own Tomato Stall products. When in London all thoughts of cornflakes for brekkie were swept away by the smells and sights of glorious street food stalls abundant with spiced dishes, meaty nibbles, cakes and fresh smoothies. Cat had “London’s best almond croissant” for her breakfast. It was baked on site at the Bread Ahead bakery and was still oven-warm. The croissant had an interesting macaroon crust but it made it a bit too sweet for Cat to consider it to be quite worthy of its accolade. Matt went full on venison burger by Furness Fish and Game, a great and unusual start to the day.
After breakfast we tried a spanking new pasta restaurant, Padella. It had made its way onto Klaus’ finely-tuned radar and he was keen to use us as an excuse to try it. Everyone else had heard the buzz too and we joined the queue, ready for lunch when it opened at noon on the dot. The pasta is all hand-made; we watched the chefs smoothing it out on cool marble slabs. Cat had traditional flat tagliatelle with asparagus; Klaus enjoyed his pici cacio e pepe, which must’ve been fun to make – rolled between the palms like a plasticine worm!
The centrepiece of our tour was a visit to Pitt Cue, an on-trend restaurant in London’s Devonshire Square in The City. The Square was a blandly corporate environment full of professional thirty-somethings in business suits: at odds with the lively street-markets we had been visiting. But Pitt Cue was something else.
As luck would have it we stumbled on a pop-up bar, erected for London Wine Week (any excuse, eh). It turned out to be the Wine Week Hub so we thought we should have pre-dinner cocktails – well, it would be rude not to. Then on the the restaurant. It had been suggested that Pitt Cue was the pig equivalent of the legendary Hawksmoor, and there may have been something in that. Starting with a Mangalitza country ham and walnuts, Matt and Klaus were enthusiastic about the smooth, herby lardo. As it happened, both Matt and Cat then chose beef anyway, with a classic sliced onglet for Matt, and for Cat a block of smoked featherblade that was moist and soft enough to be almost a confit. Both dishes were superb, and Matt’s mushroom and bone-marrow mash was an entertaining sideshow.
And so the exploration continued. Rather like hedonistic Alices in Wonderland, we were led down a mysterious metaphorical rabbit hole where our destination would do nothing but implore us to ‘Drink Me’.
The Gibson: yes, a type of Martini – but also London’s newest and, in our provincial eyes, most bonkers cocktail bar. It wasn’t the pseudo-chemistry sets, gummy bear drinking glasses or smoke and vapours coming from the bar that made it surreal to the point of hilarity- it was the menu. Words, shapes, textures, thrown together to create recipes. Ingredients such as auchentoshan three wood, bee’s bread syrup, grey goose infused with lemon myrtle, and lamb jerky-infused Knob Creek rye. This was more opaque than the street feast menu! Still, we were game.
Cat had Custard Apple Pie in the hope it would be sweet. It was battery-lickingly acidic and came with a skewered flapjack positioned across its rim, £13. Matt had the Sasquatch, equally acidic and which looked like a weedy pond, £12. Klaus’ acidic Boston Club cocktail contained a sticky chunk of honeycomb “aged in a parmigiano reggianno barrel”, £11. But we were THERE! At the hottest bar in (that corner of) town!
More street food
Maltby Street Market near Tower Bridge was a delight. All arranged down a narrow passageway adjacent to railway arches, jammed with enticing food of all sorts. Cat chose what was billed as “London’s best waffles” made by Waffle On. Her fruit and Greek yoghurt waffle was certainly a contender for the slowest in London, but it was worth the wait and made for a wonderful breakfast. As she queued (a regular requirement of street food), Matt and Klaus sniffed out what was similarly suggested to be London’s best pastrami sandwich at Monty’s Deli at the back of the arches. This was a real contender – piles of meat, mustard mayo oozing from every side, and a mug of builders’ tea.
To follow, Matt picked what he discovered to be probably his best dish of the entire trip – cheese sandwich with an entire chorizo sausage in it, from London Cheese Truck. Simply perfect street food – served almost immediately, but cooked fresh, and tasted filthily divine.
We visited one more market before setting off home; Broadway Market was one of the biggest we’d been to. A London Laksa Company spicy lahksa for Matt, who hadn’t run out of room yet, and a duck confit burger by The Frenchie, served in a glossy brioche with melted blue cheese for Cat. She loved it. At another stall it proved possible to spend £3.50 for a doughnut. Matt rashly bought two. He was seized almost immediately with regret. Can a doughnut be worth £3.50? Maybe, but not at Broadway Market. He and Klaus ate them nonetheless, while Cat nibbled on a delightful salted caramel macaron, £1.50. These little chewy cakes are this season’s cupcakes – which have themselves pretty much fallen out of fashion.
So what did we learn on our fact finding mission? Street food is usually great value and mostly fresh and tasty, but will often require a considerable amount of queueing. It would be fantastic to transfer this great communal way of eating to the Isle of Wight (but we doubt anyone here will pay £3.50 for a doughnut peddled from a trestle table). As for kitchen trends; the less popular cuts of meat are seeing an upswing – something our pals at Nomad have already brought to the Island. In the restaurants themselves, filament lightbulbs, chalked menus and exposed ducting still have some mileage and, as expected, customer service was top notch. We’ll definitely be back!