Maltby Street Christmas

As every week, we went to do some weekend shopping at Maltby Street. Today we bought some more provisions, due to it being Christmas holiday period.

Monmouth Mistletoe
First stop – Monmouth Coffee, of course 🙂
Smooth Nicaraguan brew today, with tiny mince pies!
Nice surprise! Fern Verrow was supposed to not have any veg today, but still they came in force.
Lots of biodynamic beetroot for traditional borscht 🙂
Mons Cheese. Alps and Pyrenees cheeses from individual mountain farms. Fantastic Jura cheese, as strong as Gruyere, as soft as butter.
Poilane bread – the usual 🙂
Long queue for Christmas Stilton at Neil’s Yard
Neal’s Yard Christmas Lights
Bea’s cakes
The fantastic, awesome, terrific, best in the world, cold-smoked salmon from Hansen&Lydersen. We bought half of one for 20 quid.
Live shrimps from Dorset – jumping out of the basket
This had been the best oyster I have ever tasted. Plump, fresh, briny, the taste of the Brownsea Island
Lots of Panettones
Lovely miss La Grotta (Kitty) came after a long break, bringing Choc Ices with hazelnut chunks.
The Shard looming over the Arches

Random London is random

Things like this only happen in London: you go out to buy some organic veg, you end up in the first ever tube tunnel.

There was a Christmas Market at the Finnish church in Rotherhithe last Saturday. I’m not big on Christmassy stuff, but the Finns always sell the best stuff during the market – rye breads, Fazer sweets, frozen bilberries – so we decided to make a short walk from our usual Maltby St shopping (and coffeeing 🙂

(by the way: recession? what recession? judging by the way all of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe are being built up with new developments, one would be excused to think we’re in the middle of the greatest real estate boom in history)

As I have a recent obsession with the Brunels, we’ve decided to drop by the Brunel Museum nearby. It’s a very tiny place, in an old pump house for the Thames Tunnel – a few photos, a souvenir stall, a tv with Brunel’s bio and some artefacts from the digging of the tunnel. And they don’t charge much, just £2 for a walkaround.

But this time was different. The man selling tickets asked us – ‘are you here for the Christmas Special?’
Three pounds extra. It starts at 2.
Okay, why not.

Five minutes before 2pm, a crowd of some 50 people gathered outside the museum. Obviously, something big was going to happen. We were led down a tiny, tiny entrance (had to crawl for a few feet) down a rickety, scaffolding stairway, into a vast, empty, circular underground chamber.

The grand entrance hall to the Thames Tunnel.

Looking rather less grand now. The railway company tore down the wooden staircase and all the decorations for fear of fire.

‘You are among the first people to have entered this place – after 145 years!’ announced our host, and began to tell us the story of the tunnel. Its many firsts. The first ever to be born under water. The first ever use of a tunnelling shield. The first ever underwater shopping arcade – after it turned out the tunnel entrance was too  narrow to carry cargo, the only way for the passageway to pay for itself was to sell souvenirs. The first ever underwater dining hall, ballroom, amusement fair. The story went on. All the while we heard trains running under our feet – if the floor was glass, we would see them, speeding between Rotherhithe and Wapping through the still used part of the tunnel. The pumps still pumping water out.

It was, for all purposes, just a big brick tank with some trains running through. But it was the basis for all underground railway systems in the world. Paris, Tokyo, Channel Tunnel – all built based on the same purposes.

And we found it on a random walk.
This is why London is the best.

(because this was such a random occurence, I had no camera with me – just managed these two snaps with my phone. it has a rubbish camera, and it was rather dark inside.)

This site has much better photos of the tunnel itself – still in use, after all these years.

Observer Food Awards

Observer Food Awards have been given away, and two of the winners are two of my favourite places in London.

Maltby Street, Best Newcomer 2011

We’ve discovered Maltby Street much like, I assume, most people have: by visiting Borough Market after a few months’ break and not finding the Booths’ Mushrooms stall – the best greengrocers in London. Them having been the main reason for visiting Borough, I did a quick google check on where the hell have they gone and why they have been replaced by the garish supermarket-style fruit&veg ‘vending space’ – and discovered their new location was some 15 min away on foot along the railway tracks from London Bridge.

There was much more than Booths on Maltby Street, however. Almost all my favourite Borough places have moved to the quirky row of railway arcades – Kappacasein, Mons Cheese, Topolski… the hub of it all is the Monmouth Coffee roastery, with throngs of hip-and-not-so-hip forming a long, orderly queue beside a lady selling home-made ice-cream from a piaggio scooter. Further along, beyond a warehouse full of old radiators and antique theatre equipment, fans of basque ham sit on wooden benches, drinking Kennel beer and organic wine from Auvergne.

What is the main draw of the place is the atmosphere, the community. This is guerilla gourmet war, fought among council estates, youth centres and disused railway tracks. The railway arches create a climate somehow reminiscent of 1950’s Akihabara or Shibuya, except with food instead of electronics.
If this is the future of London’s food scene, I’m all in.

Koya, Best Cheap Eat 2011

What can be said about this place that hasn’t been said yet? Everyone who needs to know, already knows about Koya Udon. One of the only two Japanese restaurants I know of in London which could seriously with the best Kyoto and Tokyo have to offer.

Congratulations to all the winners!