If touristy, crowded and overpriced Borough Market has begun to lose its shine, then fret not. Borough, well located and with plenty of hotels nearby, will likely never lose its appeal for first-time Londoners, but the latest back-alley hideout to appear for foodies, all-day brunchers and sunshine boozers is Bermondsey’s Maltby Street weekend market. Maltby Street began to sprout in 2010 with the public opening of Monmouth Coffee’s roastery for a few hours each Saturday; other traders including Neal’s Yard followed suit and, fast-forwarding a little, the market recently extended its opening hours to both Saturdays and Sundays. Set among the railway arches of London Bridge station, the bulk of action is along Ropewalk, a short but bustling side street where weekday workshops open up to public on the weekends to tout their wares, while Spa Terminus hosts a further set of local urban producers.
A fine example is Comptoir Gourmand, an artisan bakery whose top-notch bread and pastries are supplied to trade around London as well as to their own three cafés around the city. But come Saturday, the doors to the factory are flung open and a few tables are propped up just inside the door and outside in the sunshine. Those in the know come to gorge on croissants and pains au chocolat straight from the oven, and the likes of fantastic goats cheese and caramelised onion brioche. My brioche looked a little worse-for-wear and I feared it might be on the dry side, but one bite debunked that and revealed a moist and airy awesomeness. Like the street as a whole, Comptoir Gourmand is a master at throwing pretentiousness out of the window – it’s just honest, well-made pastries and excellent Monmouth coffee (you’ve already got me half sold if you stock Monmouth) served on paper plates and in take-away cups. As proof that they do their real work here in the week, staff rotas and holiday application forms are pinned to a board above one of the tables. They’re not pretending to be anything but a functioning wholesale bakery that does a bit of extra trade on the side by bringing its buttery goodness to the Maltby masses.
The market oozes a relaxed and fun-loving attitude that chimes well with the vague warmth of an early British summer; it’s the kind of mood that’s care-free about everything but food and drink. Communal tables with mismatched chairs line the street a little along the street at Little Bird, with a short menu of a handful of cocktails all made with its own small-batch London gin. Not great for a gin-hater like me, but I was placated with literally the only non-gin offering on their menu – a ‘handcrafted in Hackney’ beer. I’ve clearly been out of the UK for too long, and certainly out of London since before Hackney started to become trendy, because that sort of tagline is something I can’t help but half smile, half snigger at. But good beer it was – just light enough for it to go down well with me (I’m no ale drinker), but just that bit too dark for me to be able to down it when we checked the time and realised I was in danger of missing my train (I did).
Just next door, Lassco is a treasure trove of vintage-style furniture and other goodies – think everything from overpriced old coffee sacks to now one-of-a-kind antique typewriters, plus a whole host of reclaimed furniture, textiles and embellishments like funky door handles. Needless to say it is the complete antithesis of Ikea, and somewhere that it’s all too easy to spend a fortune before you know. In fact if you’re looking for an impulse buy, you don’t even need to step inside – you can be sipping your gin on the tables outside and pick up a rather rusty but absolutely enormous garden gate for a mere £1,600. Yes, really.
If you’re looking for comfort food then look no further than Monty’s Deli – which I had heard of thanks to the Twitter grapevine, all the way from home in Bangkok, long before I had heard a whisper of Maltby Street (they weren’t at this spot when they first started out). And while its deli offering wasn’t quite what I expected from the name – it is more a makeshift weekend eatery – this Jewish spot serves up reubens so good that there’s no doubting these guys are at the top of their game.
If you are in any doubt about that, just take a look at this gorgeous £6 sinking mess and then tell me you’re not having serious cravings. Hot pastrami or salt beef, melting Swiss cheese and sauerkraut sandwiched between thick rye bread and served on a greasy paper plate with pickle and coleslaw. What more is there to be said? This relaxed space – place your order at the counter and take a seat, feeling free to bring grub from elsewhere with you – serves up a short menu of sandwiches along with Coke in bottles to complete the salt-of-the-earth feel. Which pretty well sums up Maltby Street as a whole – fun, relatively unpretentious and there for the love of good food and the good life.