First full day in London, having tossed and turned for the majority of the evening before, Jonathan and I were operating on three hours of sleep. My cousin Esther met us in Hampstead at 8:30am and together the three of us trekked to the Northern Line tube station at Golders Green. A block from my aunt and uncle’s house was where they filmed a scene with Emma Watson for one of the Harry Potter films and a few blocks further is the Jewish cemetery where Amy Winehouse was buried. We were headed to the London Bridge tube station on the on our way to Borough Market for coffee and breakfast along the south bank of the Themes.
Having been to London five times previously and since Jonathan lived here for almost two years, we had no problem skipping all the touristy stuff. The tower of London, Tower Bridge, London Eye, the changing of the guards, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, the London Dungeon, the crown jewels, Harrods, Selfridges, Buckingham Palace tours, Clotted cream and scones at Liberty’s, Churchill’s bunker, Parliament, the echoing dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, tours of the Cadbury factory, Greenwich and the prime meridian, the Millennium Bridge, the Tate Modern, Covent Garden, Camden Town, etc. etc……all of that we’d done before. So while Jonathan wanted to focus what precious little time we had on seeing friends, I had no problem focusing on food!
When we first approached the market on Friday, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. With the Ferry Building farmer’s market in San Francisco, I consider myself pretty spoiled, but this was something else. The original section of Borough Market is directly under the tracks of London Bridge station. As of now it appears to be quite the destination and the market is extended to a few more cobble stoned courtyards all connected by a series of dark tunnels. There are artisanal brick and mortar shops (some with seating areas and some without) across the street from the market stalls on the northwest boarder.
Those shops seem to open up first since they’re not obliged to open up at the same time as the rest of the market vendors so that’s where we went first. The line for coffee at Monmouth coffee looks long, but they move rather quickly. Just be careful of the cars screaming by if you’re standing in the street. With my double macchiato and Jonathan’s Café Au lait (with whole milk, because that’s all they offer) we made our way around the corner to Neal’s Yard Dairy for some cheese. We tasted a few cheeses and I made it a point to try the cheddars that Cow Girl Creamery picks out, because if I liked them, I knew I’d be able to buy them back home. We walked away with a wedge of the St. Gall, a raw cow’s milk cheese, although I wanted a few more.
Then we headed back towards the market in hopes that some of the stalls would be open and selling food. The more established vendors who are there everyday were still putting out foods and getting ready to serve meat pies, pressed sandwiches, and pastries and cured meats. In one of the extended areas we found the Kappacasein cart where they were assembling grilled cheese sandwiches in preparation for pressing. “If these are as good as they were five years ago, then you’re in for a real treat.” Jonathan said, ordering us a sandwich without hesitation.
While our sandwich was pressed I wondered off to another stall where some almond croissants, like Sirens from the Iliad, summoned me.
“Eat me” they called, entrancing me with their look of dense almond filling and outer shell of powdered sugar. They didn’t look anything like the croissants I get from Thorough Bakery in San Francisco, but I’m always on the lookout for something better (fyi, they were good, but not as good as Thurough Bakery).
“What did you just buy?” Jonathan asked me, as if I were a kid getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“I bought an almond croissant for later,” I said, knowing very well that croissant wasn’t going to make it another 20 mins before I dove in for a bite.
“Can’t take my eyes off you for a second.” He said, shaking his head at my display of indulgence.
My cousin Esther laughed to herself, staying out of the line of fire.
Before Jonathan and I could get into an argument about eating habits on vacation, our sandwich was ready. They’d cut it in half for us and as a subliminal peace offering I gave Jonathan the half they said was slightly bigger.
We both took bites and I saw all the stars in heaven. “OMG! This is the best fucking grilled cheese sandwich I think I’ve ever had in my entire life.” I said, looking closely at the edible gold wrapped in parchment paper between my fingers. The hearty bread was smothered in butter giving it a crisp caramelized exterior. Inside were two gooey cheeses (one cheddar from Neal’s Yard Dairy for its sharp salty flavor, and the other a comte for it superior meltability) playing a symphony on my taste buds. To balance out some of the richness of the cheese and butter, they put some finely chopped leeks inside which added just enough acid as to not overpower the cheese.
We made our way back to the main market area and I waited for the French stall at the main entrance to finish crisping their duck for their duck confit sandwiches that came highly recommended by one of the friends from the Holly Bush dinner the night before.
The Frenchman in this picture is using a giant Paella pan to crisp up the duck in it’s own fat. When it was ready, he scooped a large amount onto a roll with some arugula and sweet mustard. For five pounds this was an awesome sandwich and worth the wait.
After Borough Market we walked along the south side of the Themes and then went to visit the Yelp London offices and tour Jonathan’s old stomping grounds at LSE (London School of Economics).