If you go down to Bermondsey…

…you’re sure of a big surprise!

Heading out to Maltby Street in Bermondsey last Saturday morning certainly caught me unawares. Let’s not stretch the analogy, you won’t find a thriving community of picnicing teddy bears, but you could certainly fill a picnic basket of foodie goodies from the dedicated band of food producers that are opening up their railway arch premises on a Saturday.

Druid Street sign.Stalls of 104 Druid Street

A visit to Maltby Street has been on the cards for some time. As a Monmouth Coffee fanatic I read that they’d began a Saturday opening of their Bermondsey Roasting premises over a year ago and I’d been intending to investigate. But the lure of Borough Market; its range of stalls and attractions and a me being a creature of habit meant it just hadn’t happened. So, when I recently discovered that my favourite restaurant St John’s new bakery  had also joining the Saturday opening. Tweets of the most sumptuous looking custard doughnuts were enticement enough for me, so a visit could not be put off any longer.

Maltby Street isn’t really a market, or so I keep reading, in truth it can’t even be bothered to contain itself to Maltby Street. As I was to discover, its a loose collection of railway arches occupying addresses on three roads either side of the main line out of London Bridge station. As I walk past the many shuttered and closed-for-the-weekend businesses that occupy many of the arches, the area is more reminiscent of the location of an illicit rave than an artisan street market. But I wasn’t wondering out from some all-night party trying to locate the nearest Tube, oh no, I had a purpose…

Perhaps getting some decadent custard filled doughnuts was a pretty thin purpose, it was hardly one on which to base a weekend’s sustenance – but it was a start. In truth I’d done little to prepare for the visit. As well as the St John bakery I knew Monmouth Coffee was there and Neal’s Yard Dairy. Bread, cheese, coffee and sticky treats – what more could man want? Having loaded up at St John I was directed to Monmouth Coffee on Maltby Street itself.

Filter coffee being made at Monmouth CoffeeCoffee beans for sale at Monmouth Coffee.

Monmouth Coffee had a relaxed air to it – which will be a surprise if you’re familiar with the Borough Market Saturday rush. The front entrance area of their roasting operation has been turned into an ad-hoc coffee shop, with high workbenches to stand at. The usual excellent selection of espresso and filter based coffees are on offer as well as the excellent selection of cakes and pastries. All is well in my Saturday when I have a Cafe au Lait in one hand and a kilo of beans for the office coffee club in the other. There’s a nice bustle about the place, the staff as helpful and knowledgable about their range of single-estate coffees as ever.

With my business ostensibly done, I thought I should inspect the rest of what Maltby Street has to offer. In truth Maltby Street rapidly diverges away from the railway arches, to find the rest of their market you duck down a dingy alleyway lined with scrap radiators – but stick with us – the goodness is not far away.  At the far end of the alley I see a table with beer bottles sporting simple brown paper labels. My big surprise was happening upon the Kernal Brewery. I know details are on the Maltby Street website, which I’ve looked at, but sometimes things don’t simply don’t sink in to my head.

Blood Oranges from Fern Varrow

I had previously only drank a Kernal beer at the Tate Modern Cafe, so I wasn’t overly familiar with their brews. On that day at the Tate there was something that drew to their minimalist labels – distrssed black print on old style brown paper . This same label was appealing to me again, its cottage industry style making all the more sense in the context of this artisan local micro-brewery creating beers that make your senses prick up and think ‘wow, I had no idea beer could be this good’. A very nice lady is soon treating me to a tasting of their various beers. They specialise in single hop variety Pale Ales and IPAs, and proper old school London Porters. I’m in hoppy heaven. I’m also loaded down with four bottles added to the box of cakes, the bread and the coffee and I haven’t even got the cheese for the Eccles cakes yet – did I say I’d bought Eccles cakes?

Struggling with bags, I realise that I should have brought the granny trolly, with a quick trip to Neal’s Yard to get the cheese I have no choice but to take my foodie delights back home. Later that day I went to Borough Market to pick up pheasants and veg for dinner. The contrast was stark; don’t get me wrong, I still love Borough; dodge the photographers and the tourists and there is still a great market with some fine suppliers. But the lure of Maltby Street is great. I am looking forward to returning and sourcing all my weekend supplies from there. There’s an incredibly friendly atmosphere, people are relaxed and the focus is on produce, not serving snack food to passing tourists. You’re not going to be as spoilt for choice as you would at Borough, but as any good designer will tell you, working to limitations can be beneficial. If this results in me eating more local and seasonal food then that can only be a good thing. Just don’t tell anyone I told you about Maltby Street.

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