Some things swell in the memory, fed by imagination or by sheer force of will.
In 1543 (no, really, stay with me on this) Protestant theologian John Calvin remarked- in a snide dig at the credulity of his Roman Catholic counterparts- that there were so many pieces of wood scattered throughout Europe which purported to come from Jesus’ cross, that he claimed the collected fragments ‘would form a whole ship’s cargo‘.
(Burn. Or whatever people say these days. Let’s be thankful we were spared the Twitter pile-on mentality back then. And remember kids- hit ‘Like and Subscribe’ for more examples of sixteenth-century religious snark.)
I was reminded of this when I asked some friends for recommendations at Market Hall Victoria, which sounded like an ideal stop when catching a coach in to London. The repurposed Pacha nightclub (that bit’s important, there’s a truly appalling gag on its way which will make you forget the all-singing, technicolour shitshow our world is at the moment) is scant minutes’ walk away from the station, and with a plethora of options, enough to while way most of a long Friday afternoon? Lovely.
So, I asked: how many stalls are there, in this street food greatest hits package? Estimates varied. Loads, though. Loads. At least 20 to 25, was the first answer. No no no, said another, it’s more like 30 to 40…
…and they have both actually been there.
So in the interests of journalistic rigour I can confirm that there are a mere 11 kitchens, a couple of dessert places and coffee/bars. How do I know? Because I’ve eaten in them all… well, almost.
I know, I know. ‘Role model‘, you’re thinking. ‘Hero‘, even. Perhaps. It’s not for me to say: let’s just let the awards committees decide. I just do what I do in your service. (Yes, yours.) Other bloggers- quite possibly with a more circumspect/kinder attitude to their waistlines- will tell you about some of the choices. One or two will tell you about most of the stalls. And yes, I could have checked their rather spiffy website. But that would be less fun than a day grazing. Or gorging.
And yes, I’m big enough and ugly enough to know better, and experiences like this make you assess what you’re really doing with your life. It’s one of the downsides of possessing what Ian Rankin calls a stomach pampered and allowed to roam as it pleased.
It’s a simple setup, with each table holding every menu you’ll need for your visit. We find a base, settle in and plan a strategy. You are issued with a buzzer which will summon you when your order is ready. In the meantime, you can sit and wait, with no queuing.
Baozi Inn‘s speciality is dumplings. And who doesn’t love a good dumpling? No one, that’s who. Or at least no one you’d want to know, let alone call a friend. And these are good, very good, taut to the teeth at first, and adroitly engineered to sit in that sweet spot between light and substantial. They are palpably ‘of the sea’, springy with bounty, yet tender.
They’re lookers, too, perkily coloured in vivid hues all derived from natural colourings (spinach for the green, beetroot for the scarlet and so on). You might describe them ‘perfect for Instagram’ if those words didn’t make you throw up a little in your mouth.
Market Hall co-owner Simon Anderson is man behind Pitt Cue, the place which served me my dish of the year a while back (a pressed, smoked pork jowl which had my eyes glazed with lust), so you’d expect him to set a high bar for any barbecue-influenced stalls.
I’ve been a fan of Tom Griffiths’ cooking since Meatopia a few years ago. Short rib, bone marrow ketchup, beef heart: it was inevitable, and resistance was useless. He has brought Brighton’s Flank but a word of warning: don’t believe everything you read on his menu. His ‘chips’, for example, aren’t chips. I don’t know what they are, exactly, but they’re special.
Potatoes are baked until the flesh is fluffy and scooped out, the skins roughed up and then deep fried. Crisp, fragile yet hearty; they are, in a word, phenomenal, a greedy, gutsy pleasure with their thick coconutty-peanutty massamam sauce. It’s the sort of thing which lifts your mood in seconds. My prescription: attack with gusto, twice daily…
…and while you’re there, have the naan. Have it for its slow-smoked beef brisket, have it for the lively snap of the pickles, have it for the buttery bread.
Have it because it’s the oft-overlooked kebab reengineered with patience and skill. Have it because, with those ‘chips’, you might well be tempted to just stay at Flank and complete the menu.
The chippy stall from Kerbisher and Malt is an oddity. I was hoping for exemplary chips: I get an unusually good sausage by chippy standards, a herby, meaty specimen which is substantially better than your typical chippie ‘jumbo’. but pretty everyday chips which look bought in frozen to me. They can’t be of course: their site goes into great details about provenance.
‘Our potatoes are from local farmers and we pride ourselves on using the best and freshest ingredients.
We peel and cut the potatoes ourselves (no ordering pre-cut chips loaded with preservatives) and fry them twice at different temperatures (making sure we chill them down after the first fry). Double frying gives the chips that crunchy exterior and fluffy, well-flavoured interior that defines a classic chip. We don’t serve thin fries or gastropub fat chips, just the traditional British chip…’
But wait- here comes Heston Blumenthal to tell you that K & M ‘takes the very essence of a chippy and makes it so much better.’ Which makes me wonder if he actually tried it, or whether that’s just PR guff, In any case, they don’t match the prestigious company. It’s shame to go to those lengths to come up with something you could mistake for catering chips. And I didn’t spend 25 years in school dinner halls to mistake a catering bag chip when I see one, or at least a convincing impersonation of one. Perhaps we caught them on an off day.
I’m slightly underwhelmed by Super Tacos: although these tacos al carbon are solid examples, I’m hoping for more than just ‘solid’ from Breddo’s, the people who gave me some of the best fried chicken I had ever eaten at Hawker House a few years ago. The meat is spit-roasted (pork) or chargrilled (chicken) and there’s an undeniable and welcome smoky element here. The pork is a messy handful, in every good way, and the chicken packs more of a sweet, smoky kick. These are still a lot better than some you’d find: they just don’t make me fall madly in love.
Fanny’s Kebabs‘ schtick cites the late Mrs Craddock as their inspiration: let’s come back to that one.
They did themselves few favours a while back when they promised Stoke Newington ‘healthy’ and ‘posh’ kebabs, a stunt which went down as well among the area’s many respected Turkish ocakbaşı as you’d expect, with some well-established locals greeting their arrival with all the enthusiasm you’d have for a school renunion meet-up with the bald, saggy-bellied 51-year-old who still insists being called ‘Shagger.’
The food, though, is all very well executed, with some skilful meat handling on display, the Lazy Lamb left blushing, the Swish Chicken charred but still juicy, and the option to have it served as a sticky rice or salad bowl is a neat touch. They say they are named after ‘an original power woman of wallet-friendly recipes, Fanny Craddock’.
Because who doesn’t enjoy spending a leisurely Friday getting intimately acquainted with some Fanny’s? You can eat kebabs which taste like Fannys! Who doesn’t love getting their hands on some Fanny’s I bet you haven’t had many kebabs which taste like Fanny’s? And so on. And on. And on. Nurse, the screen. My aching sides. Laugh? I nearly did. They’re good, (but not Leyli Joon & Co BabHaus good- few are- but at least they haven’t doubled down and boasted, ‘No, our Fanny’s aren’t badly packed!’ It feels like a case of picking a ‘controversial’ name and then shoehorning a justification in later.
There’s no arguing about the quality of the cooking here. Shame about the name. ‘Shagger’ would love it though.
Gopal’s Corner is an essential. This outcrop of Euston’s Roti King is always popular, so be prepared to wait, but it’s worth it for a rust-coloured bowl of mutton kari and the bread they have built their business around. It’s everything you’ve heard: flaky, buttery, delicate, layered, the perfect thing to mop up that punchy, aromatic rust-coloured sauce. This stuff is a heavy hitter: spices and aromatics and meat all combined and encouraged to get to play nicely. I am unable to confirm whether that was the result of gentle coaxing, or the terse, tight-jawed instruction familiar to so many mothers on the first day of half term. Either way, it works beautifully.
I loiter and I watch the complicated dance of the stove, the skilful process of making the parathas, a ceaseless cycle of motion and skill which is a lesson in economical, measured movement. Murtabak is a meat-stuffed roti, seasoned with onion and egg, complete with a sambhar, a smoky dhal with a nagging heat.
Someone had to miss out. This time it was Nonna Tonda’s, as that seems to be the one which many find disappointing, and by now the thought of a hearty bowl of pasta was about as appetising as the thought of being pulled from a shipwreck, only to find your sole desert island companion is Katie Hopkins. I also swerved Squirrel- ‘Unlike other health food concepts all of Squirrel’s staff are trained in basic nutrition and can advise customers on what they should order to support their goals’- because you have to work to a theme, and a day like this is not about brown rice and almond milk. Let alone hemp and açai.
Next morning, nursing that post-Meatopia head, Monty’s Deli provides an object lesson in nailing the essentials of a dish. The beef is loaded into an excellent bagel/beigel with the ratio of meat to fat both absolutely crucial and expertly judged.
Lubrication is, as always, key: the flavours are impeccable. A hefty pickle, a daub of English mustard, some defibrillator-strength coffee and I’m in hog heaven.
Overall Market Hall Victoria is well worth a look, with some food decent, some very good, and some which will nag insistently at you until you return for another helping, until you’re brimful at Pacha. Next time, though, I’d like to see wall-recessed sleep pods for people taking the whole challenge seriously.
And if that wasn’t enough, some sixty yards over the road is where you can find what is often called ‘London’s best burger’- the mighty Bleecker. All this, and internecine denominational warfare. Spoiled, you lot.
(Enjoyed this? Found it useful, or at least mildly diverting? This blog is free to read, but if you’re feeling flush you can buy me a coffee/pint/sausage roll/bag of terrible crisps at my Ko-Fi page .)
191 Victoria Street,
MON-FRI: 7AM – 11PM
SAT: 9AM – 11PM
SUN: 9AM – 10PM
BANK HOLIDAYS: 9AM – 10PM
All day menus served & bar open from 12PM every day
Breakfast served by Press Coffee, Flank, Squirrel & Monty’s Deli, 8AM-11AM, MON-FRI (Flank from 9AM)
Brunch served by all breakfast traders, 9AM-3PM, SAT+SUN
Brunch bar open from 11:30AM, SAT+SUN
NB kitchens close 1 hour before closing time.
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.