Elliot’s Cafe does the hard work for you
There is something soul-sappingly tiresome about attempting to navigate London Bridge’s long-running foodie mecca Borough Market on a Saturday any time after breakfast nowadays which tends to put many home cooks in search of good produce off from visiting altogether.
That ‘something’ is, ironically enough for a market often threatened with closure, its incredible popularity with tourists. The swathes of visitors from outside of London and overseas who pack into the market like (sustainably sourced) sardines every weekend are both a gift and a curse to the traders who are there to champion undoubtedly exceptional British and international produce and, you know, actually make a living.
Though they happily gridlock the market’s narrow arteries in their big tour groups, normally led at the front by some wanker with an umbrella held above his head, with their cumbersome travellers rucksacks strapped to their backs knocking into everyone and obliviously sending my freshly poured glass of prosecco flying out of my hand mere seconds after acquiring it, stopping abruptly in front of you every four seconds on their way to take 236 photographs of a single fucking mushroom with their ludicrously over-sized macro lens SLR cameras, most tourists – completely reasonably, I concede – tend not to buy any of the fresh produce on sale there.
The knock-on effect at Borough Market has been an inevitable, two-fold kind of vicious cycle in recent years, where foodies wanting the best ingredients to cook at home are put off from visiting because of the unbearable crowds, and traders have to continually put the price of their produce up to stay afloat, which further puts off the genuine foodies from coming, and so on and so on.
And so whilst the various restaurants, cafes and food vendors serving up chorizo sandwiches, steaming bowls of paella and the like to ravenously hungry daytrippers, along with artisans selling olive oil, truffle pesto and other posh take-home gifts no doubt do very well out of this arrangement, for those of us who want to pick up top-notch meat, fish and veg, a visit to Borough Market can often become an arduous and expensive trip.
Not only that, but after an exhausting few hours battling your way through the crowds, actually cooking what you’ve bought once you get home can seem like a huge chore in itself. And this is where Elliot’s Cafe kindly steps in.
Elliot’s is the second venture from Brett Redman and Rob Green who also run the charming Pavilion Café in Victoria Park.
They source and cook all their produce from their doorstep, and their mission is to work closely with the market traders to offer a menu which directly reflects the range of produce you will find available on any particular day at Borough. And if a recent lunch-time visit is anything to go by, they do this very well.
The food we ate was unfussy and delicious, and portions are generous. There are proper main courses on offer but we opted for some of the sharing plates on this occasion and were very well fed. Bread and olives, fried potatoes served with an aoili that took no prisoners and a really delicious, crunchy fresh salad were all very good.
Better still was buttermilk fried chicken with a tangy barbecue sauce. Although the fried coating could have done with just a little more seasoning, it was cooked perfectly, with a crispy, chewy outer-layer giving way to moist, tender chicken. It worked very well with both the barbecue sauce and the punchy aoili that came with the potatoes – which was so good they had to bring us another pot.
The stand-out, though, was definitely mussels with nduja and fennel, a dish which I subsequently discovered is one of Time Out’s top 10 in London. I first tried nduja – a fiery Calabrian spreadable salami – on crostini at the fantastic Bocca di Lupo about a year ago and am now addicted to the stuff. Pizza Pilgrims have also used it to great effect recently, but its inclusion in the broth here is expertly judged and perfectly complements the pairing of mussels and fennel. It really is lip-smackingly good. We exhausted our remaining bread and potatoes mopping up the sauce before resorting to spoons to finish off every last drop.
The wine list is of the oh-so-trendy organic, bio-dynamic and ‘natural’ persuasion, service is charming and prices are very reasonable – our meal with wine and coffee came to 25 quid a head.
On Sundays, Elliot’s offers a three-course set lunch inspired by ‘the best of the market’, which is definitely worth returning for, as is – I’m reliably informed – their burger, which is only served at lunch but which was strangely conspicuous by its absence from the menu on our visit.
In short, Elliot’s is my kind of restaurant. It cooks truly market-fresh ingredients simply and without pretension to create terrific plates of food so you don’t have to.
On a final note, although I’m far from alone in bemoaning some stupidly high prices at Borough Market, I will just say one very important thing in defence of many of the traders there. If you were ever in any doubt about just how hard some of these guys graft, I urge you to read this interview with Darren Brown (pictured below), taken from the fascinating Market People blog.
Darren is one of the few producer and providers remaining at the market, and is often up at 5am every weekend diving for scallops before making the long drive down to London from Dorset. After reading his account, I will never again complain about his prices, although his story didn’t stop me from raising more than an eyebrow when, on my last visit, I was asked – with a straight face, I might add – to pay a stonking £2.80 for a lettuce.
You might as well pay the lovely folks at Elliot’s the extra few pence and have them make your salad for you, and make it very well too.
Elliot’s Cafe, 12 Stoney St, Borough Market, SE1 9AD, 02074037436