Borough Market and the immediate vicinity is one of the best places to shop, eat, drink and socialise in the capital. London Bridge rail and bus station is one of the capital’s key transport hubs. Close to the City (and other businesses), on two key tube lines, and a gateway to both south London and the south-east more generally, it’s rammed with commuters, tourists and indeed residents every hour and day of the week. Which makes it an excellent place for groups of people to meet. It’s also an excellent place for those groups to eat… so long as they know where to look.
There’s a depressing clutch of chain restaurants on Borough High Street. Ditto the streets leading to and in both directions along the Thames. But while we’re conditioned to expect dross in premium locations, we don’t have to accept it. So be wise to the situation, and head to the pockets of gold that do exist in the area — some within a couple of paces of the station, plus a few others which reward short walks in different directions.
Below are my favourites, organised by the areas they cluster around…
Borough Market is London’s oldest and most renowned food market. There has been market trading on the spot for more than 1000 years, and the location remains a star of the city’s food scene; it’s open 52 weeks a year, six days a week (plus throughout December and with additional one-off themed days and evenings) and is visited by millions of visitors each year.
You can, of course, eat very well simply by buying charcuterie, cheese, baked goods and more from the traders in the market. But it also serves as a street food hub during the day time, with a covered space known as Market Hall which is an excellent place to rest and eat. There are also a number of choice restaurants circling the Market’s perimeter.
Borough Market, 8 Southwark St, SE1 1TL — www.boroughmarket.org.uk
On the go
To my mind, Borough Market’s top ready-to-eat food traders are…
Gourmet Goat: Ethically sourced meat and inspired cooking make for one of London’s very best ‘to go’ options. Stonkingly flavourful Eastern Mediterranean salads or soft pitta serve as a base for goat kebabs, matured halloumi or slow cooked veal, mutton and goat. Within the main market on Rochester Walk.
La Tua Pasta: Enjoyably simple fresh pasta cooked to order. Try the wild boar tortellini, or whatever’s their seasonal special at the time. Great value. Next to Gourmet Goat.
Brindisa: There’s a permanent grill set-up outside Brindisa’s flag ship deli. It serves one thing and one thing only: chorizo, pepper and rocket rolls. It’s one of London’s longest established cheap street eats. And remains one of the very best.
Kappacasein: Speaking of long-standing, quality street food, head to Bill Ogleshield’s cheese toastie and raclette stall at 1 Stoney Street. It’s class — from the cheese that Bill devised himself as the perfect melter to the simple but consistently excellent end product.
Richard Haward Oysters: Fancy a bit of decadence without the cost? Get half a dozen bivalve molluscs from Richard Haward’s stall on the Stoney Street edge of the market. Shallot vinaigrette, Tabasco and lemon is available to dress it. What more do you need?
Horn OK Please! My go-to hot food stall from the street food area of the market, HOP fill excellent chickpea dosas with aloo tikki potato patties and a sprinkle of crunchy sev.
Maria’s Market Café: If you’ve got a massive hangover, or you want a proper taste of England, then Maria is your saviour. Who needs the finest French cheese and premium Spanish hams, when you can get a greasy spoon sausage, bubble and squeak and egg bap with a lukewarm mug of milky builder’s tea on the side?
Borough Market area restaurants
If, however, you’re after a seat, table and a knife and fork, then try one of these:
Padella Pasta: Talk of the town for the last year … and deservedly so. Padella’s home made pasta is hyper fresh (it has to be made just hours before as demand is so high), cooked al dente and served with seasonal sauces for seriously good value prices. Aim for two plates per person, and perhaps a starter or salad to go with them. The queue is off-putting at key times (Midday to 1.15pm, 6pm to 8pm), but is otherwise manageable and fast moving.
Tapas Brindisa: One of the first genuinely good tapas restaurants in London, Tapas Brindisa has been serving pitch-perfect padron, jamon, tortillas and gambas on the corner of Borough High Street and Stoney Street since 2004. I’d wager it’ll still be there in another 15 years, doing exactly the same thing.
The Globe Tavern: Refurbished in 2016, The Globe is the best place to get a tasty pint in the Market. It’s also got a strong kitchen and lovely dining room on the first floor, serving decent, British gastro food which makes the most of ingredients sourced on its doorstep.
Tacos El Pastor: If not leading then towards the front of the current wave of (finally) good tacos in London, El Pastor is a thoroughly enjoyable place to eat. This is everything you would expect from the Hart Brother’s stable (Barrafina, Quo Vadis): a bustling and vibrant taqueria, with brilliant surrounds and properly tasty food. I like the tuna tostadas and the carnitas and short rib sharing options.
Arabica: If you think small plates should only be the preserve of Spanish speakers, you may have your conviction quashed in Arabica’s neat railway arch. Ace Levantine food which makes the most of Middle-Eastern spices and British meat and veg. Most things I’ve eaten there have been fingerlicking. Great place to sit, too.
Elliot’s: Quality, plates of modern British food (good ingredients, cooked simply with the occasional twist, elegantly plated). Elliot’s takes pride in its low-intervention wine list. It’s a good spot whether lunch or dinner (along with Arabica, grand for date two or three too…)
Hawksmoor Borough: One of Borough’s newest is the latest from bovine behemoth Hawksmoor. A pioneer of London’s proper steak joints, Hawksmoor gets the job done: good meat, great service, excellent cocktails and wine list, and strong sides.
Mango: Enough with the trendy modern restaurants, you say? Fair enough. For a better than average, classic British curry, go to Mango on Redcross Way.
Flat Iron Square
About seven minutes walk from London Bridge station is Flat Iron Square — a railway arch and car park turned casual eating hub. There are a host of low-ish priced, street food-style traders in one arch (essentially a food hall) and a bar so you can wash things down. But for my money it’s the standalone restaurants in the vicinity that you should try out.
Bar Douro: A cute Portuguese restaurant with great value set lunch, and small-plate style food at both lunch and dinner. Things like Josper cooked octopus and Alantejan black pork and clams ensure the short walk was worth it. Though I’m particularly partial to their pork and cheese bun and custard tart to finish. Good wine.
Lupins: Untested by this writer, but full of promise is Lupins — a small restaurant on the southern side of Flat Iron Square, serving seasonal British dishes “with a touch of sunshine”. Lovely looking menu — all the signs of a quality, independent, neighbourhood restaurant.
‘O ver: This restaurant is on Southwark Street, just before you enter Flat Iron Square. You’ll be attracted by the glass frontage and elegant decor, but maybe put off by the odd name and the marketing spiel that this is the first UK restaurant to use sea water as an ingredient (in almost everything). BUT the pizzas are quality, and pasta pretty good, too. So it’s worth stopping by.
Walk south east from the station for about the same time as it takes to get to Flat Iron Square, and you’ll (hopefully) find yourself in Bermondsey Street. A few of the restaurants on this cute road flatter to deceive, but the following four are some of London’s best spots.
José: Maybe London’s best straight up tapas bar. José Pizarro’s place is largely standing room only, and will sort you out with impeccably sourced hams, sherries, anchovies, olives plus quality croquetas. If you insist that there’s more to life than those things, you’ll also find pan con tomate, and a few meaty and fresh fish delights cooked on the plancha. A little piece of Spain in south London.
Pizarro: For more substantial Spanish mains, but a similarly beautiful and atmospheric aesthetic, head to Pizarro. It’s really lovely — and writing this makes me realise I need to go back soon.
Casse Croute: Picture the perfect bijou French restaurant. You know, the one you always dream of stumbling into when holidaying in Paris, Brittany or south-west France, but never do BECAUSE IT DOESN’T EXIST anywhere other than on Bermondsey Street, London, England. Lovely.
Pique-nique: What do you do when you’ve nailed the bijou French restaurant? Open the French rotisserie chicken restaurant of your dreams (hmm, there’s a theme here). And make it actually amazing. Banish thoughts of fried chicken or Nandos, and think instead of an all conquering poule de bresse tasting menu.
A little bit further by foot… but you’ve made it this far down the page, so you should probably consider one of London’s best restaurants and a couple of other gems too.
On Saturday and Sunday, the ‘Rope Walk’ area is a bustling stretch of hot food options — many of which are decent — but I’d personally plump for a seat and a table at one of these.
40 Maltby Street: A lesson in how to be deceptively brilliant. And I don’t write that lightly. 40 Maltby Street’s paired back, atmospheric railway arch will feed you some of the very tastiest food you’ll eat all year. The menu and indeed the grub that arrives at your table looks simple and plain, but it’s always perfectly in-season, incredibly well seasoned, and an absolute joy to eat. A plate of the cooked ham is essential, but otherwise just pick whatever tempts on the blackboard. Open Wednesday and Thursday evenings, Friday for lunch and dinner, and Saturday through the day. The rest of the time it’s a wine warehouse — and trialling their low-intervention wines is part of the experience of dining there.
Bar Tozino: From Brindisa, through José and now Bar Tozino — I recognise that I keep extolling the virtues of London Bridge’s tapas restaurants and sherry bars. But it’s not repetitive or unnecessary when they’re of this quality. Tozino’s point of difference is that it’s pretty much just a jamon bar — dark and moody, with hams hanging all around you, this is a brilliant place to come and get lost in fortified wine and pig fat. Similar hours to 40 Maltby Street, though also open Sundays.
St John, Maltby Street: The home of nose to tail cooking has a London Bridge(ish) outpost. Many of the Saint John classics are served here (devilled kidneys on toast, rarebit, kohlrabi salad etc etc), and there’ll be a few other treats too, Bread and Wine style. The room’s a good one to sit in, and they also do a superb private hire (to fit about 30). Hours are pretty much the same as Tozino.
Others to consider
Hutong is the best of the restaurants within the Shard. You’ll find fairly good, northern Chinese cuisine, precise dim sum at brunch and lunch time, excellent duck and brilliant views. Prices are perhaps a little steep.
Story is the ‘high end’ option for the area. It’s Michelin-starred and reasonably inventive. IMO, other places to refined modern British better, but it’s worth a look-in if you’ve not been and fancy a treat.
Mercato Metropolitano: Walk along Borough High Street for 15 minutes and you reach Mercato Metropolitano, a food market and casual eating hub specialising in Italian produce and cuisine. Good for groups.
Ed Smith is the author of On the Side: a sourcebook of inspiring side dishes, and the blogger behind www.rocketandsquash.com