Monday, March 19, 2012
One of my favorite ways to spend a sunny afternoon in London is a trip to Borough Market. The farmers’ market under the railway overpass by London Bridge is one of the best places in the city to buy fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, bread, baked goods, and even prepared meals. From Thursday to Saturday, the market and its surrounding shops buzz with commerce, conviviality, and—best of all—free samples.
I have taken many trips to Borough Market since moving to London. From grocery shopping to pub crawls, from meals with friends to a photography class, I thought I had covered every activity there was to do there. But then I got invited on a treasure hunt.
I’m a sucker for a healthy dose of competition, so when I read the details of the hunt, which was put on by Roast restaurant in Borough Market, I couldn’t wait to go. The hunt sent participants all over the market to find ingredients for a lunch that would take place at the restaurant once all of the produce was found.
I met my group at Roast last week. Pre-hunt glass of Champagne in hand, I listened as the new head cook—yes, they call him a cook, not a chef. It’s an English thing.—Marcus Verberne introduced himself and handed us each a list of ingredients we needed to find from the market. We divided the teams along gender lines and set off in search of fresh food.
The weather was gorgeous that day, and it was great to be outside in the market. Our first stop was at a fishmonger called Furness Fish & Game, where we used the money in the envelope we had been given to buy a handful of clams and a fillet of pollock (it was supposed to be hake, but they were out).
We then proceeded to the vegetable stand across the way and bought two bright pink stalks of rhubarb and three big beets. While there, we sampled some delicious blood orange juice from a tray by the counter.
Next we found wild boar pancetta at Stillfield Farm. Around the corner from there was New Forest Cider, where we picked up a bottle of their Kingston Black.
Our last stop on the Borough Market treasure hunt was Neal’s Yard Dairy. The pungent aroma of cheese led us right to the shop at the edge of the market, and there we purchased some tasty goat cheese.
Back upstairs in Roast, we discovered that we were the first team to have completed our mission. We showed our purchases to Marcus, who inspected them carefully and approved our choices.
Once the other team returned, we sat down in the sunny dining room for lunch. The menu featured all of the items we had purchased from the market, giving our treasure hunt both purpose and deliciousness. First there was a salad of mixed beets with Ragstone goat cheese and wild herbs. The flavorful beets and cheese balanced one another nicely, and the greens were impeccably fresh.
Next up was a pan-fried fillet of hake with surf clams in Kingston Black cider and wild boar pancetta. The fish was fresh and the skin was just salty enough to enhance the flavor without overdoing it. One of my clams was a bit gritty, but the pancetta and the other clams rounded out the main course nicely.
Our dessert was a buttermilk pudding with poached Yorkshire rhubarb and stem ginger. The combination was delicious, and I particularly liked the hints of ginger that ran throughout the dish.
We had several wines with lunch, including Roast’s own sparkling wine from a vineyard in southern England. There was also a Cuatro Rayas 2010 Verdejo from Rueda, Spain and a Carmel Road Riesling 2009 from Monterey County in California. I enjoyed all of them, in particular the Verdejo, which was perfect for a sunny day.
After lunch, I walked back through Borough Market on my way home. Being surrounded by all of the colorful produce shining in the spring sun made me want return to search for my food again. Starting in April, Roast will be offering a monthly treasure hunt on the first Thursday of every month, and I’m tempted to go back and let someone else take care of turning my finds into a lovely meal for me.