There’s a problem with London’s markets. The best of them have become victims of their own success, getting so crowded on the weekends that it’s hard to move, let alone breathe. Borough Market, London’s most beloved food market, is a prime example. But just down the road is another market that has the best of Borough without all the crowds: Maltby Street Market.
Despite being a market that sells consumer goods, Maltby Street Market doesn’t seem to want consumers to find it. Tucked away in pockets of old brick railway arches in Bermondsey, the Saturday market is so hidden that it would be easy to walk by without knowing it’s there.
But for those that persevere—and I’m one of them—it’s worth the effort. Starting on Druid Street, I find a series of arches in a long line of auto repair shops that have been taken over by some of London’s best bakeries, breweries, and purveyors of all things delicious.
From L’Emporio, with its mouth-watering Italian pastas and pastries, to St John Bakery, where some of the city’s best loaves are leavened, it’s a great taste of what’s to come.
And what’s to come is just through the arches on a skinny alley called Ropewalk (presumably because it’s so narrow that you feel like you’re walking on a tightrope as you move down it). The alley is lined by the backs of the railway arches that I just saw on Druid Street, only this area is all about tasting, sampling, and savoring.
Some of the arches have little restaurants in them, while others dedicate their interiors to production and place an eclectic mix of colorful tables and chairs outside in the alley. Stalls line the rest of the space, and everything from cheerful lemon tarts to open-face beetroot and goat’s cheese sandwiches is there to tempt the taste buds.
Interspersed among the food vendors are architectural antique shops and vintage furniture warehouses, treasure troves of all things forgotten. I wander inside LASSCO, breathing in the smell of old wood and smiling at giant neon London Underground signs.
Back outside, I make my way down several residential streets with a mix of sparkling new apartment blocks and old brick council estates before reaching the other end of Maltby Street Market: Spa Terminus. This area is even more hidden, and if it weren’t for the helpful sandwich boards directing me to various alleys and arches—this way for Monmouth Coffee, that way for Neal’s Yard Dairy—I would never find any of it.
But secreted under arches are butchers, bakers, and fruiterers. I admire the pretty jams in stylish jars at England Preserves, inhale the redolent scent of cheese at Kappacasein and Neal’s Yard, and check out the range of meat and game on offer at The Butchery.
I stumble upon ripe autumn apples and barrels of squash, wondering if the crispness I feel in the air is a result of seeing them or if it’s really real. And then I find myself back out on Druid Street without really knowing how I got there.
And that’s the beauty of Maltby Street Market. It’s so hidden and labyrinthine that as soon as I’m out of it, I wonder if it was just a delicious dream. The lively ambiance on Ropewalk and the hushed secrecy of the Spa Terminus all felt surreal, but the flavors and colors, scents and sounds were not imagined. Above all, the lack of crowds was a welcome relief. I will definitely go back to the market soon, but I won’t be telling anyone about it. Except for you. Let’s keep it a secret.