Covent Garden Night Market has returned to the famous Piazza this year with the same promise of many good things for our bellies. A group of London food bloggers and I were invited down to sample the wares and generally indulge and immerse, as is our nature. I was delighted to finally meet writers of blogs I regularly read, such as Niamh, Julia and Ros - so wonderful to put faces to names and find that everyone really is as nice as you hoped.
So, the market? Anyone who has ever visited Covent Garden will know that it is busy, drawing tourists and city-dwellers alike. This is no matter to a hardened foodie Londoner like myself however, a regular at thronging food markets such as Borough and akin to my fellow residents in having given up on the concept of personal space. Let’s face it, any market with as many fabulous products as this is going to be busy, that’s the point.
Regular readers will know that I am not overly-partial to overly-sweet things. They will also know that there are a few exceptions to this rule, amaretto being one of them. Well, here’s another – it’s cupcakes. My appreciation stems partly from the moment of sinking my teeth into that sweet, unctuous butter cream, followed by light spongy cake beneath but I mostly love the cute factor. How gorgeous are these bite size sweet treats from Lavender Bakery? I opted for the raspberry cupcake with vanilla buttercream (pictured above – really good, pillowy topping with subtly fruity cake), while Chris chose a disgracefully large slice of flourless chocolate cake, polished off the second we got home, with beer.
There are plenty more sweet treats for those of you more ‘normal’ than me – the old-fashioned candy above (loving the aprons), along with Middle Eastern style pastries, fudge and coconut ice. A definite country fete, blast from the past, so-sweet-it-makes-your-teeth-hurt kind of theme here. We all know however, that no-one gets their pudding until all the dinner is gone, but what to choose? I would say the market definitely leans more towards food that is cooked right then and there and products that need no more than removing from the box when you get home. That said, there are some raw ingredients like meat and vegetables available too.
The carnivores are spoilt for choice with bangers, burgers and all kinds of meat-in-bun scenarios. There was a particularly enticing scent coming from Carluccio’s (I could not even get close) and from this Bratwurst stall below. Also check out the hog roast, two of them slowly turning and getting all juicy on their spits.
I was gutted to find that the wild boar sausage had all sold out but I had my eyes on another prize and remained resolute in my determination to find it above anything else – I had heard of a stall selling squirrel meat. I know this might sound disgusting/weird/heinous to some people, but I have to say I’m really curious. I had plans for it and everything. Alas, it could not be found. I asked a vendor at Manor Farm Game if he knew of the whereabouts and he replied that everyone in the market had been talking about it but no-one had seen signs of the furry ones. Apparently, he had been inundated with requests, so it seems I’m not the only one who is curious. No matter, I snapped up some pigeon breasts instead. I’ve had a recipe waiting all summer for those little beauties.
I kicked myself when I realised I forgot to buy some Girolles (below), the colour is beautiful and I can just picture them eaten simply on toast. I may have to go back. This could get a little strenuous on the wallet. OK, so the market ain’t cheap and I can see where others are coming from but the products are high quality and let’s think about the area, it’s Covent Garden, one of the most popular tourist areas in London. I certainly don’t like paying over the odds at markets (e.g. Borough) either but then I don’t shop there every day and I do enter fully into the experience. I live in hope that the higher the demand, the lower the prices…
So, what else did we actually remember to buy? Well, some wonderful marinated feta, redolent with oregano and some silvery anchovies, again, marinated, with a hint of chilli and the most wonderful texture. It must have been the way they were preserved but they seemed much drier than a lot you can buy and much the better for it. As you can see, there was lots of fragrant lavender too but I am emerging from my lavender phase and so managed to resist.
We started looking around for something more substantial to feed on as the smells wafting around started to get the better of us. There were rows of pretty tarts and pastries, paella, risotto, grilled halloumi and falafels among the stalls.
As always, we passed the lot in favour of heading straight for the oyster bar which was a bit weird, being the middle of summer and all (supposedly), but they were perfectly passable and washed down very nicely with a glass of bubbly.
I was in the market too for some spelt bread but disappointingly couldn’t find any. It seems to be catching on rather too slowly for my liking, I really enjoy the texture and my local bakery (The Blackbird Bakery in East Dulwich) does a great one (available on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s).
As usual, I needed zero persuasion when I spotted the sushi stall. It seems I will never tire of eating it – the cravings are getting out of control. These two gents were making endless California rolls with crab, salmon and a veggie option. Not an extensive selection but good nonetheless. Enough to satisfy a craving which was quite mild really, for a Friday.
They even managed to persuade me to try tofu (again). Oh tofu, how I have tried to like you! I realise that you are oh so good for me and a great source of protein, anti-ageing blah blah blah but you taste of NOTHING. I have tried marinating the tofu but obviously didn’t try hard enough because this was actually really good. To be fair, there wasn’t much tofu involved. It’s that brown thing on the right which is basically rice coated in tofu and then deep fried. It was sweet and delicious. Maybe frying is the answer?
If you haven’t eaten enough by this point you can grab a decadent ice or milkshake from the van on the way home. I also like the sound of the ‘brownie fudge sundae’ – who wouldn’t.
Cost and thronging masses aside, this is a great addition to the London food scene. Anything that encourages people to shop in this way is a major bonus in my book. Buying food direct from producers is something that is much talked about but how practical is it really? Well, imagine a wonderful future where everyone has a local market stuffed to the brim with people who care about what they sell and offer real food, not intensively mass produced at God knows what cost. We all thought the vegetable box was a funny idea at one point didn’t we? It is markets like this that get people interested in food and where it comes from and to me, that is a wonderful thing.
We’re not the only ones who think so of course – the Hairy Bikers were there too…
Covent Garden Night Market is in the West Piazza every Thursday and Friday in August. Open from 4-10pm on Thursdays and 12-9pm Saturdays.