Covent Garden Night Market

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.

Category: Markets 24 comments »

24 Responses to “Covent Garden Night Market”

  1. Lizzie

    I hadn’t heard anything about this at all! I will endeavour to go soon, when I’m feeling a bit mor flush.

    Tofu is great; honestly. I’ve never marinated it, I find the best thing to do is to fry it and then braise it.

    Try Agedashi Tof, it’s my favourite: http://lizzieeatslondon.blogspot.com/2008/05/agedashi-tofu-japanese-way-of-eating.html

    Lizzies last blog post..Tempted?

  2. Sophie

    Fab to hear about the night market Helen! I’m in London a bit again over the next few weeks so must try to get there one night. Sounds like there is a really good range of vendors (I was a bit worried it might be like those French Food Markets cropping up everywhere that are a bit rubbish and only have three people actually selling food).

    Hope you find some squirrel. I’d rather somebody else try it first and report back :-)

    Sophies last blog post..A ‘mix and match’ recipe for a wholegrain lunchtime salad

  3. Wendy

    Now that looks like FUN! Wonderful. :)

    Was stunned at the “£3.50 per 100g” for chanterelles. We picked a kilo in 20 minutes last weekend! Could make a fortune! ;)

    Wendys last blog post..Chanterelle and Cauliflower Pie

  4. Helen

    Lizzie – Just left you a comment about this. I thought you knew, I feel bad for not inviting you!

    Sophie – You should get down there, definitely worth a visit. Don’t expect borough or anything, it’s not anywhere near the size, but a good evening nonetheless.

    Wendy – I honestly thought of you when I was writing it. I wondered whether to mention it in the post actually, but I think I must have been denying it to myself, purely because I can’t bear the fact that I can’t pick a kilo of chanterelles in 20 minutes – ahhh!

  5. Julia

    Great write-up Helen, and fab photos! It was so lovely to finally meet you last night. Julia x

    Julias last blog post..Win a £500 Dinner in a Top London Restaurant

  6. Su-Lin

    Try a Sichuan mapo tofu next! I think you’ll like it!

    Su-Lins last blog post..Eating Rudolph

  7. Peter G

    Oh I love this whole post Helen! As you said it’s wonderful for the London Foodie scene. Markets like this very much excite me and I’m jealous of all those lovely dishes you got to eat! I think I’ll forego squirrel on a future menu thanks! And your pics are just beautiful!

    Peter Gs last blog post..Loukaniko

  8. JennDZ_The LeftoverQueen

    Wow! That looks like a BLAST Helen! That must have been so much fun. I really loved this post! These are the kinds of markets I so want to find at some point in my life! Fabulous!

    JennDZ_The LeftoverQueens last blog post..Finest Foodies Friday: August 15, 2008

  9. Michelle

    Hi,

    Thanks for your lovely comments on my cakes – and for the pictures. It is a fantastic market – it was my first time there and it was great to meet so many wonderful people, there is a really good atmosphere and lots of amazing food!

    I buy spelt bread (Roman marching bread!) from The Organic delivery company – they get it from here:

    http://www.flourpowercity.com/breads.htm

    I will be at the market again on Thursday so if you are there come say Hi!

    Michelle

    Michelles last blog post..Baby cupcakes.

  10. kittie

    I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this market before!! Might have to do an after-work trip to London soon…

    Great review!

    kitties last blog post..Hot Pork and Shrimp Glass Noodles

  11. Y

    Helen, this looks like my kind of market. I wish we had something like a night market here in Sydney.

    Ys last blog post..Brief life of the oyster, and a lemon

  12. Jeanne

    Awww, I’m sorry I missed out on meeting you guys! I had in fact hear about this market but my head is so all over the place at the moment that I’d forgotten again. Well, still 2 more Thursdays/Fridays for me to visit… Love the oyster pic :)

    Jeannes last blog post..Broad bean, bacon and mushroom pasta

  13. nina

    South Africa is catching on slowly but surely and the markets are getting better and better all the time. The produce is still outrageously expensive and a trip to a market, can cripple me financially. Lovely pics, though!

    ninas last blog post..Trout with Almonds and wonderful memories.

  14. manju

    It’s 3am and I’m taking a break from cleaning — and after reading this I’m completely ready for breakfast, unfortunately it will be oatmeal! Glorious post and photos… oysters, yummm! I actually tried beer and chocolate combo at a beer-tasting party once, so I fully support Chris’ choice! ; P Also wanted to let you know I tried your watermelon, feta, olive salad combo and loved it — hubby was blown away by the combo. It was perfect with the steaks and zin we had last night.

    One thing about that tofu wrapped rice (inarizushi)… the tofu is actually fried and a pocket forms, then it is marinated in rice wine and sugar. After thoroughly marinated (couple of days), it’s stuffed with rice that is also seasoned with rice vinegar and sugar and whatever veg or seafood you choose. Popular street and carrying food in Japan and here in Hawaii, too. Yeah, you deep-fry anything and it’s going to taste good!!

    manjus last blog post..A Crabby Meal

  15. farida

    Must have been a lot of fun! Your post make me want to be in London. What an adventure it would be!

  16. Helen

    Julia – It was lovely to meet you too, and again on Tuesday! We were pretty good in the quiz i think although I can’t believe I ate a cricket – must have been all that wine…
    Su-Lin – thank you very much for the suggestion, I will try it.
    Peter G – thanks! I’ll let you know what the squirrel tastes like if I ever find it though!
    Jenn – Yep, my favourite way to spend an evening, or a day for that matter.
    Nina – Well this wasn’t exactly cheap. The more we buy though…
    Michelle – Your cakes were fantastic! I loved my pretty little cupcake and Chris his choccy cake. Good luck with the business,. just keep going and I’m sure you will be fine.
    Kittie – You must!
    Y – Really? I honestly thought there would be. Maybe you start a campaign on your blog?
    Jeanne – Yes, I would have loved to meet you too. If you make it down there, let me know and maybe we can meet up?
    Farida – Hello! Come for a visit, I will show you around!
    Manju – You are cleaning at 3am?!! I think the less said about this the better ;) Thank you for enlightening me on the tofu thing though, that’s really interesting – I like it more now I know that!

  17. katy

    looks amazing!!! that candy table would have been the end of me — i never would have gone home!

    katys last blog post..Chocolate Chip Biscotti

  18. Nicisme

    Oh what great photos, I must try to get up there.

    Nicismes last blog post..The view from Helvellyn

  19. Mary

    I was over in London in August this year. Being my first time there I was overwhelmed by the amount of markets and food. My favorite photo is the one with the lady rubbing her belly. She looks like she can’t wait!
    Mary

    Marys last blog post..Do you have any cooking questions?

  20. Walter Scott

    I love London, I will be going back soon!

    Great blog, you have some very good interesting points that I like. :) I love gardening and flowers very much, thanks. I will be back :) Thanks

    Walter Scotts last blog post..Aeroponic Hydroponic Cloner

  21. Dana Scott

    Great blog, I really enjoyed this post. I will be back and have bookmarked your site. Thanks! Dana

  22. Lisa Tang

    Ummm… I just stumbled across your site looking for cheap places to wander around at night for food rather than a sit-down place (me and a few friends are coming to london in the summer for 2 nights) — and thanks so much for making a post like this! WE WILL DEFINITELY TRY THIS PLACE OUT.

    – does the market open every night, and what times?
    thanks!!

    Lisa Tangs last blog post..Saturday Morning!

  23. Helen

    Hi Lisa,

    I would keep an eye on the Covent Garden website for the offical times. As far as I know it will be running oN Thursday evenings this year until 9pm. Us London bloggers may even be running our own stall this year – I’ll keep you posted!

  24. Navajo Joe Restaurant

    If your favorite food is Mexican then you must visit Navajo Joe Restaurant in Covent Garden. Navajo Joe Restaurant is famous for Mexican food and bar and situated on King Street in Covent Garden. You can find varieties of Taquila here! The tables here always booked in advance and you can book your table from http://covent-garden.fluidrestaurantguide.co.uk /covent-garden// site! You can find the food here with reasonable price. You can get 50% off on your food bill with minimum 2 courses per guest. so visit here and enjoy your food! Discounts can be changed on time to time so visit here and enjoy your delicious food and drinks!


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