The smell of Dominican coffee makes me feel like smoking. I won’t though, because I dont have any cigarettes and am not buying a whole packet just to satisfy a pavlovian urge, that if fulfilled would only make me feel slightly sick and would negate the taste of the Dominican coffee. I would also lose my seat. I am sitting on a Friday afternoon,by an open window in the corner of the Monmouth Coffee Company, opposite Borough Market. The suited and booted fraternity, having luncheoned flirtatiously, have gone back to the office to solve the credit crunch and the atmosphere changes to reflect the fact that those left in the market have little to do on a Friday afternoon but ponder the correlation between roast Dominican coffee beans and nicotine cravings.
I love Borough Market. It is almost a cliche to say now, but having wandered around many of Europe’s great food markets, I am drawn above all else by Borough’s astonishing personality. Sometimes it is dank and moody, at others vibrant and ecstatic. Come here at 9am on a Saturday morning in Spring to find her at her pearly best. I love how cosmopolitan this place is and yet how fundamentally British. From my Monmouth vantage point, the window frames a microcosm of the very market- Brindisia, with its exquisite jamon, chorizo, olives and almonds sits next to the quintessentially English ‘Ginger Pig’ butcher- sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, wonderful streaky home cured bacon and huge black aged beef ribs…… And there it is, right there- through my little window- the charm of Borough Market in a nutshell- continental and prosaic, proletarian and passionate. I can see lamb sweetbreads, a tenner a kilo and English asparagus flying off the stalls at £4.50 a bunch. There is New Forest cider and fine Bordeaux. Everyone I can see is eating and a happiness pervades as friends, lovers and colleagues bustle and meander under the great wrought iron arches.
With divine surrealism, eight priests wander past. What might they in God’s name be doing? Sushi next door? A wheat grass shot? Perhaps they are on their way to picket the premiere of ’Angels and Demons’. And well they might, should it be as apalling as ‘The Da Vinci Code’. Their dog collars and robes seem uniquely out of place yet so at one with the eclectic vibe of the place. Next, white van man, tattooed and bulging, threatens to run over poor ambling wicker shoe dreadlock man. He looks genetically similiar to lentils and bran but leaps pavement-ward with an agility belying his marajuana and mung bean diet.
Trendy folks, friendless geeks and Gucci-clad WAGS mix freely. There are the handsome and the plain- moustachioed queens and doting chinoed fathers. There are tramps and lords and the glorious democracy of Borough makes each and every one feel that this place, this temple to all that is good and worthy, is their own discovery and solace.
I got bored of people watching from the coffee place and went for a stroll around the progressively more peaceful market. I had a chat about Albarino with a moustache, to which was attached a small Spaniard and ate a pot of creme caramel on the move- like a sweet-toothed gurkha. Now I find myself drawn, as ever to the restaurant bit of Brindisia- on the corner of Stoney and Southwark streets. I am sat on exactly the seat on which I was photographed for my biography page- a favourite place for contemplation and watching. The stupendously oily coffee and faultless tapas is a bonus, as is the blazing sunshine on this gorgeous afternoon in early May. I order pork belly tapas which arrives as two small slabs (can you have small slabs? or are slabs, like americans, inherently large?) which are unctuous and melting, all the fat rendered away to leave perfect wafer thin bubbly, salty, crackling. It has the faintest smear of sweet quince puree and a tiny green salad with enough acidic dressing to just balance all the fatty, sweet, crispy goodness.
I am not one for watching what I eat, but in the spirit of blogging, I have today consumed, in chronological order:
x4 native oysters, x1 sausage roll, x1 Dominican Coffee, x1 creme caramel, x1 Spanish coffee, x2 small slabs (yep) of pork belly and countless small tasters of things like white truffle honey, cheeses, elderflower cordial, rhubarb chutney and a tiny bit of chocolate brownie. I am a little bit full, but have room, possibly, POSSIBLY, for another oyster or two on my way back to the tube station and who knows? falafel? chorizo? potted shrimps? Shall I buy something delicious to cook my lovely girlfriend for dinner or shall I suggest Star Trek at Putney Cinema followed by Gourmet Burger Kitchen? Decisions, decisions. A good Friday. And we won the cricket.