The first stop was Borough Market, which is a huuuuuge farmer’s market in southeast London. The stalls are physical structures that are there permanently, but it has an open-air farmer’s market feel to it (think old train station vibe) and it stocked to the brim with local English meats, seafood, cheeses, breads, jams, and veggies. Next door there’s an adjoining market called Green Market that has more ready-to-eat food stands with all sorts of different hot foods to choose from. But my favorite part of Borough Market was the cheese shop that lays just down the road from it, and that place is Neal’s Yard. Okay, so the first thing to know about Neal’s Yard is that everyone who work there is a trained cheese expert. You can ask them absolutely anything about cheese and they will be able to talk to you at length about it. I went in at 9 am and asked for ‘breakfast cheese’ and they didn’t even give me the slightest side eye, but instead offered tastings of a variety of cheeses that made for perfect toast accompaniments. They also offer a wide variety of classes on cheese, from cheese and whisky pairings to creating the perfect cheeseboard to making your own cheese at home. If I had known about this place in advance I totally would have signed up for a class there, but I didn’t learn about it until I was standing in the shop staring at a class sign and there weren’t any spaces open while I was there, sadly.
So, I ate my tasty fresh bread and breakfast cheese and then hopped on the tube and popped out at the Tower of London to see their poppy display. They decorated the tower of London with over 800,000 poppies to commemorate the centennial of all the English soldier who died in WWI. It’s a display that is both stunning and soul-crushingly sad. Anyone can stop by and see the display for free since it is on the outside of the Tower, but if you want to go on a tour of the inside of the tower you need to get a ticket. I’m very intrigued by the grim and ghoulish, so I desperately wanted to go on a tour to see the dungeons there, but sadly I was carrying my photo book with me and, since it weighs about 20 pounds and I’m only 5 feet tall and had to walk everywhere, I was so sore there was no way I would have made it through the entire tour without collapsing and sobbing like a crazy person. So I’m saving that tower tour for the someday-London trip.
After the tower, I had traditional English tea at the Conrad London St. James hotel to try out their seasonal Christmas afternoon tea. If you come to London, you must must must have an afternoon tea here. First of all, if you’re a tea drinker like myself you will be pleasantly stunned by the array and quality of the tea selection. Secondly, the food is really really good. Not only is it presented in adorably proper and tiny tea-time portions, but the creativity and flavor was unbeatable. They also sourced most of their ingredients locally (a trend I noticed a lot in London and loved, since so many big cities have yet to take advantage of what’s in their own backyard) and I have to say that English clotted cream is now kiiiind of my favorite thing to put on toast, ever (I haven’t been able to find any in Portland so I have decided to attempt it make it myself!) And after the beautiful presentation, the delicious food, and the sumptuous tea, you might think that that’s the end. But oh no, there’s an entire frosted window of delicious sweets just waiting for you, including a raspberry mousse Christmas tree with a chocolate ganache trunk and tiny meringue snowmen. Good. God. The entire set up was by far the cutest thing I’ve ever eaten. If you’re in London anytime between November 24th and December 31st, you should definitely stop by. They also have a really incredible wood-paneled bar there that has a classic upper-crust old school London feel to it that I want to revisit again, as well.’
The next day I met the lovely Bea from Bea’s Cookbook over at the Maltby Street Market. Also in southeast London, the Maltby Street Market is much smaller than Borough Market but has a more local and old-English feel to it. Stalls towering with food are crammed onto an old narrow street with a small brick warehouse on one side that has been converted to storefronts for restaurants and vendors, and a brick wall on the other side. British flags line the alleyway and the smell of it all will take your breath away in the most wonderful manner possible. I could smell the market before we even turned the corner. Grilled cheese stands, beet smoked salmon, small batch Newton & Pott jams, every kind of Scotch egg you could imagine, and fresh baked bread all wafted through the air. Me and Bea ended up splitting what turned out to be the best grilled cheese sandwich of my life. Local goat’s cheese, honey, walnuts, and rosemary butter on fresh-baked rosemary bread. Eating that sandwich was what I’d imagine the high from hard drugs would feel like; warm, comforting as an old friend, and entirely exquisite. I was slightly crushed when it was all gone and there was no more sandwich to eat, so I comforted myself with an English oyster rockefellar prepared curbside (yes, they do that there).
There’s also an amazing Spanish tapas restaurant in one of the storefronts that has giant cured hams hanging from the ceiling along with an excellent Spanish wine selection. And smack dab in the middle of the street is an awesome gin bar with vibrantly mix-matched tables and chairs strewn about the entire middle of the road. There’s also a ton of vintage and antique shops in the area around the market (Lassco was my favorite of the bunch), as well as microbreweries. We stopped at Anspach & Hobday and got a tasting flight of a bunch of their beers, and the agreed upon favorite was their seasonal autumn brew (although they were all very tasty, especially the IPA). After that we parted ways and I did a bit of wandering around Notting Hill and found an especially cute area to wander around All Saints Road and Lancaster Road, lined with shops and restaurants and the typical vibrantly-colored houses of the area. Notting Hill pretty much looks like the English versions of San Francisco, but with all the adorable quirks of London. I also wandered through Portobello Road but it was mainly clothing and t-shirt stands which wasn’t really my thing, but if you’re looking to buy a ton of inexpensive clothes in London it’d be a good place to stop.
The next day I woke up at dawn to fit in a trip to Richmond Park. The park is in Richmond, a town on the southwest skirts of London, and although it’s a bit out of the city you can still get there on the tube. There’s a few things to know about Richmond Park. First, it is HUGE. And by huge I mean it is so massive that it covers 2,500 acres, so when you visit it make sure to bring your walking shoes since all the paths are by foot. There’s also a lot to do there, (King Henry’s Mound and the Isabella Plantation to name a few) and they have a lodge and a cafe in the park so you don’t need to leave it to eat. And lastly, there are lots of deer and cows that roam the park and are generally friendly to humans. That’s not to say that you should walk right up to a stag and attempt to pet it, but you can get really, reallllly close to these deer without them getting skittish and wandering off. And if you bring a bit of bread with you, you can easily feed them by hand. I went there with the sole intention of finding some deer, and so when I entered the park I chose the path that had the most droppings on it and that ended up working out pretty well since I saw three of them within the first 15 minutes of setting foot in the place. It’s crazy because even though you’re still technically in London, it feels like you’re miles and miles deep into the English countryside. I easily could have spent an entire day wandering around the park, but I had to head out to meet someone special for breakfast, so off I went!
The final stop on the farmer’s market list was the Wapping Market, which is situated in an old and very industrial part of northeast London that was mainly full of shipyards for most of the area’s history. It’s now become an up-and-coming area of the city with urban lofts and lots of fun little bars and restaurants around, although not as many as in other parts of the city. Joining me in this adventure was the all-around wonderful Izy of Top With Cinnamon. We’ve been internet friends for a couple years now but had never met in person, so it was really exciting to be able to spend the better part of a day together and finally hang out face-to-face. We started out in Wapping, which was an area that was new to both of us. The market is situated out on this wharf that’s surrounded by water on three sides. This was the smallest market of the ones I’d visited, but the quality of the food at all the booths was excellent. Delicious variations of sauerkraut and pickles at the Vadasq Deli stand, delightfully tasty mixers and ketchups from World of Zing, and craaaazy creative fried pastries from the Crosstown Doughnuts stand. We split their peanut butter doughnut with blueberry compote and it was just as delicious as it sounded, but the sheer array of the other flavors is proving to be enough of a motivation for me to plan a return trip to London just to try them all. They have a sea salt caramel and banana doughnut. Seriously.
After that Izy took me on a tour of Brick Lane Market and the surrounding Brick Lane area. This is the Portland-y part of London that is full of coffee shops, vintage finds, and delightful hipsters, and I absolutely loved it. There were an insane amount of fantastic-looking restaurants and shops around and after much roaming and wandering we decided on having brunch at Fika, a Scandinavian bar and restaurant. We both got one of their ‘Elves Touch’ cocktails, with blueberry myrtille, almond syrup, and germana, which was as refreshing as it sounds. And I countered that refreshment with a nice cozy plate of pancakes with bacon, blueberries, and maple syrup. After brunch we wandered around some more and then Izy took me to Big Ben since I wanted to take a peek at it before I left. It’s a really beautiful structure and just shockingly, awe-inspiringly huge for a clock. And it is actually a part of the English parliament building, which seems like a very effective way to keep your politicians working on schedule. We also popped into an English grocery store where Izy got me some maltesers and choclate-covered hob-nobs. Maltesers are a chocolate covered malt candy ball that look like whoppers but have a much much better taste and texture (think creamy and melty rather than dry and chalky), and hob-nobs are these buttery oat cookies that are half covered in milk chocolate and taste insanely good when you dunk them in a mug of hot tea because the chocolate bit gets all melty and wonderful (I am now obsessed with both of them and have been trying with no avail to find them in the Portland area, so if you know, give me the deets!) After that we parted ways and I headed back to far northwest London where I was staying.
I stayed in far northwest London called Turnham Green at a great little airbnb with an adorably tiny older French woman. She’d been living in London for decades and was very helpful with advice on getting around, and the neighborhoods in that area were gorgeous so I spent the next morning wandering about a bit taking pictures. There was also a beautiful nursery around the corner that I frequented several times just to take in all the plants. It was a nice and quiet area, perfect for a retreat from the noise of the city, especially for a weary traveller like myself. And even after getting frustratingly lost several times since many of the intersections there aren’t labeled with street names, I absolutely loved it. Everyone in the city was so friendly and kind and helpful, and the charm of the stone streets and crooked alleys completely stole my heart, along with all the delicious cheeses and markets a girl could ever ask for. London, you haven’t seen the last of me yet.