Review of the year: 2019

Categories: Features, Reflections and opinions

Highlights from a year at Borough Market

Eating out
2019 has been a busy old year at Borough Market, with some significant changes taking place to the way it looks and functions, designed to emphasise the centrality of high quality produce and make eating at the Market a more rewarding experience. The most obvious change was the launch in November in Jubilee Place of The Borough Market Kitchen, which has taken the concept of outdoor cookery to a different level of sophistication, moving beyond street food. Its setting, located right beside the produce market and filled with communal tables, slows down the pace, encourages interaction, and emphasises the connection between the food on the plate and the high quality ingredients that went into it, many of which are supplied by the Market’s produce traders. All of the traders in The Borough Market Kitchen have been selected for the quality and provenance of their ingredients as well as the skill and creativity of their cooks. Together, they offer a reflection of the striking diversity of the city they serve. The opening was celebrated with a fantastic community lunch.

The click of a button
While there’s clearly no substitute for visiting a market in person, the convenience of online shopping can increase the accessibility of high quality produce and provide valuable support to its community of independent traders. The new Borough Market Online service, which launched in the autumn, offers produce from dozens of the Market’s traders. Customers can either collect their purchases from a hub in the Green Market or, if they’re based within two and a half miles of Borough, have them dispatched to their door by our partners, Good Sixty, via state of the art zero-emission electric cargo bikes.

Coming of age
In November 1998, Borough Market was taken over for the weekend by the Food Lovers’ Fair, a collection of exceptional food producers, gathered from every corner of the country. The Market, then a fruit and veg wholesale operation in a state of decline, had not seen crowds like it for several decades. As a result of that success, and of the ground laid by a group of far-sighted wholesalers, this historic institution set off in a new direction, becoming a haven for independent traders who offered an alternative to industrialised production and retail. To mark the 21st anniversary of that momentous change in the Market’s direction, some of the people who were instrumental in setting its direction recounted their memories in a special magazine supplement.

Sustained campaign
Throughout 2019, Borough Market and its traders have continued to lead by example on issues of sustainability and waste. Single-use plastic bottles are no longer sold anywhere on the estate, and our three water fountains were this year used by visitors to supply a volume of water equivalent to 1,750 standard bottles per day. A fourth fountain is on its way in 2020. In the autumn, Borough became the first food market in the UK to replace plastic carrier bags with a fully biodegradable alternative, made from GM-free cornstarch. The Market’s traders have embraced the challenge of finding alternatives, from porcelain coffee cups to packaging-free granola dispensers. It is even possible to buy clingfilm made from local beeswax, rather than plastic, at the Borough Market Store.

Future proof
Questions of sustainability are also at the heart of Borough’s Food Futures programme, which seeks to identify and incubate the next generation of traders, particularly those that offer fresh ideas about environmental responsibility, waste minimisation, local production and health (while, as hardly needs be said, meeting the usual exacting standards of food quality). By giving these small, forward-thinking businesses a place in the Green Market, Food Futures has given them the chance to test their products, tell their stories at Borough Market and share ideas with shoppers and traders whose responses will help shape their evolution. They have been joined by guest traders from South Bank University’s London Agri-Food Innovation Clinic (LAFIC), a project that supports fledgling food businesses, providing them with free, professional advice and funded support to increase research and development.

Recipes for success
Borough Market’s Cookbook Club—a free-to-join club whose members come together most months to discuss an iconic cookbook and share the dishes that each of them have prepared from it—had another fantastic year, with its membership shooting past the 1,000 mark and its gatherings quickly selling out. The events this year featured a rollcall of recipe books from a diverse cast of writers, past and present, including Anthony Bourdain, Gill Meller, Margaret Costa and Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, as well as a massive third anniversary celebration in the Market Hall, featuring two books by Diana Henry.

Life less ordinary
When in 2018 Borough Market’s bi-monthly publication, Market Life, was named Food Magazine or Supplement of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers, it seemed like a pretty monumental achievement, particularly given that producing a magazine is, in our case, a sideline to running a world-famous food market. The prospect of Market Life winning the same award again in 2019 seemed so unlikely as to be preposterous, but win it it did. Just to prove that we’re not bribing someone at the Guild, Market Life’s deputy editor Clare Finney was also named Food Writer of the Year at the Fortnum & Mason Food Awards. Clare spread her wings this year with visits to the Bra cheese festival and to see the picking of the Darjeeling first flush, while elsewhere in the magazine we drew thought-provoking interviews from the likes of Dee Woods and Patrick Holden, commissioned colourful columns from Thom Eagle, Rosie Birkett and Angela Clutton and delved into the history of cider and alliums.

Trading places
Most importantly, throughout 2019 Borough Market’s traders continued to sell exceptional produce, share their expertise, and promote methods of production and retail that offer a hopeful alternative to the industrialised mainstream. It was thanks to them and their commitment to food quality that Borough Market was again named the UK’s best market by Slow Food. Their ranks were joined this year by some exciting newcomers, including Pastificio Carleschi, Eaten Alive and Palace Culture (a Food Futures alumnus), while the choices for a post-shopping meal were bolstered by the arrival of two critically acclaimed restaurants: Flor and Stoney Street. Mimo London, which opened on Cathedral Street, has been helping visitors get the best from the Market’s abundance of produce via its food tours, cookery lessons and supperclubs.