Another jar of overpriced chutney, anyone? Katy Salter says Farmers’ Markets are so 2011: London’s night food markets such as Nuno Mendes’ latest – The Long Table – will be the real food market contenders for 2012.
The sharp December air is filled with the scents of grilling cow, slow-roasting chicken, bubbling polenta and distinctly potent mulled wine. A singer-songwriter is strumming his guitar under a makeshift awning in the corner of a Dalston car park while Londoners tuck into gourmet burgers, oblivious to the sleety drizzle falling from above. This is a Christmas market, east London-style.
The Long Table
The market in question, The Long Table, is the newest and biggest addition to London’s burgeoning night market scene. It opened in late November 2011 with a series of four Friday night markets in the run-up to Christmas. Dave Pynt, one of the organisers, tells me they hope to be back with a semi-permanent market from spring 2012. A collaboration between acclaimed chef Nuno Mendes of the Loft Project, and local social-enterprise group The Bootstrap Company, The Long Table is inspired by the buzzing night markets of China and south east Asia.
‘The night markets in Asia inspired us, because we all thought how amazing it was to be able to walk out after work or an evening partying, and have a great variety of local, low-cost food, that was of great quality and cooked in front of you,’ explains Pynt. ‘Singaporean night markets were a major influence, but also those in Hong Kong, Vietnam, China and Japan. Nuno and I have travelled extensively in the region as have some of the other members of the team.’
They’ve gathered together an impressive ensemble of top London restaurants and street food vendors for the market’s initial, pre-Christmas run. East London favourites Moro, St John, the Loft Project and Hawksmoor all have stalls, as do cult street food vans Big Apple hotdogs and Lucky Chip burgers. You can eat around the globe in this small, pot-holed Dalston car park: Parisian rotisserie chickens, Caribbean seafood pancakes, Taiwanese buns filled with meltingly soft belly-pork, Moorish peasant dishes from Moro. Deviate from the burgers and you’ll find more unusual street food to try: tongue on a stick, anyone?
‘The Long Table is Glastonbury for foodies,’ says food blogger and writer Rejina Sabur-Cross who runs a Bengali curry stall at the market. ‘There’s a really nice crowd coming down here, not just scenesters but lots of families and proper discerning foodies, too.’
Not the Only London Food Night Market
The Long Table isn’t the only nocturnal market shaking up London’s food scene. The StockMkt is a new venture that debuted with a Christmas night market in Bermondsey Square, south London. As a Christmas shopping experience, it was as far from a trudge down Oxford Street as you can get: there were stalls selling silk lingerie, hand-woven bags, Christmas hampers and jewellery, as well as theatrical makeovers and live music. To munch on? Saltfish and ackee Scotch eggs, kimchi wurst, Spanish churros and Austrian tortes. The organisers are planning more markets in 2012.
Back in the summer, Red Market opened in a derelict Shoreditch car park, to spoil the tastebuds of late-night drinkers more used to soaking up the sauce with Subway or a kebab. Beset by licensing problems, it is currently shut. But now partying Londoners’ eyes have been opened to the possibility of refuelling with a plate of gourmet meatballs rather than a gnarly doner, will they want to turn back?
‘Night markets are an alternative night out. I can definitely see them catching on in London,’ says supper club host and food writer Kerstin Rodgers. Aka MsMarmitelover, Kerstin began running the Underground Night Market in the garden of her north London home back in May 2011. ‘I run an Underground Farmers’ Market too, but the night market is definitely more buzzing, with a younger crowd. I’ve had cocktail makers serving drinks out of my daughter’s bedroom window, Paul A.Young setting up a chocolate shop in my shed and knitting workshops in my bed. The fact it’s in someone’s garden makes it unique. Six hundred people showed up to the first market. The atmosphere was so exciting; it felt like the beginnings of the rave scene. Farmers’ markets are pretty tame, so I tried to inject a little danger with the night market.’ In fact, such is the success of Rodgers’ night market that she is currently looking for someone with a bigger house and garden to host it. ‘Last time we had 50 stalls and I had to get a police officer friend to act as my ‘head of security’ on the front door with a one-in, one-out policy.’
Bring on a Food-Filled 2012
Back in Dalston, as I tuck into Moro’s unbelievably delectable duck and chorizo rice with an almond aioli, I think about how the Long Table and this new breed of markets differ from what’s gone before them. London is already stuffed to the gills with farmers’ markets. They’ve done wonders for revitalising our food culture, but perhaps they’ve become a little, dare I say it, touristy and staid. There are only so many jars of overpriced chutney one can buy. This new breed of night markets injects fun and vigour into the capital’s food scene. Less quiche and cupcakes, more burgers and booze. Let’s hope to see much more of them in 2012.
Visit The Long Table’s website.