Mercado de Woolwich, Innit?
One of my most favourite places on earth is Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel. I spent a few hours there not that long ago, wandering, sipping, tasting, pointing, chatting, marvelling. It’s a happy place, very near perfect. Buy a glass of cava from the man, point to the oysters you want shucking, nibble on pinchos, experience bliss.
But it’s a bit of a hike to get there from SE18, which is why the Royal Arsenal Farmers Market has gone straight into my all-time hall of fame for Things That Are Good For Woolwich. Already a legend.
The market is held on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. It currently occupies the huge warehouse near Taproom (go there for fabulous local beer and wine and pizza) but will move outdoors to No.I Street when the big ball of fire finally ups its game.
Okay, Woolwich isn’t Madrid. (The nearest tapas is in Greenwich, courtesy of a charming restaurant called San Miguel, coincidently, which I warmly recommend.) But no matter. Our market does exactly the same thing as the Spanish one: it showcases and celebrates fantastic produce in an inviting setting in which it’s easy to lose a few happy hours.
I love the social side of it. I always have a chinwag with my mate and fellow-Melburnian Despina, who runs Souvlaki The Greek with her partner Scott. Make sure you try one of their souvlakis, made to order on the spot. Get your laughing gear around a healthy and satisfying combo of chicken (or pork or lamb), fresh salad, and tzatziki, wrapped in soft artisan flatbread. Also try the life-saving breakfast souvlaki of sausage, gigantes beans, scrambled egg, and oregano. These guys recently made it into a Londonist feature on where London’s best souvlakis can be found.
Find more homemade Greek dishes at Greekelicious. Julia whips up great moussaka, stifado, pastitsio, dolmades and soutzoukakia. Not sure what soutzoukakia is? Only one way to find out (Google doesn’t count and isn’t as much fun anyway).
While you’re in Despina’s neighbourhood, stop by Southern Wine Roads and have a chat to Maria. She will take you through all the wonderful Greek wines she has on offer. Maria is based in Orphington and is passionate and very knowledgeable about her country’s wines. Buy a small glass for just £3 and sip while you saunter. She sells wine and beer by the bottle as well.
Wildes Cheese is another highlight. I met Philip and Keith a few years ago when their adventure in cheese was just beginning. At that stage, Philip was making the good stuff in his kitchen at home, learning the ropes and forming a business plan. These days, Wildes Cheese is well and truly on London’s food map. Philip has even been on the telly: he is a natural in front of the camera and really should have his own show. Their home market is Ally Pally, but they love coming south of the river now that they understand there are no dragons. On market days they bring the cheese down on the clipper.
Anyone who’s on Twitter in this part of the world will know about our very supportive online community of local purveyors and producers, all doing their thing around Woolwich, Shooters Hill, Eltham, Charlton, Greenwich, and Blackheath. You can meet this virtual network in the flesh at the market. There’s Mike the Very Green Grocer (@VeryGreenGrocer) for Kent-sourced fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, and honey. Mike also stocks other goodies: try to get your hands on the amazing hot sauce from Moon Hot Sauce (@moonhotsauce) and a bag of delicious Gildas Bear granola (@GildasBear). For gorgeous cakes, including gluten-free, see Geraldine at Besprinkle (@besprinkle_) and for tasty sauces see Emma at All Things Saucy (@AllThingsSaucy). Fresh bread abounds too, thanks to Adam at Season Bakery (@SeasonEtcetera) and Graham and Jen at The Honest Loaf (@thehonestloaf).
The market has all the food groups covered. Apart from the above, there are butchers, sausage makers, charcuterie makers, fishmongers, and of course Flicks Fancies for the most enormous sausage rolls imaginable.
But wait, there’s more wine. Don’t miss Andrew and Emma Nielsen of Le Grappin. Andrew’s Twitter profile says it best: Australian nano-négociant in Beaune making small lot wines from under-appreciated appellations across Burgundy. Wow! All I can add is that I highly recommend you buy a Bagnum (a bag of wine) and stick it in the fridge for summer. Buy two. Also take a look at L’atypique for natural, organic, and biodynamic wines.
For more sipping, I’m going to start off at Gin Tales next time. Coming into warmer weather, a G&T while shopping will be just the ticket and is really how life should be all of the time.
Circling back to the social aspect of the market, though, I love how it has become a magnet for all the ace friends we’ve made in Woolwich and slightly beyond. Despina and Scott’s stall has become something of an unofficial gathering spot: everyone seems to show up at roughly the same time and the laughs begin. And looking around the market, I see we’re not alone: there are many jolly groups gathered. London can be a lonely, cold, and overwhelming place sometimes, and it can make you feel very far from home. The Royal Arsenal Farmers Market does the exact opposite.
The Royal Arsenal Farmers Market has a facebook page and also tweets at @RAFarmersMkt