The other week I decided to use my habitual matitudinal hours somewhat differently by taking a trip to the New Covent Garden market in Nine Elms, in London. Located within a stone’s throw of Vauxhall station, on the south side of Vauxhall bridge, it is actually very centrally located and, in theory, easy to get to. However, the Vauxhall traffic system is pretty terrifying so drive slowly, follow the signs, and be thankful that at 4 am there is very little traffic.
The site is enormous, with the flower market on one side of the tracks and the fruit & veg market on the other. Five pounds to park (all day if you like) is a great bargain and you can park outside of one market, fill your car, and then drive to the other market and park there. On two separate occasions, Helen Evans, who runs the place, took me around and told me all about how they were changing to become more “retail customer” friendly, and all about their exciting plans for the future. I hope those plans require a virtuous baker! Helen is brilliant and you can contact her via the New Covent Garden website. The staff there are always happy to show people around so do ask because it can be a little daunting on the first try.
When you do go, you will see that the buildings are a wonderland of wonderfulness.
In the flower market you can buy anything at all to do with flowers, flower arranging, seasonal decoration and home decor to do with flowers. There are plenty of coffee bars to refresh yourself when you get overwhelmed. Although I love flowers, and did buy some lovely white lizzianthus and some gladis, food is more my thing and so the real gem for me is the fruit and veg market where I had difficulty restraining myself, it all looked so beautiful and delicious. There are fruit and veg from all over the world – some things I had never seen before, cool mushrooms, gorgeous tomatoes, all sorts of beans, summer fruits, figs to die for…you get the picture. It inspired me to make cherry bread, beet root bread, bean bread and mushroom bread. They are all pretty good actually but I don’t know that they will make a hit with the public! Better by far were the pickled beetroot, the raspberry jam, the cherry jam, the bean puree (kind of like vegetarian chopped liver and great on sourdough toast), and the tomatoes in a salad. I cannot wait to go back, I am telling all my friends (you!), and I hope to see you there one day at 4.
The market is open to the public, although there are a few things that may be helpful to know before you go:
1. As a member of the public you are not the traders’ primary customer group so don’t be too upset if you don’t get a lot of attention. The best time to go is early morning (4-5 am) when stalls are still open but it’s no longer manic. The super busy time at the market is between midnight and 4 am as that is when the trade customers are there. Avoid that time and you will get a better look-in. Do remember, though, that by 4 am, the traders are nearing the end of their day so they may be a bit frazzled.
2. You can buy many of the flowers in small bunches but you do have to buy the fruit and veg in a box/pallet. This is not as bad as it sounds. My box of cherries was 5 kg – a great amount for jam (once I had eaten 1 kg on the way home). My pallet of raspberries included 12 small punnets of lucious, sweet berries – just a little snackette at my house. So if you are having a party, have a greedy family, want to make jam, or go in with your friends/neighbours to split a large order, the market is the perfect place to shop.
3. There are no prices on anything so do your homework. Figure out what you normally pay for produce to have some kind of price check against the prices demanded. You will probably be astonished at how much cheaper it is to buy things at the market but if the prices are higher do consider whether the goods are better quality before you engage in a debate or walk away.
4. Tony’s caff at the fruit and veg market serves bacon sandwiches that are bigger than your head. Sharing is recommended. You have been warned….