Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
An Italian diplomat called Andrea tipped me off about this new food market underneath the railway arches in Bermondsey, south-east London. I met Andrea at a book launch and he told me it went by the unlikely name of Spa Terminus and sold the best Italian charcuterie and Parmesan in London, and rather good French food and veg. ‘It is much less touristy than Borough Market,’ he said in his deliciously thick Italian accent. ‘And it is only open on Saturday mornings. I will show it to you.’
We arranged to meet at Bermondsey Tube the following Saturday. Andrea, who takes his food very seriously, was carrying an empty rucksack. Both of us had stopped off at cash points beforehand (many of the shop don’t accept cards). It took us ten minutes to find the market. There were no signs and nobody seemed to be heading in the same direction. When we got there I wasn’t entirely sure we’d arrived. But then Andrea spotted a biodynamic wine shop underneath a railway arch. It was cavernous and damp and filled with alluring bottles with unusual labels.
Like all the food outlets we subsequently discovered it was unscrubbed, very authentic and all the better for it. We spent a happy morning going up and down, filling our bags with cheese, charcuterie, bread and fruit, discussing everything from Italian politics to postwar architecture. There were no crowds or queues – and everybody we talked to was friendly and knowledgeable.
Here are my top five Spa Terminus shops:
The Ham and Cheese company: fantastic Parmesan, which Andrea swears is no more expensive than the supermarkets, and charcuterie (I bought bresaola). A friendly Scot called Archie, who writes children’s books on the side, let me try a spicy salami made by a butcher in Cantabria who is also the local mayor. A bit too macho pour moi – but one for giving va-va-voom to lacklustre stews.
The Little Bread Pedlar bakery: fabulous focaccia, made on the spot, and small tarts and cakes. I bought a great wheel of focaccia and several tiny cakes that my nieces happily devoured (only one berry cake was pronounced a failure – ‘too squidgy’). Apparently the bakery delivers its bread by bicycle all over London.
John and Elena Fruit and Veg Company (no website): this wonderful shop sells sublime daisy-fresh French produce, including cherries, blue-tinged garlic, courgettes, peppers, artichokes. Snob that I am I consider French fruit and veg much better than anything from Holland (sorry Lily) and Spain (sorry Murcia). I stuffed my bags with all of the above at John and Elena. When I got home I simply couldn’t believe how good it all was.
Kaseswiss (artisan Swiss cheese). Here I tasted the best Gruyère of all time. The flavour just went on and on and reminded me how much I love Heidi and the Matterhorn and red and white gingham aprons. Turns out this wonderful Swiss cheese stall is owned by a New Zealander (female) who lives in Zurich.
Crown & Queue meats. I was intrigued by this stall selling British wartime sausages on piles of straw and trotters spiced with rum and horseradish – not really my tasse de thé if I’m brutally honest but très original (and made by a woman from Canada who’s married to a City trader).
And now for the serious bit – lunch Andrea, who gets up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday to row on the Thames, suggested we stop for lunch at the very à la mode 40 Maltby Street. We wove our way through more backstreets – past lock-ins, council estates and (of all things) a Porsche garage. We passed two enormously fat Goths, several lost looking tourists and a lone male jogger. We were early enough to get a table and sat on high stools, ordered tasty little plates of this and that, and watched the hipsters of south-east London tootle past in the rain.
When I got home I froze the focaccia in small batches and found that I was able to conjure up meals from my frigidaire with minimal effort. It reminded me where we often go wrong in our approach to food. We order from Ocado and trawl through recipe books when often all it takes to create lovely food is to shop for the best ingredients we can find, then arrange them attractively, before gathering our loved ones around us.
Meals are magical and beautiful to look at when they’re just an assembly of tip-top ingredients from delis and bakers and charcutiers and greengrocers. What’s more this approach is probably more economic – when we buy things that are precious and special we are less likely to waste them.
The French know this instinctively. I didn’t hear a single French voice at Spa Terminus but the more adventurous residents of South Kensington are surely about to descend on it in droves.
Log on to the Spa Terminus website for details of how to get there. The market is open from 8am-2pm on a Saturday and has 15-20 producers, many of them escapees from Borough Market.