Yesterday Mark and I spent the day in London on a Tasting Tour of Borough Market, guided by food writer and tour guide Celia Brooks.
Borough Market is close to London Bridge, once the only crossing point of the River Thames, so there has been a market in the area for at least 2,000 years but it is only about 20 years since work began to convert the old Victorian market hall into the food lovers' destination, crammed with artisan delicacies and interesting eateries, that it is today.
We started the day in a private room above Hotel Chocolat's Rabot 1745 restaurant, meeting our guide and the other 10 people on the tour while enjoying croissants with cocoa bean butter, chocolate brownies and glasses of iced 100% cocoa chocolate milk. Then we set off around the market to see what was on offer - tastings had been arranged for us at many of the stalls.
Interesting spelling of Heirloom! But a stunning display of tomatoes.
Our first taster came from a juice stall
The green is wheat grass juice (quite probably the most disgusting thing I have ever had in my mouth. Stop that smutty sniggering!). Luckily the one on the right, fresh ginger juice with pink peppercorns, took the nasty taste away.
Next we sampled some ostrich meat, followed by a very generous glass of scrumpy (strong cider) - not what I'm used to drinking at 11 o'clock in the morning.
Feeling slightly woozy, we staggered into Brindisa, one of the most interesting shops around the market to us, having recently got back from a trip to Spain. We have a copy of Brindisa's beautiful recipe book too. They had a wonderful selection of Spanish ingredients and we tasted cheese, Romesco sauce and two kinds of wonderful hand carved ham.
Next we moved on to an oyster stall. I declined the chance to taste one - I've tried many times in the past to learn to love them but they remain the one kind of shellfish I just can't stand. They did look pretty though.
(You can tell by the fuzziness that the glass of scrumpy had kicked in by that stage).
Next we moved, via several tastings of cheeses and cooked meats, fudge and liquorice, to a stall specialising in Kent Cob Nuts.
Here we tasted the roasted nuts and oil and had a test of the facial serum.
Our next stop was a cheese stall with a difference - we sampled some very unusual cheeses including one called "Brain cheese"
You can see that uncut it really would look like a blue-green brain. The colour on the outside is mould like that you get in blue cheese and the result, with the tangy inside and blue outside is quite delicious and very different from eating a cheese veined with blue.
I had to recharge my phone so the next few stalls didn't get photographed, but we had tastings of several kinds of delicious olive, a very generous visit to a meat stall where we had freshly grilled beef steak, pork and lamb with seasoned fries followed by "real" corned beef (as opposed to the supermarket stuff) with mustard and pickles, and a visit to a seafood stall where we sampled beetroot-cured Gravadlax and some wonderful freshly-cooked scallops, still with the coral attached.
Finally we settled down in a private room in Bedales restaurant to fill up any tiny spaces left in our tummies with a platter of cheese and charcuterie, baskets of bread and two kinds of rare Italian wine. By then my phone was partly recharged:
No, the wine tutor wasn't moving very fast - it was dark so a long exposure!
It was a fascinating day, we got to meet the stallholders who were happy to tell us all about how they got into their businesses as well as giving us all kinds of interesting facts about the foods we were tasking. And many of the things we sampled were the kind of expensive item that you wouldn't buy on a whim just to see if you liked it, in case you were wasting your money, but now we've tried them we would definitely go back and buy them when shopping for a special occasion.
As for shopping yesterday, by the time the tour was over we were so full and so squiffy that we couldn't really think ab out food, so we just picked up some olives and a bunch of asparagus to have when we got home. But we'll be back - and when we are, we'll shop until we drop!