Where to find the best markets and grocers in London?
June 4, 2010 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Renting an apartment for a week in London in September. Priority: great food shopping.

My wife and I are heading to London for 8 days/7 nights this fall for a vacation/wedding, and we're looking at saving money by renting a flat with a kitchen and buying our own food and preparing meals there for the most part. The bride-to-be is moving out of town and will be far too busy to accommodate houseguests, and we don't really know anyone else well enough to couch-surf (nor do we really want to, given that this is our Big Trip for probably the next several years).

Anyone here had recent experience and recommendations, both in terms of companies, ballpark expense to look for in terms of rentals (what's a good sweet spot for a one-bedroom with kitchenette and maybe a breakfast nook type eating space?), and -- most important -- preferred neighbourhoods for access to great food markets and/or interesting niche grocers?

We're both fairly accomplished cooks with limited tools, and looking forward to having some culinary adventures in London. I'm aware that cooking/cleaning will bite into our adventurin' time, which is why we're hoping to work some great food shopping into the wonders... saving some money, but also "experiencing" London via the foods you can buy there.
posted by Shepherd to Travel & Transportation around London, England (13 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Borough Market, by London Bridge Link
posted by kenchie at 12:57 PM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Second Bourough Market. Also check out the food hall at Harrod's.
posted by Atom12 at 1:04 PM on June 4, 2010

Borough FTW. The main market only happens Thurs-Sat, but the local shops are open regular weekly hours.

All the swanky department stores have food halls, but they're eyebleedingly expensive, so really only worth a sightseeing glance.

Money-saving tip: shop at the end of market hours and people will give you deals rather than cart their stuff home unsold.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:17 PM on June 4, 2010

Thirding Borough Market.

We spent last summer in London. Stay away from estate agents because those flats will be expensive. Try Gumtree (UK's version of Craigslist).
posted by cooker girl at 1:20 PM on June 4, 2010

Borough Market. Berwick Street Market in Soho is smaller, but has some pretty good stuff, and you'll find some nice specialist groceries in the vicinity. Neal's Yard Dairy is in Borough, but has a standalone shop near Seven Dials, and so you can walk from there through Chinatown to Soho. At the upmarket end, Fortnum's food hall is better than Harrods, in my opinion.

Borough and thereabouts is probably a better short-term rental option, which places you within an easy Tube/bus trip from most of the central stuff and some of the funkier stuff in Zone 2 (Brick Lane, Brixton, etc.)
posted by holgate at 1:31 PM on June 4, 2010

All the swanky department stores have food halls, but they're eyebleedingly expensive, so really only worth a sightseeing glance.

But if you have time, DO go to Harrods and to Fortnum & Mason, for the sightseeing.
posted by anadem at 1:34 PM on June 4, 2010

When my fiancee and I went to London last year, and had a very good rental experience with A Place Like Home, they act as agents for the owners but we found the prices much cheaper than other rentals we found. Though we didn't have the energy and patience to try looking through Craigslist or Gumtree. They were professional, quick to respond to email contact, and generally a pleasure to deal with. They charge a security deposit that was a bit high (400 GBP, or around that) relative to the cost of the rental, but it was promptly returned after our stay.
posted by dnesan at 2:04 PM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: Most of the farmers markets are on the weekends.

Make sure you visit some of the large ethnic markets/areas though. Green Lanes for Turkish, including Quince and Lamb. Ridley Road Market in Dalston for West African goodness.

Further in..

Mckanna's meats on Theobald's road for almost any cut of meat. They'll sell you duck confit for cheaper than those guys at Borough market.
Neals Yard Dairy in Covent Garden and Borough Market for cheeese.
Steve Hatt in Islington for fish.
Get local roasted coffee from Square Mile or Monmouth. (My favorite place to pick up bags of Square Mile is at the Espresso Room)
For Tea, Postcard Teas.
For Italian food (sausages, prosciutto etc.), you can go to I Camisa or Lina in Soho. (When I was last at Lina, the owner had just put up a handwritten sign about some truffles he had just gotten delivered from Italy. With the scales and care we examined them, I felt I was doing a drug deal)
For French goods, such as foie gras, Comptoir Gascon in Clerkenwell is a better value than anything in Harrod's food hall.
If you're looking for a liquor/liqeur nobody else can find, try Gerry's in Soho.

Best vegetables are probably from the guys at Islington Farmer's markets. Check the websites of the box delivery people to see what is in season.
There's also an older lady - from Cumbria I think - at that market that sells fresh mussels on weekends.

Don't be shy about going to a Waitrose supermarket. They are excellent at stocking a lot of British produce, local dairy, fish, meats, cheese etc as well as Continental stuff. My wife grabbed me a French Ossau Iraty there today - one of my favorite cheeses.

That's it off the top of my head. I'll post more if I think of something. Hopefully the above helps to triangulate a bit more.
posted by vacapinta at 2:34 PM on June 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

Seconding the excellence of Waitrose supermarkets.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:35 PM on June 4, 2010

I also really love Shepherds Bush Market: it isn't specifically a food market but has excellent produce, some butchers' shops, fishmongers, a Middle Eastern grocers' and some amazingly good falafel stands. It is also worth checking out for fake flowers and shiny things.

It's probably a bit far out for your needs, but it is on every day except Sunday. Since it's not right in the heart of things, accommodation nearby would be cheap and easy to find.

I go there whenever I'm haunting the fabric shops on the Goldhawk Road.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:12 PM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: Gumtree is mostly agency listings these days, though you can find some short-term rentals, and Craigslist is rife with scammy listings, so be careful there. We've had luck with it, but only because we were able to check out the listing in person.

You're probably looking at £400-£600 for a weeklong furnished 1 BR, depending on the neighbourhood and how central. Make sure you specify whether the kitchen is outfitted with basic crockery and tableware. We had good luck with both these serviced apartments and Roomarama.

Everyone's already mentioned most of the markets I would suggest. Borough is wonderful, as are the obligatory food halls at the various high end stores. You can always pick up a nice piece of cheese, some salumi, and bread for a lovely picnic, and a lot of those counters offer affordable British specialties like pork pies, pasties, smoked fish, scotch eggs, and lovely baked goods. Buy some salad fixings to go with, and you can eat really well back in your hotel room. And many of the supermarkets here offer a high quality and good selection, and most neighborhoods have some kind of small grocer with basic items.

In Chinatown (Leicester Square) there are 3-4 asian grocers that offer interesting produce and frozen meats and fish. There's also a great daily market with a lot of ethnic foods out in Greenwich. Essentially, I have found that just about every neighborhood has something wonderful to offer, food- and shopping-wise. You won't have any trouble foraging, wherever you end up.
posted by amusebuche at 5:13 PM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all! For anyone still reading this, we booked a nice-looking flat in Notting Hill through New York Habitat, after come careful vetting of the company. Looks good so far. Thanks in particular to amusebuche -- we didn't wind up with either of your companies, but that knowledge fueled a deeper search that led us to NYH.

VERY much looking forward to this trip. Now it's just a matter of mapping all these recommendations!
posted by Shepherd at 10:20 AM on June 10, 2010

Green Valley on Upper Berkeley (near Marble Arch) not only has a mindblowing assortment of middle eastern sweets in the front, but a very solid deli/grocery as well. Fantastic for grabbing some reasonably priced kofta, salads and probably the best pita you'll ever have and making a Lebanese feast at home.
posted by cali at 10:19 PM on June 10, 2010

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