Celia Brooks Brown’s Borough Market Gastrotour

Peter Morrell takes a Gastrotour of one of London’s culinary hotspots

Celia Brooks Brown is a passionate cook and food writer who has researched and designed three exclusive Gastrotours featuring Portobello, Borough Market and Marylebone village.

Recently I joined seven other food enthusiasts on one of Celia’s Gastrotours around Borough Market and what an experience it turned out to be.

Conveniently situated next to London Bridge tube station, Borough Market, known as ‘London’s Larder,’ has a history that stretches back more than 2000 years to Roman times. Borough went into decline in the 1980s and 90s but this was sharply reversed in 1999 when the market was registered as a charity and opened to the public. It has since gone from strength to strength and the four hour plus Gastrotour gives you the full flavour of the breadth and depth of what this gourmet’s paradise can offer.

The tour starts in the light, airy dining room of the renowned English restaurant Roast where Celia, our Gastrotour guide, greets us and gives some interesting facts and figures about both the market and the architectural history of the room we are in.

Sampling the delights of the Roast Brunch gets underway very quickly. Freshly brewed coffee and juices complement a range of tasty savoury snacks. Prunes wrapped in bacon, Eccles cakes, sausage in puff pastry and Welsh rarebit all compete to claim the prize of ‘most delicious’. It’s good advice not to eat too much here and to save some space for the extensive sampling to be enjoyed throughout the tour.

Roast is the spring-board from which we dive into a culinary sea of smells, tastes, colours, shapes and even the sounds of food. Celia has planned a well thought through tour of this vibrant market, taking time to establish relationships with the stall holders. Her in depth research provides us with the opportunity to talk to the experts and try food that is not generally available to the casual visitor. The tour provides a real insider’s view and without this expert guidance it would be like walking around the market with the lights off.

 We start at one end of ‘Organic Alley’ and marvel at a vegetable stall packed with everything from fungi the size and shape of a skull to massive, deep green avocados.

Progress is slow along the alley and rightly so. We get the chance to try sea fresh, dive-caught scallops, find some exotic meats like ostrich and wildebeest and are tempted by the gleaming display of fresh fish.  I even experienced a whole new taste sensation when I tried wheat grass juice, its flavour so intense that it was reminiscent of a picnic on a warm summer’s day in a grassy meadow.

After this feast of flavours and textures we head for Bedales wine bar, stopping enroute to taste some unbelievably tender and flavoursome rare breed lamb, beef and pork from an organic butcher.

The wine bar continues the experience with a lesson on wine tasting from the engaging French Managing Director Arnaud Compas and, to my delight, we get to put theory into practice. Our newly learnt skills are tested with a Gewürztraminer and a Valpolicella which we enjoy with samples of French cheese and charcuterie.

As we leave the wine bar via another door Celia tells us that both the street we are in and the bar we have just left feature in a famous film, she will tell you more on the tour. Crossing the road, we make our way into the Green Market.  Although packed with stalls, this market, under the railway arches, is more open and has the imposing back drop of Southwark Cathedral.

Here we meet more enthusiastic stall holders who talk with real passion about their food. Samples include oak roasted cherry tomatoes, venison tortellini and a 28 month old parmesan cheese from a small organic producer in Italy. Moving on we discover truffle flavoured olive oil and an exquisite Cheshire cheese from a producer who farms a small herd of cows in Malpas.

For me the star of the tasting in this section of the market was the white balsamic vinegar made from Trebbiano grapes. Celia’s recommendation is to enjoy its natural sweet and aromatic taste on its own as a salad dressing.

Then it’s back to the main market stopping at a specialist Scottish stall for tastings of smoked trout and scallops and heather honey on oatcake. As we leave here at least three of us have our olfactory senses mugged by another stall offering a sample of truffle flavoured honey, which is just sublime.

Our last port of call is a specialist Spanish produce shop where Celia has organised a sampling of Tapas. White asparagus, boquerones with sweet pepper, chorizo, cheese with quince and a comparative tasting of Serrano and ham from the famous, acorn fed, Pata Negra pig complete what has been a culinary epic.

As a final added bonus we are introduced to a contact of Celia’s, Robin Hancock. Robin, who, co-owns one of the largest oyster importers in the UK, shows us the cellars under the market and gives us an insight into the oyster industry.

We end the tour with a well earned glass of wine in Wright Brothers Wine Bar having all enjoyed numerous, unique taste experiences.  Although our tour party comprised a mix of very different food enthusiasts, we were all agreed that the tour had been a totally absorbing and extremely informative experience.  And it was also very friendly and great fun!

Celia is a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, and anyone with the remotest interest in food would appreciate this fantastic tour. It would make a real treat for yourself or would be a really unusual birthday gift. If you are looking for a present for the person who has everything, slip a gift voucher for a Borough Market Gastrotour in their stocking and they will love you for it.

See Celia’s website for other tours available from £55.

For more details, to book tours, buy gift vouchers and see other tours available visit Celia’s web site: www.celiabrooksbrown.com