Monday, 23 December 2013

Top ten places for food shopping in London

The entire country is out there, frantically packed into supermarkets, jamming up the car parks, tossing food and drink into their shopping trolleys. In this post, I want to suggest a few alternatives. As a Londoner, I can only speak for London shops, but I'd love readers to suggest other fantastic shops, in London and elsewhere in the UK in the comments. These are my picks, not just for Christmas but any time of the year.
My advice when visiting these shops is to make a day of it. Have lunch there or nearby. Take big shopping bags and fill them with new exciting bottles and jars, exotic cookware, strange fruits. Generally they are so cheap that if you don't like it, it's no big deal. Talk to the shop keepers, ask questions, hell, I chat to the other customers, especially housewives who look like they have experience of cooking dinner for a large family for several decades. 

Italian:
Lina stores in Soho. Beautiful shop with pale green tiles, friendly knowledgeable service.
Clerkenwell used to be the Little Italy in London. Between 1880 and the First World War, hundreds of thousands of Italians moved here, including my great grandparents. My great grandfather worked for Carlo Gatti's icecream makers. (My parents still live in Clerkenwell.) The clown Grimaldi also lived in Clerkenwell and has a blue plaque. There is an annual Italian festival in the area, centred around the Italian church, with swaying processions and statues of the Virgin Mary. More Little Italy history here.
In Clerkenwell, I recommend the Italian shop Gazzano's, known for Puglia bread.
Also the vintage Continental Stores down the road in Kings Cross. Run by an elderly couple, they don't have a great deal of stock by modern day standards, but it's worth visiting just for the shop front.
Online Italian shopping:
Try this new company. Delicatezza, they sell fresh UK made burrata and unusual stripey tortellini.
Food Halls:
Fortnum and Mason. Piccadilly.
It's 300 years old, started by a royal footman from a spare room in his house, it eventually expanded into the most beautiful food shop, possibly in the world. It is not as expensive as you'd think. I once bought some heritage potatoes at Borough market, then discovered they were cheaper at Fortnums. It's a pleasure to enter this old-fashioned food hall, with exquisitely packaged products, many of which are 'own brand', and frock-coated shop assistants. There is nowhere else like it. Interestingly, they employ a historian on site.
Selfridges, Oxford st:
It has become more adventurous, food-wise, over the last decade, bringing in people like Bompas and Parr to do food and drink installations on the roof, commissioning stunning foodie window displays and housing boutique restaurants. And of course, a fantastic spread of some of the most interesting food products from all over the world plus an essential selection of American foods.
Markets:
Broadway market, Saturdays, London Fields
I feel very envious of those living in Hackney having access to this now trendy but authentic street market. It's actually quite recent, in the last five years, that it's become a place to go. When I was squatting in London Fields pool in 2002-5, there wasn't much happening yet. Cheaper than Borough and less corporate, it is the testing ground of many a famed street food producer including banhmi sandwiches, artisanally smoked salmon, Violet cakes to name but a few.
Borough Market, London Bridge
This was the first revival of the artisanal food markets,  but a victim of its success, and far too touristy on Fridays and Saturdays. Best go on a Thursday. Still got Neal's Yard Dairy though, the best place for British cheeses, selling also Irish tea and Maggie Beer's verjuice. Go early to Neal's Yard, the queues at this time of year are horrendous.
Portobello Road Market, Ladbroke grove tube.
Mixed among the tourists and the Notting Hill set, this market remains a true working class street market, with hard as nails women (fake tans, plucked eyebrows, backcombed hair, under their quilted jackets but these ladies are impervious to all weathers) shouting out bargains in authentic cockney. A wonderful mushroom man at the end, good fresh produce, some cheap deals to be had on cheese and chocolates.
Ridley Road Market: Dalston junction.
Turkish, Jewish and Caribbean foods, very cheap, a good bagel shop and a large branch of PartyParty.
Brixton Market:
Not just the market but also the arcades of hip Brixton village, a jumble of inexpensive exotic foreign produce, 'jungle' meat, fresh produce and tiny (in size and menu) restaurants on their first stepping stone from supper club or street food stall to high street domination. It's the other end of London for me, so I rarely go but well worth a visit.

Asian food:
Wing Yip, Cricklewood.
This family run emporium started in Manchester and has a large branch in Cricklewood, near Staples Corner. Hence it's only, realistically, reachable by car but they do also have online shopping. On Sundays this place is buzzing, with food tastings and a crowded restaurant. The prices are fantastically cheap and the staff are helpful. They even pack your bags for you. There is a wholesale section at the back, useful for buying in bulk. They also sell some Chinese cookware and tableware. The whole place smells faintly of Durian fruit, but sweetly not in a stinky-feet way. I love coming here, it's an interesting trip in itself as you'll discover new foods.
Chinatown:
There is a whole street of Chinese supermarkets. You find some weird stuff there. I wish they had food demonstrations and more English language explanations of some of the stranger products like the little black nuts (?) that look like vampires.
Mare Street:
After visiting Broadway market, you could graze around the Vietnamese supermarkets such as the Le Mi Supermarket and Video Store on Mare St.
Japan Centre, Shaftesbury Avenue:
Bloody expensive but intriguing with great quality sushi which you can eat in or takeaway. Excellent vegetable peelers for sale and loose leaf Japanese tea.
Natural Natural, Finchley Rd and Ealing Common
I go to this Japanese shop as it's near me. The staff are very sweet and helpful, they have a cartoony notice saying 'How do you eat these things? We are always happy to help you, from the natural natural staff'. On the fruit and veg stall outside, you can buy fresh burdock and lotus root plus everything is very carefully wrapped as if it were precious, even single carrots. In the chiller there is a large selection of fresh tofu in different textures from super silky to extra firm.

Middle Eastern food:
Persepolis, Peckham 
You will most likely be served by a flame haired woman, a cookbook author named Sally Butcher. I spent a day there helping out, which was great fun. Sally will happily talk about the food they sell and  can speak fluent Persian. People travel from all over the UK and Europe to buy their authentic imported Iranian foods, especially the flown-in pastries. A little counter, selling some of Sally's food, is in the back.
Edgware road:
Plenty of fascinating food shops, all very good value, in this area which has become London's Little Arabia. Green Valley supermarket is one good name that is bandied about. Afterwards you can dip into one of the cafés, have a mint tea or strong silty coffee and smoke a fruit tobacco hookah.

Indian:
V and B supermarket (Wembley and Southall)
I can spend hours here, photographing and taking notes: the sugar loaves, the open vats of pickle, the fresh spices. This whole area is worth a half day of your time: enamel bowls, bargain large saucepans for bulk cooking, chaat stalls, fresh 'tinda' (Indian pumpkins), dirt cheap buckets of creamy yoghurt, green curry leaves, thin wooden chapati rolling pins. You feel like you have travelled to India. Heaven.
Bangladeshi food shopping: find clay pots of date syrup, terracotta dishes of sweet yellow yoghurt, Bengladeshi lemons, big knobbly fragrant green things, large half crescents of green black beans, saffron hued betel nuts are to be found in the stalls and supermarkets just outside of Whitechapel tube.

Eastern European/Kurdish:
Where2save 352-354 Kilburn High Rd and Harlesden.
We used to have Food World in Kilburn, a treasure trove of unusual foods from around the world, crammed into one shabby supermarket. The landlord wanted to triple the rent so this local resource disappeared. Never mind! We now have Where2save a few doors up. Run by kurds, this small shop is expanding every year. The range of their products, compared to a conventional supermarket, is impressive. How do you compete with the supermarkets? I asked the owner. By making sure that we stock different products to the big four, he replied. Their fruit and veg stall outside has fresh, good quality produce that puts supermarkets to shame. Every time I visit, I try a new Eastern European dairy product, or Brazilian tempera or one of the huge selection of inexpensive nuts. If I want a chowchow, some Georgian-style green plums, Turkish 'sultana' grapes, chervil, some tiny Indian limes for pickling, sour cherry fruit leather, this is where I go.
Speaking of Kilburn, a reader on Twitter has mentioned that Bestco supermarket is good. This is true, I've often found unusual foodstuffs there, including uncured olives. It has a wide selection of Middle Eastern, Eastern European, Brazilian and African foods. It's open 24/7.
Grocers:
Newington Green, Newington Green, Islington.
Not only do they have super fresh, unusual fruit and veg, they use any spoiled or leftover fruit to make their own jams, chutneys and pickles (see comment below however). Extremely helpful staff who will carry to your car. An emotional paean to this shop is written by my fellow blogger Rocket & Squash.
Clifton Greens, owned by the same people but in Maida Vale. I bought some great food there, such as preserved mandarins in jars and fresh jalapeño peppers.
Andreas Veg in Chelsea,  probably the best quality fruit and vegetables in London.
Caribbean food:
Blue Mountain Peak, Harlesden:
My Caribbean friends make the journey to this shop in murder mile in Harlesden to get authentic products. They've just gone online too, so everyone can order from them.
Hackney, Dalston and Brixton are also good areas for Caribbean food.
Mexican:
Casa Mexico is a beautiful shop in the East End run by a friendly older couple who live half the time in Mexico. I spent a small fortune there for my New Year's Eve supper club. Here you can buy packs of corn husks for tamales, pinatas, imported tequila, large packets of dried pasilla chillies, mole, blue masa and giant black stone molcajetes for grinding your corn like a Mexican grandmother. 

16 comments:

  1. Fantastic! Thank you. I have a friend who works near Southall, I've sent this on!!!

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    1. Southall is briliant too, but VB & Sons is in Wembley. Very similar to Southall. Lots of women in saris and winter coats.

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  2. For sheer surprise, for me it had to be Old Spitalfields Market, and Broadway Markets in Hackney on a Saturday. Delicious!

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    1. Yes Old Spitalfields is good, but not so much for food? Broadway market is mentioned above, it's great.

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  3. Shiva Shakti Foods is an amazing Asian Supermarket stocking lots of Gujarati food. Have the budget lunch at Bobbies then pop over the Road the the Jeram Music centre who stock a brilliant array of cookware.

    4-6 Macdonald Road
    Leicester
    Leicestershire
    LE4 5HD
    Fax: 0116 268 1622
    0116 268 1622 Add Review

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  4. Thanks for sharing a useful places for food shopping blog. London is one of the best city for shopping, visiting and foods.
    Click Here

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  5. Thanks for this - I have just moved to Kilburn & already in love with Wing Yip and Bestco - will need to investigate where2save now! My all-time favourite grocers is All Seasons opposite Preston Road, excellent selection and very friendly (and attractive) staff.

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    1. Best co is pretty good too, they were rubbish but have improved. You can now get fresh uncured olives there and good fresh veg.

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  6. Inspired me to look again at Where2Save - and to tell them they feature. Jamal was thrilled about it and didn't know. Michael

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    1. Hi Michael,
      I did let the owner, is it Jamal? know. I told him to get a proper website!

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  7. Yes, completely agree, living in London we have so many more options than just the same old supermarkets... good to see such a comprehensive list.

    Re Broadway and Borough, I think if you'd asked me even 6 months ago, I'd have said same about Broadway feeling more authentic and Borough being victim of its own success but now I'd have to say it seems to have gone the other way. When I went to Broadway yesterday, there were so very many stalls selling food to eat there and then that there was much less room for stalls selling actual produce, the kind one might want to buy at a food market. Still enjoyable, but just felt packed packed packed, harder to approach stalls there than at Borough!
    Whereas the extensions / refurbs at Borough mean there's more space there now and seem to be so many stalls that really are all about the produce. Sure, the prices are higher than a basic market, but the quality and choice is just phenomenal. I genuinely think Borough is on the rise again, as a genuine foodie destination, not just a tourist trap.

    For Japanese, can I also add Atari-ya? The North Finchley branch, where I love, isn't huge but has a great range of Japanese fresh, dry and frozen produce, plus my favourite, the fresh fish counter, including sashimi grade fish, and I often buy trays of sashimi, choosing exactly how many pieces of each fish I want in the selection.

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    1. Hi Kavey, thanks for your comments. I haven't been to Borough for a few months so will check it out again. But I do think its prices are very high.
      Atari-ya....great recommendation.

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  8. A fabulous list and beautifully illustrated. I will keep it bookmarked. Thanks so much, K.

    Just two points:

    1) Mr Bagel, the Ridley Road bagel shop, is no longer very good and hasn't been for some time.

    2) The incomparable Newington Green Fruit & Veg doesn't make its own jams and never did. I can see how this account took root, however: A local customer used to sell jams to the grocer with produce she purchased there but she moved away several years ago to South London.

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    1. Thanks, yes it's true, it's no longer as good as it was but then there are no very good bagel places in London. There are a couple near me in Cricklewood and they are 'ok'. The brick lane ones are merely 'ok' too. So I'm starting from a low baseline.
      The Newington Green place had loads of jams say 3 years ago? Their sister branch in Maida Vale definitely has preserves.
      Anyway, thanks for your comment Daniel
      x

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  9. Blue Mountain Peak is a family owned business establised in 1976 named after the world famous Blue Mountain in Jamaica, specialising in Afro-Caribbean Food Products from around the world. Over the years the company has gradually grown, with two retail outlets and one wholesale outlet for fresh fruit & veg. Blue Mountain Peak has now taken the step to provide it's specialist products online for everyone to enjoy.

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