Day 3 London and Italy: Borough Market and Fifteen

We’re still trying to get onto London time. Once again I slept a few hours at night, was up in the wee hours and slept again a little more around 7am.

While completely awake at night, I check my credit on the Orange SIM card and notice that it is running down. This is a little strange given that I’ve only received one short phone call and sent 3-4 texts. Calling the support line in the middle of the night leaves me exploring automated prompts, and I eventually figure out that I’m still on the Orange Base plan. I decide to select one of the Orange Animal plans to get free Internet. Although the little card that came with the SIM says it’s only 50mb, it turns out that this plan gives you 100mb per month. We’re not spending too much time in London so that should be ok.

Today we are hanging out with another good friend and have agreed to meet up at Borough Market around 11:00 for coffee prior to eating our way through the market for lunch. Our friend calls and says that she missed her train by 2 minutes and will be about 20 minutes late. This is okay with me because I’m still really tired. In fact, we leave the hotel a little late and rush to try to make it in time. She gives me directions to the Monmouth coffee shop, but because I’m so tired the details slip out of my mind – all I remember is that if you are facing the main entrance to the market you head to the left and go down one of the side streets.

Borough Market Cow Map

 

 As we get to Hyde Park Corner station we decide to get an Oyster card instead of getting an all day travelcard. It costs 3 quid for the card and you can load it up with any amount. The great thing is that you get a discounted rate each time you use the tube with the Oyster card, and there is a maximum amount that will be deducted each day. The maximum rate on weekdays just happens to be the same as the charge for the all day travelcard, which is a pretty good deal especially when you consider that the maximum Oyster card charge is even less on weekends. Thanks to cousin Stephanie for the heads up on the Oyster card.

 As we make it out of London Bridge station we try to remember how to get to Borough Market, but are distracted by all of the zombies walking around promoting some of the gory tower of London dungeon attractions. My wife is not a big fan so we just pick a direction and walk. Eventually we make our way to the back of the market, but are now 10 minutes past our meeting time. Eventually we meet up with our friend and decide to grab a quick juice or water at the Pret-a-Manger instead of waiting in line for coffees. It’s nice to sit down for a few minutes to catch up before we head off into the market mayhem.

 If you’ve never been to Borough Market, you’ve missed out on one of the greatest food markets in the world. While many markets have stalls and stalls of similar vendors, Borough Market has an incredible depth of offerings. Nearly every stall either offers free samples or sells prepared foods. The market is jam packed with people including many of us tourists carrying cameras and snapping away. The moderate heat and the humidity are magnified by the crowds.

 We start off by trying a kangaroo burger, which turns out to be a bit disappointing. The burger is pre-cooked, is dry and a bit bouncy (rubbery). Having learned on my previous trip not to fill up too soon I give up on the burger and toss half of it. We continue to wade deeper into the market, stopping and grabbing samples of cheese, sausage, and chocolate as we go. We vow to come back and buy some chocolate later as we worry about it melting in the mid-day heat. We emerge into an open air portion of the market and try some drunk-cheese, cheese which has been soaked on red wine.

Next we find a stand that sells canned seafood from Spain, much like the stuff that Tony Bourdain raved about in his Spanish episode of No Reservations. I see sea urchin roe and buy a can. Further up the line we get to Richard Howard’s oyster stand. I get two medium raw oysters and 2 medium raw clams. I rarely get raw clams and forgot how much sweeter they are then most oysters.

Canned Seafood from Flavours of Spain at Borough Market

  Next door to the oyster stand, my wife drools over a place selling a version of what could be one of my fav French inventions: raclette. Raclette is boiled small potatoes and pickles covered with a nice melty cheese and broiled until slightly brown. Instead of placing plates under a broiler, as is done in Paris, the stand has special heat lamps that slide over demi-wheels of cheese. Once the top layer of the cheese has been browned, they scrape the molten goodness onto the potatoes and pickles. These are pretty filling so we share one between the three of us.

Raclette at Borough Market

 Moving on, we head towards another favorite place that sells grilled scallops, but end up somehow stopping to buy some meringue and chocolate mousse on the way. We finally get to the scallop stand and they are every bit as good as we remember, served grilled on a bed of bean sprouts and liberally topped with bacon.

Grilled Scallops at Borough Market

 We decide that we’re just about stuffed and head back to Monmounth coffee for some iced lattes to beat the heat. The lineup goes about 15 people out the door, and they come down the line taking orders ahead of time. The coffee is pretty good and fully justifies the long line. Before heading back to the hotel we stop for my friend’s favorite market item: Flour Power City Bakery’s Ultra Chocolate Brownie. I don’t fully appreciate how much she likes these until she pulls out her frequent shopper stamp cards, one of which has 9 stamps already completed. At the time I was too stuffed to try them, but I had a few bites later that night and I am now a believer. Next time I come to Borough market I’m going to have to allow for two days.

Flour Power Ultra Chocolate Brownies Borough Market

 Now that we’ve eaten ourselves silly we decide to walk off some of the calories by heading to Covent Garden. We stop by our hotel on the way to drop some of my camera gear. Shopping at Covent Garden is my wife’s part of the day. We spend a bunch of time in a funny t-shirt store, loads of time in a paper and stationary store, and a few other stops. All I really remember is a place with a pair of giant paella pans in the middle of it all. Oh, if only I had room for more food. After some shopping time we head down to another Carphone Warehouse to buy a second SIM card for my wife. Now that I’ve learned about the Orange pay-as-you-go options, I realize that for a 10 pound top-up I can get another card with an international calling plan that would let us call home for 6 pence per minute. This would also allow us to split up for any future shopping trips.

 We then meet up at a tube station with my friend’s new husband and make our way to Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen. As usual we end up cutting things pretty close and as we make our way down the stairs we find a huge crowd on the platform. The first train pulls up and it is fully loaded. Barely anyone makes it on the train. Ruh-roh. Are we going to be late? My friend has a theory that because trains come so often in London that full trains are eventually followed by emptier trains. We wait 2 minutes for the next train which is marginally less full. Some of the crowd makes it off the platform. We decide that if the next train isn’t any better that we’ll just cab it and hope for the best. Luckily, the locals know what they’re doing and the third train has enough space for us.

 We get to Fifteen and it’s a pretty cool spot. The menu is a modern Italian and we each order our options for the fixed price tasting menu. I can’t decide on a wine, so I order a spritz instead, which I understand to be a traditional Venetian apperatif. It shows up and is shockingly orange. I wonder if this is how they look in Venice? I’m glad that it’s kind of dark in the restaurant because the drink is a bit more fru-fru looking that I expected and is screaming out for a paper umbrella – but it’s refreshing as advertised.

Jamie Oliver's Fifteen in London

 For antipasto I have the buffalo mozzarella with honey and Italian peach. I’d never considered honey and mozzarella before but I will be copying this dish for parties at my house from now on. My first course is a gnocchi that was described as extremely light and fluffy and the dish doesn’t disappoint. This is perhaps the best gnocchi that I’ve ever eaten. It’s basically whipped mashed potatoes that manages to hold itself together in a gnocchi shape. The creamy sauce, mussels, and pancetta push this over the top. While very, very rich, this is one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had. My secondi is a pot roasted pork which is surprisingly a bit under-seasoned. My least favorite of the night, but still pretty good. Dessert is pretty tasty and we have some espresso to wrap things up.

Pot Roasted Pork at Fifteen in London

 Another successful dinner with great food and great company – although my friend outwits me and manages to talk the waiter into taking her credit card instead of mine. I’ve learned that when presented with people shoving credit cards at them, wait staff tend to always go with the locals over the visitors. We suppose that this is because the locals are more likely to come back. Next time I will lie and say that my friend is visiting from out of town.

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