It was my friend Lucia who alerted me to the opening of Mercato Metropolitano, a market that launched in Milan last year, moved to Turin (where it’s still open) and now to London; a branch in Tokyo is planned soon. It’s housed in a disused paper factory, equidistant from Borough station and Elephant & Castle station. It’s an area in south-east London that is changing from being rundown and not a place to feel safe alone at night, to an inevitable gentrification as the ‘smarter’ parts of London move inevitably outwards.
To say that Mercato Metropolitano is a ‘market’ is to tell only part of the story for their ambitions are much greater than simply selling good food. Yes, you will find some of Italy’s best small producers, farmers’ produce and artisan bakeries and pizzerias and other foods, but founder Andrea Pasca’s passion is very much Italian – and that is to bring the essence of good food to be shared with family and friends to a large communal space. It was clear arriving there last night that Mercato Metropolitano is a meeting place; it’s where friends and family gather. Not only is there food and drink but there will be events, a gym, working spaces and a cinema; cookery classes, a vegetable garden and demonstrations; a barbers and even a pop-up hotel. The market is about promoting a sense of community, social responsibility and sustainability.
Four of us arrived at about 6.30pm. Looking out at the open space where – having bought drinks and food you can sit – it didn’t look that exciting to be honest: only a few stalls and handful of people. Lucia said she’d learned that the official opening is Thursday (15 Sept) so maybe we’d come too early. Maybe Tuesday wasn’t a good day – they’re open Tues-Sun from 11am to 11pm (midnight on Saturday). However, by the time we left, after 9pm, it was a completely changed atmosphere with lots of people and a really vibrant buzz.
There are plenty of places to sit and eat – inside or out. It was hot – the hottest day in September in London since 1911!! – and we felt in need of a cool drink. Lucia and Michele headed to a bar selling artisan beers, where they were given samples to try before deciding which to buy. Meanwhile, Annette and I headed back to a van selling cocktails for an Aperol Spritz.
I’d never been served a drink in a half-pint jar before! I decided this was my drink for the night – one would do! It was very good; a great blend of Aperol, prosecco and sparkling water with lots of ice and a big slice of lemon. Delicous and just what was needed! The guy was so friendly and later brought us a few complimentary tomato bruschette basil and garlic. It’s common in Italy to be given free snacks with an early evening drink – the famous Italian aperitivo.
I bought some snacks from a Sicilian van, including panelle – their special of the day – a kind of fried pancake made with chickpea flour, which reminded me of socca in Nice. They were cut into bite-size pieces and delicious. I also ordered some arancini – but now have to confess that because they were large (not bite-size ones), I cut them up before remembering to take a photo. Arancini are rice balls stuffed with a filling – these were mozzarella & ham, and an aubergine one – and then deep fried. They were very good.
Much later they brought us a sample of canoli – a Sicilian pastry dessert filled with sweet creamy ricotta.
This was definitely street food – food prepared to order and as fresh as it could be. There was plenty more food. Lucia found a platter of cheese at one of the stalls inside for us to share. Once we decided it was time to go we looped backwards to take everything in on our way out. One large area has pizza, fried fish, an enoteca (wine bar).
Moving on into another large area we found more stalls, including a bakery selling Italian breads and a special kind of thin foccacia with a cheese filling.
Perhaps most exciting was passing through the large warehouse-style supermarket on the way out, a family-run supermarket from Palermo, Prezzomelo e Vitale. Here we found shelves of wine, beer, pasta; tins and jars of vegetables in oil.
There was a large cheese counter, another with meats and one with all kinds of snacks and antipasti foods.
There was a greengrocer counter – fresh fruit and vegetables, and huge misshapen ones just as you’d find in a market in Italy (not the uniform ones we have in our supermarkets!).
I bought some packets of pasta to bring home. Maybe not very adventurous but from producers not easily found in UK. I was particularly pleased to find Sardinian fregula, which Livio puts in his gorgeous fish stew at a local favourite restaurant, Masaniello, but not easily found.
It was a fun evening and great to see such a wide selection of Italian foods that would be hard to find elsewhere. I can see Italians will love it for a taste of home, but really it’s a great place for anyone to meet up with friends. It will be interesting to go back again once they’ve officially opened and see how it develops but they certainly seem to have got off to a great start. Meanwhile, I’m off to Turin at the end of the month so seeing the ‘Torino’ version of Mercato Metropolitano is definitely on my ‘to do’ list now.