Bermondsey and London Bridge are some of the best parts of London for a good old aimless wander. The thread of narrow streets leads you past Medieval buildings, cobbled courtyards, old churches and riverside boozers where Shakespeare (probably) wet his whistle back in the day. At its heart is the colossal Borough Market, London’s most famous food mecca that has been dishing up fresh bread, fruit and veg for a thousand years.
In recent times (what with London becoming the gastronomic centre of the universe and all), the market has cranked up a notch, with everything from fresh shellfish and heady truffles to tacos, craft liquor, fresh pasta, artisanal meats and Nana Fanny’s salt beef bagels on offer under one vaulted, bottle green roof. And this culinary tradition is being kept alive and button-popping in the surrounding area, with some of London’s most mouth-watering restaurants to be found in close proximity to the market. You’ll find world-famous chefs at work in disused railway arches, queues forming outside slick Italian hotspots, elegant oyster bars, no-frills pubs and new-age tapas bars.
Here is our guide to London Bridge and Bermondsey. Our advice? Dedicate a full day and an empty stomach to this area.
Chances are, you’ve already enjoyed a few plates of fresh pasta washed down with wine-on-tap at this slick smash-hit Italian bistro. Or tried to and been put off by the relentless queues. A good time to visit is at lunchtime, when you can slip it quite easily and choose from a concise menu of handrolled pasta with sauces like Italian sausage and fennel ragu, ricotta with sage butter and their famous (and manically Instagrammed) pici cacao e pepe – thick spaghetti with garlic, cheese, butter and black pepper. Grab a seat at the bar to watch the pasta-masters in action.
Found in the same ex-metal box factory as Caravan, this elegant eatery by Mark Hix is the ‘little sister’ to Shoreditch’s Tramshed, specializing in the same high-grade meat and fine British art as its counterpart. Done up (or down) in original metal, tiles and floor-to-ceiling windows, it serves carnivorous delights like Indian Rock Chicken (roasted, fried or burger-fied) and Hereford or Aberdeen beef, which has been aged in a Himalayan salt chamber (is that not how you age your beef at home?) and comes with sides like salt ‘n’ vinegar onion rings or wild garlic mushrooms.
Run by four New Zealanders (who know a thing or two about good brunch), Caravan has stolen the hearts of coffee-swilling, seasonal-eating Londoners with its three locations around London. Famed for its top-quality own-brand coffee beans and hangover-curing brunches, it also serves hearty, inventive lunch and dinner dishes (featuring ‘well-travelled’ food inspired by all reaches of the globe) and craft cocktails in perpetually sunny atmosphere. Their newest offshoot on Bankside occupies a former 19th metal box factory, with many of the original soft, concrete-clad features still intact. Incorporating a coffee and cocktail bar, dining room and kitchen-dining bar, it’s the kind of place you can bed down in for an entire day.
This place is the work of Spanish cookery demigod José Pizarro. The tiny spot on the corner of Bermondsey Street transports you to the clattering tapas bars of Spain, where the dishes are simple and explosively delicious, the wine is affordable, and the toasty little room is full of tiles, hanging meats and window seats. The best dishes here are the least suspecting – the pan con tomate is rubbed with an ungodly amount of garlic and sweet, sunny tomatoes. The padron peppers are fat, curled and sprinkled with coarse salt. The tortilla is fluffy and yellow. And the wine list is full of interesting Spanish varieties that slip down far too quickly. The specials menu changes by the day, depending on what’s available at the market. Which means more Spanish meats, colourful salads, sizzling seafood than you can shake a jamon carving knife at.
You may have noticed the recent tidal wave of taquerias to have hit London. Lucky for London Bridge, this one might just be the best yet. Located in a vaulted brick building on one of Borough’s market streets, it has been injected with the cacti, colourful furniture and strings of lights and bustling open kitchen of a Mexico City eatery. The Hart Brothers (of Barrafina famr) have devised an eye-popping menu of freshly made tacos brimming with things like 24-hour-marinated pork shoulder and caramelized pineapple, short rib with habanero salsa and roasted squash with queso fresco and pumpkin seeds, served up with sides like Mexican radish salad, grilled corn (just get it) and homemade salsa. Don’t forget to throw down a few mezcals from the devoted menu, which is divided into ‘silky and smooth’, ‘deep, dark and smoky’, ‘fresh and green’ and ‘unique and exotic’.
It’s not unusual for waiting times to be two or three hours here on weekends. But put down your details and busy yourself at a nearby bar like Wine Wharf.
There are few culinary pairings as perfect as oysters and stout. People have been lapping up icy oysters with glasses of creamy dark beer since the Victorian times. Wright Brothers is an ‘Oyster and Porter House’ on the edge of Borough Market. The handsome interior is a work of brick, brushed wood, chalkboards, beer barrels, antique Guinness signs and slow-turning fans, with an open kitchen at the back where you can watch the chefs at work. Choose from a menu of simple, sumptuous seafood dishes, champagne, stout and the very finest oysters from their own oyster farm in Cornwall, served in every guise - from the deep fried ‘New Orleans’ to the ‘Rockefeller’ version with spinach, herbs and butter. Shuck yeah.
Although this artisanal Borough Market bakery makes some of the best fresh bread in the city, it’s their perfect doughnuts that have brought them an international cult following. Let your nose lead you to their stall on Saturdays, where you can pick up a sourdough loaf or a rosemary focaccia and squabble over the fresh, bulging doughnuts. Head baker Justin Gellatly switches up the flavours every day, loading the sourdough bakes with everything from classic jam to salted caramel cream, lemon curd and hazelnut and almond praline. Don’t even think about trying to share one. There’ll be tension in the air all day.
Housed in a former bank on the edge of the Thames, this multi-faceted coffeeshop, restaurant bar and club is a honey trap for the central London’s laptop-tapping freelancers. Along with high ceilings, exposed pipework, steel and plenty of concrete, plus a few life-affirming quotations in red neon. Grind has a wrap-around bar perfect for sipping tiptop coffee made with their very own beans. Buzzing from day to night, you can pop in here for coffee break, boozy brunches, or seasonal lunch and dinner dishes like gnocchi with wild mushrooms, pan-fried quail and fresh burrata.