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An 8 hour food-themed odyssey from Billingsgate Fish Market to Lamberts in Balham by foot, boat, bus and rail
They say the early bird catches the worm – and the same applies to the whelk, the whiting and the winkle. If you want to see moules rather than mops at New Billingsgate Market, London’s seafood hub you’ll need to be there by 6am at the latest – the market opens for business at 5am (and is closed on Sundays and Mondays), and most of the pros have done their shopping by half past, but there’s still plenty to see if you get there a bit later, and boxes of bream aren’t something you want to be carting around with you all day in any case. Once you’ve had a wander round (and enjoyed the famously salty language on the market floor) head for one of the cafes for a restorative cuppa and a kipper bap – breakfast proper is better left until a bit later.
By now it should be around 7.30am and most of London is yet to rise, so you’ve got a couple of options. You can linger over your tea and some papers and then take the DLR from Poplar or West India Quay to Mudchute where you’ll have a two minute walk into Mudchute City Farm which opens at 9am, for a wander among the pigs, donkeys, llamas and geese until the kitchen opens at 9.30am, serving breakfasts made from the farm’s produce.
Or if you feel like something a little more urban and don’t want to hang about, there’s a cafe not too far away which opens at 7:30am on weekdays and 9am at the weekend. Join the DLR at Poplar and head north to Stratford, then change on to the London overground and go one stop east to Hackney Wick.
This arty area has developed a number of good cafes in the last couple of years, but for breakfast, my money’s on Counter Café in Roach Road, a 10 minute walk from the station, which serves good Antipodean-style coffee and excellent cooked breakfasts; it’s a great place to linger with the papers and people watch. (Later Saturday arrivals may prefer to visit the H Forman & Sons Smokehouse restaurant at Pudding Mill Lane for a taste of their famous salmon, and stunning views of the Olympic Park. Brunch is from 10am.)
Once you’ve recharged your batteries, it’s back to the DLR for a trip south to the Museum of Docklands at West India Quay. The former warehouse offers a fascinating glimpse into the trade in spices, sugar and spirits which once fuelled an Empire – and the slaves which it depended on. It’s a fascinating place to spend an hour or so.
There’s a restaurant on site, but I’d wander down to the river and take a boat across to Rotherhithe, from where it’s an easy bus ride to Zucca in Bermondsey for lunch – take the C10 westbound from Rotherhithe Street and get off at Bermondsey Street – the acclaimed Italian restaurant is at 184, and booking is essential. (For a side trip to the Surrey Docks City Farm, which also has a café turn left out of the Hilton Hotel just after you disembark the boat, and it’s a 10 minute walk along Rotherhithe Street.)
From Bermondsey, you’re within a custard doughnut throw of Maltby Street, the Borough offshoot where the likes of St John, Neal’s Yard Cheeses and the Kernel Brewery sell their wares on a Saturday – and a brisk trot from London Bridge station.
Take the northern line south to Tooting Broadway, then turn right into Tooting High Street and you’ll find yourself in a completely different world – Tooting Indoor Market may not have organic salads or artisan breads, but for Caribbean vegetables, enormous cooking pots and sheer exuberance, it’s hard to beat. Continue along the road to the heartland of the area’s diverse Asian community, from the Pooja Indian sweetshop at 168 Upper Tooting Road to the venerable Patel Brothers grocers at 187, which specialises particularly in Gujarati goods.
The Apollo Banana Leaf Sri Lankan restaurant on Tooting High Street is great value if you just can’t help yourself – but, after such an early start, I’d save your appetite for an early dinner instead.
From Tooting Bec station to Balham is a 2 minute ride – or a 15 minute walk – and three minutes up Balham High Road is one of the capital’s most esoteric watering holes, the BBC, or Balham Bowls Club, round the corner in Ramsden Road. The clubhouse has a shabbily genteel feel, with defiantly unfashionable squashy settees, making it just the place for a relaxed pint before proceeding to our final port of call, Lamberts restaurant, which is just the other side of the station.
Time Out reckons the seasonal modern British food make it “one of the best upscale local restaurants in London”, Hardens reviewers laud it as “ludicrously good value”, and it’s definitely off the beaten track. It’s small though, so make sure you book ahead, or a long day could well end in disappointment! Bonus points to anyone who orders fish here.