Fish and flowers, churros and cheese – local markets have something for everyone – they are well worth the short walks that Simone Richardson was happy to undertake to shop in them
In Brixton for 32 years …
Being a pescatarian, and therefore drawn to fish, I am a fan of the Brixton market stall of Jonathan Murray – whose dad handed over to him – and Jason Bosher. The close friends are joint managers and have been for 32 years.
I spoke to Jason at their historic stall in the Granville Arcade which still bears the name of the Otto family from many years ago. He explained his day, which begins there at 6.30am after a journey from Colliers Wood where he lives.
“What helps me through the lockdown is the vibrance and seeing people,” he says.
“It is better than actually being locked down and not being able to see the same faces, and knowing they are OK and they are still coming to buy the fish.
“It is just the vibrance of Brixton and that is why I have been here 32 years.”
The fish comes from all over. “Some of it is frozen, which I get wholesale direct from Birmingham,” he explains. “Some fresh from the coast and some fresh from Billingsgate fish market.”
Jonathan goes and collects it all in their van.
“When the first lockdown came, everyone was panicked by it,” says Jason.
“We were very busy before it dropped off, but then it picked up again as people realised there wasn’t much else to do other than go shopping in Brixton market or go to the supermarkets.
“There was no sport to watch, no cinema to go to, so it was just a matter of people going out just to buy a few things and get back to the house.”
“I am not a person that can sit down and just watch TV,” he chuckles. “If I was indoors, I would have just been driving my wife mad painting everything, so I would rather be here and give her a break – then we aren’t rowing so much!”
Selling so much delicious fish, it must be a difficult decision to make, but Jason’s favourite fish is smoked mackerel. He also recommends a bag of mixed sea food, with squid, mussels and prawns that’s “good for a stir fry, too”.
Open every day in Brixton Market
I grew up with flowers and plants
Up in Herne Hill, its Sunday market buzzes with many different stalls that attract a lot of customers from 10am to 4pm.
A marketplace fixture, despite strenuous efforts to shift her, is The Flower Lady with attractive flowers and plants in her shop next to the station.
Despite sticking to the rules and being featured on Lambeth lamposts, owner Elaine White recently had yet more hassle, this time from council officers about alleged breaches of lockdown regulations.
She has been selling flowers in the area for 13 years and is hanging in there through lockdown with lovely floral products.
“I have always loved flowers and plants.” she says. “I grew up with them, as my dad and grandad grew them, so I was always involved.”
Raised in Hampshire, Elaine now lives in Streatham and loves the area.
She is also very happy at work, saying: “I enjoy buying my stock and spend most days chatting to my customers and regular passers-by.
“I love my shop and feel very lucky to have it.’’
Flowers are allowed to live on as long as nature permits, so pop along to The Flower Lady at 297 Railton Road (or Station Square as the “placemakers” will have it).
You can also order “Flower Lady” flowers on the phone for collection from Elaine or one of her lovely helpers – like Billie, who says: “I have loved working here since I was 13”, Michael and Izzie – on 020 7733 2525.
Churros with salted caramel …
A stall advertising vegetarian and vegan savouries that draws you into the actual Herne Hill Sunday market is run by Andre G Coutinho, who has come a long way from his origins in São Paulo, Brazil.
Andre has now been in London for 21 years, the past 12 in Peckham.
After studying social communication, Andre came to London to further study English and then decided to do a masters’ degree in marketing communication at Westminster Business School.
“I was working in catering to support myself,” he recalls.
“I worked in many different restaurants across London as a waiter, bartender and commis chef and I loved the experience.”
So much so, he decided to start his own business. “I bought a tricycle to use as a food stall. The idea was to cycle to markets bringing mouth-watering Brazilian treats.”
He chose to cycle to ensure he created as little as possible pollution – “being green and keeping myself healthy.”
All Andre’s food made is at home from local South London sources. As well as Herne Hill, he can be found at North Cross Road Market in East Dulwich and West Norwood’s monthly Sunday Feast (next one, 4 April).
Andre says he has also done summer fetes. “During the Lockdown I have been selling my food online until I am able to return to the markets on weekends.”
“I love Brixton,” he says. “I used to hang out there in the Hootananny – an excellent place to go for gigs – and Brixton Village to dine out.”
Andre’s stall is a hit with people of all ages. “People love the churros,” he says. “Churro filled with salted caramel is the top seller.”
To find out more: Andre G Coutinho; Agua Na Boca Ltd, 07538226513
A million tiny things …
Just across Herne Hill market, a lovely lady called Marianne and her warm Irish accent sell an incredible variety of cheeses for Heritage Cheese every Sunday.
Marianne – the single name she prefers to use – talks in such a knowledgeable way that you are bound to learn something about cheese you did not know.
“I have always loved cheese,” she says. “Probably more than I should.
“I met the owner of Heritage Cheese while working in Borough Market and the second there was a job opening I jumped at it!”
Heritage, established in 2017, was voted best Slow Food cheesemonger in England in 2019 and 2020.
“Cheese is one of the most amazing foods,” says Marianne.
“Despite the huge variety on our stall – which is only a tiny, but delicious, fraction of the types of cheese available – they only have four ingredients, milk, salt, rennet and culture; plus a fifth, penicillium roqueforti, for blue cheeses.
It’s like a mini-lesson when Marianne expands on her enthusiasm: “The differences come from where it is made, the season, what the animals eat, the place where it is stored.
“Cheese is deeply connected to where it is made, its ‘terroir’.
“When you eat a piece of proper cheese you are getting a tiny experience of a field in summer or a rainy day in autumn or any one in a million tiny things that went to make it just exactly that piece of cheese.”
Marianne is passionate about her work, saying: “I love working with our cheese makers and seeing the love they have for what they do. It’s inspiring.
“And cheese is a brilliant food, both in terms of its nutrition and in its ability to make some staples, and something really tasty.”
She finds it hard to choose a favourite cheese. “It changes,” she says, “if I have overindulged in a particular favourite”, but confesses that it is “our Stilton from Cropwell Bishop in Nottinghamshire”.
Her knowledge of cheese is incredible as she follows up with reassurance for people worried about blue cheeses, with their “amazing depth and versatility”.
I even get an introduction to a new cheese from Ireland. “Our Corleggy goat, which is a beautiful raw milk cheese from Cavan, is also one I never get tired of,” Marianne says.
If that’s got your taste buds twitching, Heritage Cheese is open every Sunday at Herne Hill Market and every day in Borough Market and you can shop online at its website.
The key word is ‘enjoy’
Oval Farmer’s Market takes place outside Saint Mark’s Church at the Kennington Park end of Brixton Road.
Michael Tomlinson, who creates healthy vegan cakes, tells the story of how he got there …
“I was born and lived in Barnet, North London. We have been in London for over 300 years as far as my mother’s line is concerned, so I think it’s fair to say I’m a Londoner.”
After enjoying food tech for GCSE and going to uni to study creative writing and graduating in 2012, in 2013 Michael was led to creating the cakes via “a job in a posh health club near St Pauls, running its food operation”.
It started as an administrative role, but, says Richard, “having control over the budget and shopping list, I quickly decided to be the chef.
“I changed the whole menu, finding myself specialising in healthy versions of unhealthy foods, eventually tripling the revenue of the cafe.
“Having autonomy over the menu and spending put me in quite a unique position to experiment.”
Quite a challenge for a 22-year-old.
One of the requests he got from clients was to make healthier desserts. Seven years later, “I’m still refining the recipe to make it as good as it can be,” says Michael.
“My aim is to make a cake that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their dietary requirements, the key word being ‘enjoy’.”
Michael says markets like Oval Farmer’s Market were given added importance by lockdowns.
“For small food businesses, open air markets are often their only source of income and, fortunately, the nature of shopping outside is safer with regards to Covid.
“They have been a vital lifeline for all market traders and also for their customers, many of whom rely on farmers’ market for aspects of their weekly shop.
“Personally, lockdown has meant the online side of my business has really taken off.”
For a type one diabetic like me, cakes are without sugar and not only taste perfect, but they are also for people who are vegan too.
Make sure you sample one on Saturday at Oval Farmer’s Market from 10am to 3pm. I am definitely going back again for a sugar-free almond and raspberry cake.
Prices start at £17 for five cakes.
Readers can get 10% discount with the order code “Brixton”.