Thursday, 22 July 2010

Supermarket + Farmers’ Market = Union Market


By Rebecca Brett

When I was younger I used to revel in going to the supermarket with Mum for the weekly shop. It was a chore which my two elder sister’s abhorred, so while they were reading Bunty, kissing/throwing stones at boys or playing Cluedo, I went off with Mum to Tesco – where I buy my best clothes.

Back in the day, all meals were planned for the week and they’d be a huge shopping list that the sisters used to add to… but I was the one who was there, “Oh did you want bourbon cream biscuits… I got custard creams instead.” We’d spend an hour and a half snaking our way up and down the aisles until the trolley was full of treats to fill the fridge, freezer and dry store.

Who does that anymore? Who has time for a weekly shop? Who goes to a supermarket and buys a trolley load for the week. I know that if I did it everything would be gone the next day and I’d have a burning hole in my pocket.

These days, I shop on a daily basis. Not because I am a fat porker but because who knows what I’ll want for dinner on Tuesday let alone tonight. Food shopping still excites me, just like when I was a nipper. Perhaps that’s why I do it every day. My favourite place to food shop is Borough Market; the smells, the freshness, the variety and best of all the way you can try before you buy. Can’t do that at a supermarket, or can you?

Enter Union Market. Bringing the best of both foodie worlds together, supermarket and farmers’ market colliding to make the ultimate in the food-shopping arena.

My friend and I went to the opening of Union Market in Fulham Broadway on a quiet Wednesday night. I was expecting some kind of tented area with farmers selling their wares. How I was wrong. Union Market is where TGI Friday’s used to be, just next to Fulham Broadway tube station. Do you remember the dark and dingy box with ‘crazy’ staff racing around in red and white striped shirts? It’s gone. It’s all gone and in is place is something that you have to see to believe. Low ceilings are gone. Cramped tables are gone. Cocktail bar… it’s gone.

In it’s place is a bright, airy space with high ceilings, nay, windowed ceilings that date back to 1905 – Why Mr TGI would ever cover up the beautiful glass atrium is a myth to me. In place of tables and chairs are food stalls. Fresh charcuterie, a temperature controlled cheese room with fromage from the delectable Neal’s Yard, a bakery, a chocolatier, a colourful fruit and vegetable stall, an antipasti deli, a winery and more… all under one roof.

Imagine the delight on my face when I realised that this was no tent, this was a foodie heaven. Everything we could see before us we could sample. Olive? Don’t mind if I do. Parma ham? Yes please. Fresh baked bread? Go on then. Gin and Tonic? Oh if I must.

Ok so in reality you probably won’t be able to charge in to Union Market demanding free gin, which is amazing by the way (oh, hello Miss Smug) but you should try it via buying a bottle of the stuff, the delightful London-made Sipsmiths Dru Gin.

We made our way around the huge 5000 square foot hall (yep, I measured it) visiting every counter probably more than twice but I wouldn’t like to keep count. And I can safely assure you that after great trials and tribulations that the food here is top notch and the variety of foods I ate you can buy here is phenomenal.

From just-made quiches and sandwiches for lunch to huge hunks of meat and all the veggie trimmings for dinner, and because the store opens at 7am for coffee and bakery goods, you can even go for breakfast. There are even take-out foods for if you are on the go, not the greasy sausage roll or limp chicken wing you get at Asda but the likes of stuffed aubergines, chicken thighs stuffed with orange and rosemary or fishcakes rolled in breadcrumbs. I’ll take them all please.

But it wasn’t just the food that impressed us, the people who worked there were incredible. The chocolate provider was no Thornton’s pro; Damian Allsop is a chocolate God whose previous experience includes working as executive pastry chef at Gordon Ramsay’s The Aubergine and Giorgio Locatelli’s Locanda Locatelli. And you could say his chocolate is healthy, that’s what I told myself anyway- while I was shoving barrel-loads in to my mouth, because Allsop uses water (yep good old H20) instead of cream to make his delicious bites of heaven.

As I said before, the cheese comes direct from Neal’s Yard. Now I don’t know who Neal is but he’s sure done a good job of training up the guys who work behind the counter. We got talking to Rachel – a student who applied for the job as cheesemonger without having any real interest in cheese. After a half day course and some extra training here and there she is now the proud owner of cheese knowledge like nothing I have known before. She could tell us how it is made, why they have the texture/flavour/smell they do, where they were made, she probably even knew the cow’s name that made it but we didn’t press her for the information. Daisy, I imagine.

So they know their stuff, they’ve got the right stuff and it will make you stuffed. As we were walking in, the guy on the olive counter joked that they weigh you when you go in and again when you leave, charging you for the extra weight you have added. Thankfully they didn’t. Hello over-the-overdraft – oh how I’ve missed you.

We were told that there is also a state of the art kitchen that will be providing freshly prepared food at the very centre of the store. Although it was so busy for the opening that the throngs of people were probably standing in the spot where the likes of weekend brunches, cream teas, full English breakfasts, light lunches or a glass of wine would be served.

It’s too bad, I’ll have to go back and see what the place looks like on a normal day. I don’t mind, I have to shop every day after all.

With Union Market, shopping just ain’t what it used to be. I’m just looking forward to the next opening and hoping it’s somewhere closer to home. Balham Union Market please.

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