Last week I got the chance to visit Mercato Metropolitano, which is a sustainable community market in the heart of south London. Elephant & Castle is the location for this pioneering project which brings together community events such as simple cooking classes, music, hydroponic farming, pop up accommodation and street foods from all over the world. I hadn’t been to the Elephant for years, and could not imagine where the market would be. It’s actually sited in the middle of a very urban street, surrounded by office blocks and corporate type buildings. The converted warehouse offers 38,000 square feet of quirky, colourful development with a deli, a cinema, and a wonderful array of stalls selling excellent food. I arrived late afternoon on a gloriously sunny day, and sipped a cold lemonade whilst people-watching. A young girl was sunbathing in a bikini top, groups of friends relaxed with cocktails, and food vendors were prepping for the evening rush.
The feature that had attracted me to the market was the Farmbus, a London double decker that has been converted into a pick-your-own farm and plant shop. Founded by Sam Cox and Hugo Horlick of Rootlabs, vertical grow towers are used to raise plants in the air using a nutrient rich mist and full spectrum LED lights (that’s the pink glow you can see in the bus). An amazing 1000kg of strawberries are expected to be grown this season. It’s such a great idea, and means that inner city kids can come and experience the pleasure of a pick your own!
The pop up florist
I found the whole site so intriguing and wanted to know more about the thinking behind it. Founder Andrea Rasca started the project in his home country, Italy, at the Milan Expo in 2015, helping to regenerate a 150,000 square foot disused railway station. This was just a temporary location and the London market, which opened its doors in July 2016, was the first long term location. There are so many plans around sustainable development.
Inside the warehouse space are artisan food stalls from all over Europe. I loved this cocktail van, and later I would try the amazing wood-fired pizzas.
Pizza making essentials
There is also a mushroom farm, where all the spent coffee grounds are recycled as perfect growing compost for fungi! I met the founder of a Bavarian brewery, who produces unpasteurised fresh beer on site (he works in the movie industry, but said that he missed the beer from his home country so much that he wanted to make some in London!). I tried this, too. I’m no beer connoisseur but it did taste very fresh and light.
Elsewhere, there is a bakery, a gelateria, a wine cellar, gourmet burgers and noodle bars. The smells were delicious.
I had booked into a class to make fresh pasta. This is something I’ve never done before, and have always wanted to.
All set for pasta-making
First, chef showed us how to make soffrito, a very simple fresh vegetable sauce to serve with our pasta. This needed to be made first, so it would simmer while we were making the tagliatelle. We chopped up an onion, a carrot, a celery stick, and a couple of tomatoes. Fresh basil was sautéed in olive oil, then the rest of the veg was added and put on a low heat for 45 minutes.
To make a single portion of pasta, we took 100g of Italian 00 flour, and one free range egg. Half of the flour was placed in a bowl and the egg cracked on top. This was mixed together, and then we added the rest of the flour. It was then pulled together to make a soft ball. We put it on a floured board, and rolled it out very, very thinly.
Chef showed us how to make the dough into a swiss roll shape, then we used a sharp knife to cut it into strips. I can’t believe how simple it was! This is then put in boiling, salted water for about five minutes and it’s ready. The sauce was ready to come off the heat, and it was then pureed. Served on the pasta with fresh parmesan, it’s a fresh, healthy simple meal.
I love that community classes are being taught here, so that families on low incomes can learn how to make nutritious food.
When I came out of my class, the market had revved up for the evening. Music was pumping, cocktails and beer was flowing. I felt that I was about 30 years older than most of the punters – but that’s a feeling I have most of the time now anyway! I met my son for pizza and we sat and chatted as the sun went down.
Mercato Metropolitano, 42 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6DR