Last November I cycled 480km across Ghana with Child.Org, a brilliant charity doing great things in Africa. I'd wanted to do something of the sort ever since I was due to cycle London to Paris over three days in 2014, but a silly accident on a trampoline involving a lot of rosé curtailed that challenge, and my ankle for a good 6 months. All that training (questionable) needed to be put to use, so I bullied my friend into coming to Ghana with me. In the lead up to the trip, we spent many weekends gawping at huge houses as we hauled our arses repeatedly up the Surrey Hills, pedalled across the Essex countryside in the freezing pissing rain, and negotiated the A21 and miles of traffic through Kent.
Nothing could really prepare us for the heat and humidity that awaited us, though. No amount of training in England's Autumn can make you comfortable with 38 degrees in the shade, and 90% humidity. It was like cycling through soup. Some cried. Some almost fainted (hello!). There's no pretence of being comfortable; coupled with the factor 50 you have to slather on thickly, you soon become one big soggy mess. It was hard, and tiring, and at points a bit scary, and frustrating, and sometimes really tedious, and invigorating, empowering and joyful, and by day 3 I wanted us to extend that 5 days by another 5. Turns out you do get used to it. All that lovely sponsorship money powered me through too. And jelly snakes.
Anyway, there's nothing like a really challenging shared experience like that to help you bond with your companions. It wasn't even day 2 and we, almost perfect strangers, were asking each other "how's your bum?" On our long, sweaty days over many kilometres I'm fairly certain I talked shit to all 60 of my fellow riders, one of which was one of Child.Org's trustees, Ben, and we gleaned that I like food, and Ben works with Mercato Metropolitano on their social media side, so thus we arranged a tour of this exciting new food market. (There was a point to this story, see?)
Mercato Metropolitano is on Newington Causeway, a bleak road that connects Borough and Elephant and Castle. There's not a lot going on there, but what with Bankside and Southwark regenerating faster than you can say the word, it's only a matter of time before it becomes the hot new place. The market is a shining beacon of warmth and deliciousness; it is huge - housed within an old paper factory, it has a definite warehouse feel about it. Braziers and stoves burn in outside spaces, while inside was toasty warm, street food vendors lining the edges, and benches providing ample seating in the middle. I've long lamented street food festivals which now seem to be all queues, smoky from bonfires and balancing plates while awkwardly standing and trying not to splash burger juice on my coat. God I sound like a grumpy grandma.
We visited before Christmas and Mercato Metropolitano was festivity personified. A small choir sang carols on a stage, and a huge beautiful tree dominated. I noticed that none of the stalls had any branding - all of them remain largely generic, which seems slightly peculiar to me. Our first stop was an oyster and bellini truck, and our bellinis were made with the rim of the glass being painted with liquid chocolate. This was a new one on me, and goddamn it was delicious. I'd like all my rims painted with chocolate please (too much?).
What followed was a whirlwind of food, a flurry of dishes and the only thing to do in this situation is to eat as quickly as possible as it takes a while for your brain to catch up that the body is full, so that once it does register you're fit to burst. Nothing a sluggish cycle home can't fix. Argentinian steak sandwiches came first, from a menu that hovered around the £7 mark for a hefty sandwich. Amusingly the 'vegan grill' consists of aubergines and Provolone. This one was surprisingly light, the bread crisp and airy. The steak was so tender that you don't get that thing where when you bite into it the whole steak comes out and is left flapping against your chin. Drives me mad, that.
One of the stalls, called Tiny Leaf, was absolutely beautiful; plants grew out of the walls, and it was living greenery and health and freshness all in one place. They're vegetarian, organic and work on a zero waste principle. The bubble and squeak cake, served on top of romesco sauce was further topped with pickles and herbs.
The chap manning the rotisserie chicken stall went to great lengths to describe their French, slow-grown chickens, so deeply flavoured they're sometimes mistaken for guinea fowl. The skin came burnished, the meat juicy. A ginger and chilli sauce was incredibly moreish, and even more so with a double-dunk of sauce and aioli. A very Frenchly dressed salad had a big hit of mustard. If I still worked at Bankside their chicken, chips and a green salad for £6.50 would be a difficult lunchtime option to beat.
I was less keen on their pulled pork burger. The sweet, glazed brioche bun was a good example of its type, but the combination of mashed avocado and chicken was a little bland, and in any case I'm not sure why you'd 'pull' chicken when you could deep fry or simply roast it.
We were hitting defcon 9 levels of stuffedness by the time we got this tapas board, but the little empanadas were deceptively light, given their deep fried status. Boquerones were soused in vinegar and the meats were of high quality, served as is traditional with those little bread torpedoes. I've sampled better croquettes elsewhere - it's really hard to beat José's, or Barrafina's.
Still though, there were arepas to be had. I've never had one before and I wasn't expecting much - it just looks like a pitta pocket? - but I was blown away by this one. Cooked in front of us, the circular rounds of bread were pressed onto the flat grill, then split open and stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, and salsas. The bread was crisp and light - made with maize flour, they take on a light corn flavour and a great texture, light and fluffy inside. I wish I could have eaten more of this, my favourite of the night.
We threw the towel in at this point - the pizza and fritto misto stalls would have to wait for another visit, the fresh pasta and mozzarella bar for next time - and we headed for dessert.
Build your own tiramisu. Hello, second stomach!
Yup, it is just as glorious as you'd imagine. You can choose from a selection for every stage of this dessert, from the sponge finger base, to fruit, chocolates and custards. I was the literal kid in a sweet shop, face pressed up against the glass, jabbing at my selections.
Mercato Metropolitano isn't going to win any trend awards. You won't find the next hot young taco-slinger here, nor will you come across many kimchi-chicken-chipotle-bulgogi-sushi-doughnuts. Predominantly European food, with a couple of Japanese and Vietnamese stalls dotted about, the emphasis here is on good, high quality produce. They have a big grocery shop where you can buy cured meats and cheeses, fresh pastas, dried pasta and speciality Italian products. I've already bought Sicilian sausages, and fresh burrata to eat at home. They host events such as pasta making workshops, or ukelele sing-a-longs, and string quartets play. It feels like a grown-up version of Street Feast, one you can take your mum to for a glass of wine and a pizza and have a comfortable and warm sit down, or stop off on your way home from work for some good charcuterie, or bits for dinner. Maybe with a sneaky arepa on the side. And a tiramisu.
42 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6DR
Open Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 11pm, Sunday 10am - 9pm
I was Ben's guest so I didn't pay for anything but as always all views are my own.