This article is part of a guide to London from FT Globetrotter
It was Friday evening and my meetings were overflowing. I reached Dulles Airport 10 minutes after departure. The gate was deserted except for a lonely ground crew counting boarding passes. In the background the 777 was sealed and ready to fly. Dismayed, I pleaded that without a flight to London I would miss the Pimlico farmer’s market for another three hours if I wasn’t on board. Compassion filled the eyes of my airport Samaritan. After a short call to the captain, the jetway was extended and door L1 was opened. I got on and my heart was filled with a loyalty to British Airways that no frequent flyer program could ever match.
From Virginia to Belgravia, farmers markets have a visceral appeal. They re-establish connections with our sources of livelihood, remind us that seasons exist, and create a sense of community even in the most cosmopolitan and ephemeral areas.
Farmers’ market forces: They have a visceral attraction. . .
. . . and reconnect to the sources of our livelihood ‘
Regular visits to farmers’ markets make me appreciate and look forward to every season to come. I enjoy my breakfast pears in winter as much as I enjoy my berries in summer. Spring is heralded by the aroma of wild garlic, which rises from numerous stands. The six weeks in May and June that Mr Thorogood sells his Southminster asparagus are some of the happiest of the year, and the brief overlap between his market visits and the seagull egg season is a high point of late spring. In September tomatoes keep the summer holidays alive and then, when our tan fades and the days get shorter, we enjoy the declination of wild birds, from wood grouse to snipe, pheasant and mallard.
There are at least 17 farmers markets across London. Let me show you the three closest to where I live, that I know best, and that happen to be the three most central too.
Pimlico Road Farmers’ Market, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
orange square, Pimlico Road, London SW1
Fruit and vegetable stall in the Chegworth Valley at Pimlico Road Farmers’ Market
In addition to food and drink, the market is also known for the quality of its flowers
The Pimlico Road Farmers’ Market takes place in the triangular Orange Square at the feet of eight-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who wrote his first symphony while he was just across the street at 180 Ebury Street. If you came from far away you might think that the weekly meal before the maestro was a religious ritual.
Orange Square is at the crossroads of several parts of the city: the size of Belgravia extends to the north; The structured charm of Pimlico is right across from Ebury Bridge to the south. to the east the urban exodus of Victoria Coach Station and to the west the intimate Chelsea. Nowhere is this social mix more evident than in the market’s clientele: from the former FTSE 100 chairman who votes for Mangold, to the famous pop artist with a penchant for partridge, colorful Goyard tote bags decorated with the red and black uniforms of the Chelsea Push pensioners. The princess and the peabody.
There are excellent cheeses on the market. . .
. . . next to huge, fragrant and freshly picked parsley bouquets
After more than 10 years of visiting on Saturdays, I count many of the dealers as friends. There’s lively David who was once in town and is now happily selling the delicious game he filmed near Petworth (South Downs Venison) that week – nothing equals his doe saddle. Renée, the ingenious co-owner of the Windrush Valley Goat Dairy, produces exceptional yogurt and cheese as well as an unforgettable cheesecake. Phil, also known as Lord Pesto, shows all kinds of nice noodles and makes the best harissa on this side of Carthage. Marta (North Sea Seafood) is loaded with beautiful North Norfolk seafood, from alabaster halibut platters to plump bream, perfect shrimp and silky scallops. The polychrome eggs from Tilly’s Traditionals go perfectly with Charlie’s Trout next door.
The vegetable and fruit stalls are exceptional – what a relief to be able to buy a huge, fresh bunch of parsley that morning instead of the little box of jet lag leaves that the local supermarket has to offer.
The market is just as good for goodies as it is for staples. Polenta cake from Honeypie Bakery, caviar and smoked sturgeon from Exmoor Caviar, pancetta and salamis from Salt Pig Curing Co and salt pretzel for my German mother from Sam at Artisan Foods. And in the summer, Rosebie Moreton’s roses are some of the most fragrant I’ve come across.
Pimlico Road’s many offerings include games from the South Downs. . .
. . . fresh to bream from the north Norfolk coast
And once you’ve shopped, retreat to Daylesford Organic for a well-deserved brunch or visit Soane Britain, Tower of Shadows or Hemisphere Gallery – three particular favorites among the many wonderful art and design shops along this stretch of Pimlico Road.
Marylebone Farmers’ Market, Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Aybrook Street, London W1
Karaway Baker at Marylebone Farmers’ Market
The market takes place in the gourmet heart of the neighborhood
The scene on Sunday morning in Marylebone is very different: after all, we’re in Monocle country – less Gucci, more Connolly. Illy, the exuberant lover of the ceremonies and market manager, welcomes the regulars: among them a leading antitrust attorney who goes looking for food en famille, a famous interior designer who longs for Dover-Sole between trips to the Middle East, one of whom has been criticized celebrated historian with an eye for hispi cabbage and much ancien régime Marylebone mink.
The market takes place in and around Aybrook Street in the gourmet heart of Marylebone under the watchful eye of two grandees of the London food scene, The Ginger Pig and La Fromagerie.
Rainbow Swiss Chard in the Chegworth Valley
Longshore sells seafood from Blakeney, Norfolk
Along with some of the favorites that can also be found in Pimlico (Windrush Valley Goat Dairy, Lord Pesto, South Downs Venison, Exmoor Caviar, Chegworth Valley, Wild Country Organics), the notable stands include: Longshore (sea bass, lobster, and others dazzling seafood from Blakeney, Norfolk); South Coast Seafayre (majestic turbot, diamond and sole from Rye Bay); and The Potato Shop, where Steve Whitehead has the perfect potato for every occasion, from a rat to a Shetland Black or Maya Gold, among 34 varieties he has grown in Tenterden, Kent. Borodinsky bread and other Eastern European delicacies can be found in Karaway.
South Kensington Farmers’ Market, 9am to 2pm Saturdays
Bute Street, London SW7
Windrush Valley goat cheese
South Kensington Farmers’ Market is in the heart of French London
Bute Street, just behind the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle, has always been in the center of French London, a place to pick up the latest BD to get through the red ribbons of Dover and catch up with Petit-Beurres to stock up. So it’s not surprising that the farmers market here has a very weird French set, Hermès afluttering.
Although relatively small, this is a charming and high quality neighborhood market with a handful of very good greengrocers and an excellent fishmonger, Dorset Fish, who is particularly heavy on Portland crab and lobster. Favorites like Windrush Valley Goat Dairy, Lord Pesto, and Exmoor Caviar can also be found here.
Pappardelle from Lord Pesto
Visit the Dorset Fish stand for high quality Portland crab
And at the southern end of the street, delicious, sustainably grown sausages that were fried in front of you at The Parson’s Nose (also in Marylebone) are the perfect remontant after the red eyes from Washington.
Pimlico Road, Marylebone and South Kensington Farmers’ Markets are members of London Farmers’ Markets, an association of 17 farmers’ markets across London.
Photography by Laura Hodgson
Andrew Jones’ book about his walks through Mayfair and St. James, The Buildings of Green Park, is published by ACC Art Books
Do you have a favorite market in London? Tell us about it in the comments below
For more stories like this, visit ft.com/globetrotter or follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter