One thing I do love about London is the vast array of beautiful, interesting, and eclectic markets that we have here. I love popping down to Portobello Market in Notting Hill, near where I live, or to Borough Market, near where I work, and picking up the odd vintage dress.
Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London and sells a huge variety of foods from all over the world. It has a large selection of food stations that you can buy from as well as fine food and wine specialists, butchers, fishmongers, grocers, and mushroom specialists, selling black and white truffles.
Christmas time, in particular, is hugely atmospheric. Everybody is wrapped up in their winter warmers, sipping hot toddies as they peruse the tasty selection of products on offer.
Inevitably, with the market being such a huge attraction, it is an obvious place to open a restaurant. With all this on my doorstep, it certainly makes going out for lunch a little bit more exciting. So, when I heard that a new Middle Eastern restaurant called ‘Arabica Bar & Kitchen’ had opened up in the market, I couldn’t wait for a cheeky Friday lunch to try it out.
The Arabica brand was actually started 14 years ago by ‘Jordanian Jad,’ selling herbs and spices at various markets. Finally, in 2014, Jad joined forces with Londoner James Walters and opened Arabica Bar & Kitchen. Set in the northwest corner of the market underneath an old and charismatic Victorian railway arch, Arabica is an open plan restaurant with brick-lined walls, cozy booths, and a polished concrete bar, that you can also eat at. I went with a couple of girls from the office and it’s a jolly good job that we booked. The place was heaving—not in an uncontrollable way—but with a really buzzy and lively atmosphere and attentive staff.
The menu consists of various meze as well as salads, grilled meats, fried foods (nicer than it sounds – with things like falafel, etc.), and food from the clay oven, which is situated at the far right corner of the restaurant and lends the room a warm glow. With so much to choose from, it is difficult to know where to start. We opted for a selection to share – perhaps staggered plates would have been the way to do it, had we had more time. We began with some hummus and (on the house) warm flatbread. The hummus was silky, garlicky, and garnished with lemon and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. We then ate stuffed vine leaves, which were delicious.
Following that, Armenian style Lahmacun, which is, basically, a small spiced minced lamb flat-bread with tomato, peppers, onion, and pine kernels. The base was thin and crispy and the topping delectable. The Sujuk Pide, Turkish pizza with barbecued red pepper sauce, spicy beef sausage, and haloumi cheese, which came as a sort of split calzone was devoured within seconds. The grilled haloumi was cooked to perfection, a really nice softly grilled texture. The felafel came in little crunchy full-flavored bite-size pieces and covered in sesame seeds.
It was probably a good job that we didn’t order anymore or I may have found it difficult to make it back to the office and secretly slump under my desk for an afternoon nap.
I really enjoyed my visit to Arabica and, at only £25 per head, it means I might have to rub that magic lamp again.
Arabica Bar & Kitchen
3 Rochester House, Borough Market, London, London, SE1 9AF 0203 011 5151
Tapas Brindisa (no reservation policy) – perfect for authentic tapas and people watching.
18-20 Southwark St, London SE1 1TJ, 020 7357 8880
Wright Brothers – great for oysters, fruit de mer, and champagne.
11 Stoney Street, Borough Market, London SE1 9AD 020 7403 9554