Whether you’re feeding a dining room of hundreds or just trying to get Wednesday night dinner on the table, every chef would be familiar with the last-minute mad dash to Tesco Express in pursuit of forgotten ingredients.
From his makeshift kitchen to the rear of a 19th-century building behind Southwark Cathedral, chef Justin Saunders can count himself among the smug few who will never have to forage in the markdown aisle for a clove of garlic. After all, he has one of London’s best larders just across the road in Borough Market.
Borough Plates is a two-month pop-up restaurant conceived to showcase the market’s produce by putting it in the hands of expert chefs. The restaurant churns out a rotating menu of share plates created entirely from ingredients sold by market traders, who work collaboratively with chefs to make the most of the fresh, seasonal produce.
Week one yielded blood sausage with bacon jam and pickled mushrooms and poached red mullet with seared scallops and chard, but when we visited in week three, the kitchen had moved on to lamb casserole with curly kale and thyme-smoked duck.
The menus change over on a Wednesday, prompting Justin’s recommendation that diners visit towards the end of the week to let the kitchen iron out any kinks. Cue frozen smiles all round; it just so happens to be hump day – which is what makes the dishes that emerge from the kitchen in the hours that follow all the more impressive.
Some dishes seem to exist solely to let the produce do the talking; like Cannon & Cannon’s air-dried venison, served simply with a sweet beetroot tartare. Others, like a scallop served Coquilles Saint Jacques, demonstrate what top quality ingredients can do to lift a classic dish.
Then there are those that have prompted some creative juices; for instance Pâté Moi’s famed mushroom pâté is presented with it’s own feather-light but flavour-packed mushroom cracker, which only just copes with the amount you want to load on there.
The pick of the mains was a smoked duck breast; impossibly tender and rich enough to go toe-to-toe with its thyme flavouring, while a fragrant lamb casserole had noses drifting in the direction of our neighbours at the rustic communal tables. Darren Henaghen, the market’s managing director, has been open about his aims for the project:
“The idea is for people to try the menu here, go out and buy the produce in the market and then recreate the stuff at home.” Alternatively, if you’re not one for battling the tourists (or last-minute runs to Tesco), same time next week?
Borough Plates, 1 Cathedral Street SE1 9AL