14 November 2016

Birthday Fun at Mercato Metropolitano

Regular readers will know that I am a great fan of street food markets and I've always envied friends with summer birthdays who can organise fun but casual evening celebrations at the likes of Street Feast. But my birthday is in mid-November — today, in fact — and it's rare that the weather is very pleasant.

I was pleased, then, when Mercato Metropolitano opened a couple of months ago. The market is a new venue that encompasses artisan street food and drink counters, an Italian deli, a co-working space and even a pop-up cinema opened up in an area the developers call 'SoBo' (South of Borough), but that is essentially Elephant and Castle. Although there are some outdoor spaces too, most of the food and drink counters are inside the large, heated warehouse on Newington Causeway.

My brother, sister-in-law and I visited Mercato Metropolitano the weekend before last, stopping off for a post-dinner drink and gelato from Florentine gelateria Badiani. My gelato was delicious — a creamy, salted caramel flavour — and I really liked the vibrant but relaxed atmosphere and decided to go back with some friends to celebrate my birthday on Saturday. Anyone who has ever tried to book a table for more than 10 people in London will understand why I was so keen to avoid the hassle and stress of group set menus and pre-ordering, and Mercato Metropolitano was a much more flexible option. Everyone could eat and drink what they wanted and no bill splitting was required. NB: I didn't have my camera with me, so apologies for the iPhone photos.

We got there about 6:30 and secured one of the many large tables. Over the course of the next few hours, we all ate, drank, grazed and chatted. We shared a really nice bottle of champagne from the Champagne + Fromage counter (the food and drink counters represent both established restaurant and bars, and street-food purveyors), as well as a large sharing platter or meats and cheese, which was really good value and very well thought out.

Although many of the food and drink options are Italian, there are plenty of other choices too, from arepas and burgers, to locavore vegan fare and Vietnamese street food. The counters don't tend to have obvious branding, though, so if you're looking for a particular vendor, it can be tough to find. It is also worth noting that while you can find many of the non-Italian vendors at other markets or around London, many of the Italian vendors are only available here — and in Italy.

We were sitting next to the 'pizza napoletana' stall, which turned out to be produced by Milan-based Naples-style pizzeria Fresco. They are so forward-looking in their vision that they claim to be 'fondata nel 2020' (founded in 2020). I can't speak to that but the pizzas looked great and after having so much pizza disappointment while I was in Naples in August, I decided to order one. The margherita was a reasonable £6 and it took about 20 minutes to be ready (there was a queue and they were also handling a fair few takeaway orders). It was worth the wait, though, with its lovely chewy crust, thin base and excellent mozzarella and tomato (a little more cheese wouldn't have gone amiss).

There is plenty of craft beer, wine and prosecco available, as well as a nice selection of cocktails. I went to a little hispanic bar cart, which specialised in interesting mojito variations. They were out of the basilito, unfortunately, but the regular mojitos were well made and a good size. Most cocktails were around £8.

The cinema itself, run by Backyard Cinema and located in a little cavern near the entrance to the market, wasn't screening anything at the weekend but they have a packed — and rapidly booking up — schedule of Christmas movies screening over the next few weeks. The deli is an expensive place to do a weekly shop, but a good spot for picking up some really nice parmesan, cured meat or 'nduja — and for Italian expats to find some of their favourite brands. You can also find details of tastings and other events on the Mercato Metropolitano Facebook page.

All in all, Mercato Metropolitano is a creative and fun all-day venue and a great new addition to the Elephant and Castle (sorry, SoBo) neighbourhood. They are open 11 am to 11 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 10 am to 9 pm on Sundays. Vai a visitarlo!

Mercato Metropolitano. 42 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6DR (Tube: Elephant & Castle). Website.

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