Borough has been known for its food markets since as far back as the 11th century. First the stallholders were trading on old London Bridge, but then in the 13th century they were moved to what became Borough High Street. A market has been here ever since.
Borough Market has grown to over 100 individual stalls. There are the traditional fruit, vegetables, bread and meat but these days the market reflects how cosmopolitan London eats. There are wine merchants, stalls selling olives, cheeses and spices. A jewel box of gastronomic delights.
We visited on Sunday when the market is closed. That was by choice as it gave the opportunity to really appreciate the Victorian architecture and even a brass plate set in the ground commemorating an association between the market, Switzerland and the Olympic Games!
Sunday lunch was the next priority. Arabica Bar and Kitchen couldn’t be nearer to Borough Market. It’s a restaurant tucked away under the railway arches although I didn’t notice any distracting rumblings. The ceiling is arched, displaying the exposed brick of the original functional architecture. The urban theme continues with the use of school chairs and wooden tables. Harmonious design in natural materials and not over-themed. A great combination of old London bricks and accents of the gold of the Middle East.
This restaurant presents the dishes of the Levant but the cocktails were contemporary – although some giving a nod eastwards. Zarif Zehir was a delicate pink confection and didn’t taste overpoweringly alcoholic; this cocktail was served in a tea glass and looked quite innocent, but was probably dangerous in quantity. Made from vodka, sloe, lemon and sugar, with a finish of sumac and egg white, this was visually appealing and rather harked back to the days of Speak-Easys and prohibition.
Sassine Square was somewhat more traditional and with a soft bourbon flavour. Made with high-rye bourbon, date syrup and bitters, this was a smooth cocktail with plenty of citrus aroma from the ornate orange-rind garnish.
An ideal starter selection
We started our Sunday feast with the ‘Selection of Mezze Classics to Share’ as it says on the simple menu. That spread included House Pickles of cucumber, carrots, cauliflower, turnip and chillies; a dish of traditional Hummus; Whipped Feta with charred Turkish chilli, toasted sunflower seeds and mint, which was tangy and light; and Beiruti Falafel made with broad beans, chickpeas, onions, peppers, green chilli, herbs, and spices was a winner with my guest, who is now addicted to these fried morsels. Grilled Halloumi Cheese was a particular highlight. Tabouleh with plenty of parsley, cucumber, tomato, spring onion, mint and cracked wheat, and all served in a lettuce leaf, was fresh and aromatic. An ideal starter selection to enjoy with a table of friends. It’s the kind of dining that demands a group for best effect.
Jordanian Style Lamb Mensaf and Spring Vegetable Freeke were our main courses, although there was also a fish dish on the menu. The lamb was a 7-hour slow-cooked shoulder, served with spiced rice which was good enough to be a dish on its own, and all garnished with toasted nuts and yogurt sauce. This is flavourful rather than being hot with spice.
Spring Vegetable Freeke was a melange of seasonal veggies cooked with grains and garnished with crispy onions, toasted nuts, herbs and minted lebneh, a soft natural cheese. I would say share both dishes for a comforting meal.
Jelly and Ice Cream sounds like old-fashioned nursery fare but this dessert is rather sophisticated: candied orange, rosewater, milk and honey jelly with mastica ice cream and a scattering of toasted Kadyfi pastry. The ice cream was lightly flavoured rather than giving a hit of piney resin. A pretty plateful.
Arabica Bar and Kitchen has a casual ambiance giving a real feel of the local area. The bar is an imposing feature which will doubtless be much appreciated in the evenings. And it’s liable to be Arabica’s small dishes that draw the crowds during the week. But Sunday is the day for relaxing with friends and sharing larger plates. I’ll be back.
Arabica Bar and Kitchen
3 Rochester Walk
London SE1 9AF
Monday – Wednesday 11am -11pm
Thursday 8.30am -11pm
Friday and Saturday 8.30am -11.30 pm
Sunday 11am – 4pm
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018