It’s a bright English summer day. A perfect time to enjoy the delicious and colourful delights of the celebrated Borough Market. It was first mentioned in 1276, although the market claims to have been around since early in the 11th century, and possibly even before that. During the 19th century it became one of London’s most important food markets due to its convenient location near the Thames. The present buildings were designed in 1851, with additions in the 1860s and the 1930s.
The surrounding streets have cobbled pavements and hints of earlier times. Arthur Hooper’s is in the thick of this vibrant neighbourhood but its interior lends itself more to cool wine bar than Dickensian chop shop. It has high tables and stools near the entrance, allowing views across the street to the market. There are quieter tables, and striking steel-caged, back-lit bottle shelves and charcoal black walls which combine to create a soft and restful, yet thoroughly contemporary, ambiance.
Arthur Hooper’s offers small European plates along with a thoughtful and reasonably-priced wine list, with many of those bottles also available by the glass or carafe. We ordered a carafe of Merlot/Grenache by Les Vignes de L’Eglise in Languedoc in south-western France. It’s the first wine on the menu but in my opinion wines from that region are often great value for money, and this proved to be the case here. This had a light cherry-red hue with plenty of juicy berry and plum. It has medium tannins, so perfect for pairing with diverse small dishes.
A Bloody Mary was my guest’s cocktail of choice. It comes bereft of the usual garnishes but this Mary is no timid or shrinking violet. It packs a punch from a generous hit of chilli, pronounced vibrant and worthy by a man who appreciates a good tomato-based libation.
But the food is the star here. It’s a restaurant which is blessed by its enviable location. There is the best of produce just a few yards from the kitchen and Arthur Hooper’s takes advantage of that. The menu changes with seasons and availability. We enjoyed cured and hot-smoked pork belly in glistening pink and white ribbons. This is a perfect sharing dish for those who might only want a glass of red and a plat pour deux. The flavourful fat was a perfect partner for my French wine.
Meaty and hearty
For those looking for a more substantial meal then Lovison Pork Sausages with polenta and a dish of Sautéed rosemary new potatoes must be a contender. The sausages were dense, meaty and hearty, and were complemented by the tenderness of those spuds.
Clams with nduja should be a signature dish here, although I note that Hooper’s might periodically offer mussels cooked in the same fashion. This is the dish that reminds the diner to order more bread! Nduja is a spicy, spreadable pork salumi from Italy. Yes, it’s delicious on crackers but here it’s used to melt into and season the shellfish and broth, which cries out for bread-dipping. A winner!
Tor goats’ cheese is unpasteurised with ash coating, and comes from Somerset’s Whitelake Dairy. It’s matured for 2 to 3 weeks and has a distinct yet not overly ‘goaty’ flavour with a beautiful firm texture. No serious cheese-lover should miss this, simply served with a little chutney and some toasted bread.
Harissa butter beans with charred tenderstem, ricotta and nigella seeds was another well-flavoured and textured dish. Tenderstem is a member of the brassica family of veggies, a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. I think it originated in Japan. One can enjoy both florets and stems which are, well, tender!
Ever-changing dessert menu
Ricotta Cheesecake with cherries was my guest’s choice from the ever-changing dessert menu. The savoury dishes were substantial but there is always room for a sweet somethingorother to go with an espresso at the end of a delightful lunch.
No, Arthur Hooper’s isn’t about fine dining but it is definitely the place for the best of foods, affordable wine, great location and ambiance, and friendly staff. I can highly recommend them for the very best of fun and casual dining. The diners might be casual but that food is as well-crafted as any restaurant sporting drifts of starchy tablecloths and equally starchy waiters. I’ll be back to make new culinary discoveries and to linger over another carafe of red.
Mon – Thu: 11am – 11pm
Fri – Sat: 11am – midnight
Sun: 11am – 5pm
8 Stoney Street
London SE1 9AA
Phone:020 7940 0169
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018