Best hoods for food shopping in London
- Brooklyn Based Feb 12, 2008 11:37 AM
My husband and I will be moving there shortly... and we've both never been. I anticipate we'll be cooking at home more than eating out, more so than we do in nyc, and I'm wondering what the best, expensive places for food shopping are in terms of fresh produce, fresh fish, meat, good cheese, etc.
If all the food shopping's good there, that would be great to know too. Here in my part of Brooklyn, the local groceries suck, but there are a few specialty shops that make up for the horrible meat and produce.
STAY IN BROOKLYN! DON'T MAKE MY MISTAKE!
Ahem... I mean... Alright, I do all of my grocery shopping in Brixton and I highly reccomend it to anyone. Coming from Brooklyn, you won't regard a 30 minute bus ride as the end of the world (hell, it took me an hour to go from Dyker to Brighton for HS. Born and raised in Brooklyn though I've lived in Queens and the city too.) Brixton Market is incredible and has nearly American prices. The prices will scare you to death here. In Brixton, I can get all of my groceries for under 20 quid a week. Generally well under 20 quid. Brixton Village has two good fish mongers, a meat market inside the same indoor market gives me ridiculous deals. Given the deals and the market nature, you can hit or go below American prices sometimes.
Oh woops I accidentally read inexpensive on your post. I'm on a ridiculously low budget (student) so I think in those terms...
Where were you living in Brooklyn? I've been in Bensonhurst for ages now. Well, I was as my mother moved after I moved here. Not sure where I can say I live in Brooklyn until she gets a new place. The market shopping in London is vastly better. Restaurants... let's just say that a cheap meal here is what I would spend on food for an entire week of eating out in NY (and I ate lunch out daily at some excellent places.)
For cheeses and that sort of stuff, there is actually an excellent Portugese deli in Brixton. Sausage/chorizos/Italian ones there too. A fish monger down the block from there has some screamingly fresh seafood on occassion, but they charge quite a bit more than the ones deeper into the markets.
So yeah, go to Brixton. It's like a really really soft London version of Bed Stuy with vastly lower crime and similar silly reputations, but it delivers as far as food is concerned.
With currency, London is about 130% more expensive than NY.
I also recently moved to London from the states. I only buy "staples" like dried pasta, rice, etc. from the grocery stores...although on the whole I find Sainsburys pretty good. It definitely takes some getting used to (Eggs are kept on the shelves--not the fridge!). If you plan on cooking a lot here, I'd advise buying a food scale before you move. All of the measurements are done on weight and it is a pain to convert your standard American recipes or vice versa.
There are fabulous markets from which to buy fresh produce for much less than the stores. Wherever you end up living, there will likely be one very near to you.
Borough Market, at the London Bridge tube, is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon or morning (or both!). http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/
Edgeware Road has good Middle Eastern shops and butchers (halal meat).
Green's Lane has good Mediterranean selections.
I buy all my meat from my local butcher.
There is also a Whole Foods on High Street Kensington, although I've only been once since I've lived here.
Justin, I find lots of things at Borough Market expensive, too. And I've lived here 4 years and am fairly used to UK prices. Money isn't a problem for us, and I splurge at times, but I refuse to pay through the nose for some items. I guess someone will take away my Chowhound badge now. I bought some French butter last week and it was £3. I didn't convert to dollars because I'd have kicked myself. When the French market comes to our town down here, the same butter is only about £1.80.
Ouch. The sort of butter you'd find in Normandy that has a light almost cheesy flavor? Yeah, converting that would hurt. They have a German sausage booth in there that, while stocking a nice variety of quality German sausages, is so outrageously expensive that I don't know how they stay in business.
They stay in business because many folk shopping at Borough Market have more money than sense and/or they are well-heeled folk visiting a foodie Mecca (as I was the other week). You've been here long enough to not confuse the place with real Brit life (where we shop in real markets, reasonable supermarkets and cheap ones like Lidl).
John, what I always hear from people is that they didn't realize America is so much cheaper when it comes to food and other things.. movies, petrol, clothes etc. Brits just seem to accept the high prices here and pay. I'm going to start a revolution. :-) I haven't found a reasonable supermarket here, period. Lidl has some good deals (and nice pork chops), but one can't do their entire week's foodshopping in those stores.
When it comes down to it, there's not a lot we can do about the price of goods here. For instance, most of the price of petrol is tax - assuming we want our government to spend on things (and generally as a nation we do) it has to raise income. If I ever become dictator I will abolish all indirect taxes like petrol and VAT and just sting the rich through income tax :-)
It used to be that foodie things were much cheaper in some of our neighbouring European countries. Not really a great difference in supermarket prices, IMO - at least in France and Spain where I travel most often.
I generally follow the shopping tactics Phil mentions later. Most of my meat is organic which I buy over the internet. Free range poultry comes form the supermarket. Other stuff comes from the farmers market (not a National Association one so Phil's warning applies). Veg comes from the local greengrocer. Then there's the full range of supermarkets -Sainsbury for a "main shop", goodies from Waitrose, some basics like dried pasta from Lidl. But I'm retired and have the time and interest to shop in this way, not everyone can (or can afford to)
Neal's Yard and La Fromagerie are popular places to score cheese. I'd strongly recommend going for all the raw milk cheeses you can find here, since you would not be able to buy them (legally) in the US.
I wouldn't say there is one particular area that is best and many areas will have speciality/high quality shops. However I am afraid money talks - expensive suburbs will generally have the shops selling the very best produce. However, they won't have diversity of more ethnically diverse neighbourhoods populated by recent immigrants so you will need to travel for more interesting/diverse ranges.
Most people buy their food in supermarkets, and the number of these has expanded dramatically in the last 15 years causing a marked decline in the number of independent shops on the high street. However, Britain is in the grips of a foodie revolution and there are new shops opening so we are seeing the return of speciality fishmongers, or the renaissance of old established butchers.
The supermarkets focus on different demographics so a good starting point is to base yourself within reach of the brand that suits you. Their marketing strategies vary over time, and they will battle on quality, or variety, or organic ranges, or how local the produce is, or it freshness, and of course price. Confusingly they may be positioning on a number of fronts at the same time. My quick, but incomplete synopsis of their demographics is: Waitrose, is probably the most foodie with good quality ingredients and a more interesting range than its rivals, but obviously it is the most expensive. Marks & Spencer is also at this price point, well known for its clothing it has developed a good food business, that is focussed on high quality, semi-prepared or prepared food.
Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons are in the next tier, good quality, slightly higher volume and more aimed at the mainstream. These tend to price match each other, and each tries to differentiate themselves - the prize for the broadest/freshest food tends to rotate around them - for example Morrisons won the battle this Christmas. At the value end there are brands like Aldi and Lidl.
Many neighbourhoods now have Farmers Markets, and some areas still have their traditional Saturday markets. By definition the farmers markets should only have producers and these should come from the local area (50 mile radius?), although recent scandals have exposed stall-holders who buy wholesale and pretend to be growers. As with all markets "buyer beware" is a good mantra. Lots of farms/organic producers also do box schemes, as the UK is quite small these don't have to be neighbourhood ones, so this can be a good source of seasonal food.
Specialist shops are a little more tricky as they are so localised, you may have to travel for a great butcher, fishmonger, deli, chocolatier, cheese shop etc etc.
I moved to the UK (from France) about 12 months ago and it has taken me a little time to understand my area (Bath in Somerset) and identify the best suppliers. For example I buy my beef from one shop, my pork/ham from the farmers market and my free range chicken from the supermarket. A lot of this was by following recommendations, a lot of trial and error ,and much sampling.
One tip. A number of people talk about how expensive it is to live in the UK. Having lived in quite a number of countries I found the best thing to do is forget about the comparison to home (assuming you earn a UK salary). Compare the cost of shopping and eating in restaurants to your local disposable income after tax. If you keep looking back to how much things cost at "home" you may be miserable and probably miss opportunities to sample the best of local food. It can also be quite a shock when you do return "home" and find prices there have moved on over the time you were away and it is far more expensive than you expected.
Have fun on your adventure - the worst mistake you can make is not diving in and trying lots of things - for a small island there is a lot of variety.
I know I shouldn't say it, but there is a Whole Foods in Kensington now which has some nice things and a bulk bin section that I've not seen anywhere else in London. They also have a nice wine section and you can find a few American things scattered through the shelves too.