Maltby Street Market… where nobody knows your name

Or, apparently, is all that glad you came. Not that it’s a fair comparison, a fictional bar in Boston and a food market in London’s Bermondsey but I get the feeling the characters from Cheers would be just as uncomfortable as we were shopping in Maltby Street as they too are not owners of reproduction 1930s bicycles.

I’m possibly being a little disingenuous stereotyping the target consumer for Maltby Street, and maybe just caught the place on an off-day, but when we visited a couple of Saturdays ago I left with the impression that it didn’t want anyone outside of its ironically mustachioed mates to know it existed.

The £1.20 peach

I don’t like to put negativity out there, but I feel this needs investigating. Wearing my best Jessica Fletcher suit, I present my reasons for such suspicions.  For a start, its website is awful. There’s a mish mash of information hidden behind what looks like a badly drawn map. Now, it could be that it was meant to look that way but again, it gives the feeling that the market does not really want to encourage you to visit.

Then there is the lack of signage surrounding its physical location. It’s not the most obvious place for a market – all the sellers are housed under railway arches that face away from the main road. I would say it was just me being useless with directions but there were at least two other groups of people wandering around, all asking each other where the market was.

In his write up for the Observer Food Monthly awards last year, Nigel Slater described Maltby Street as having a “slightly secret, hidden” location and thought this was a great thing.  Personally I’m bored by that whole “it’s so cool because it’s so secret” attitude. Especially when it comes to food.

Good food should not be hidden away. Food is democracy – it should be available to all to enjoy.  If someone has taken the time and trouble to grow or produce a wonderful product then I would have thought they would be overjoyed to share it with others.

I guess not because according to a source who shops there, some of the stall holders, who during the week run wholesale businesses, are not too keen on “Joe public” wandering around.

And I certainly got that vibe from the place. Which is depressingly disappointing because in reality, there are few places in London where you can enjoy an interesting food shopping experience. Getting goosed down East Lane market just doesn’t count.

I dare say if you are a celebrity chef arms would be flung wide open. However, I do not have such social status so it’s just fine to be rude to me, as one stallholder so obviously was. She may have thought I was angling for freebies when in fact; I was just very interested in what she was doing.

That will teach me for being all Miss Enthusiastic. The prices alone are a barrier to many (especially the majority of local residents, some 40 per cent of the housing in the area is council owned with high levels of deprivation) so you would think anyone willing to shell out £1.20 for a peach would be welcomed.

Well, if Maltby Street marketers really do want to dissuade the general, presumably non-deserving of its wares, public from visiting they have succeeded with me. I’ll not be returning and somehow I doubt they would give a £1.20 fig about that.

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