London’s oldest food market is doing something new, as The Borough Market Kitchen opens the week of 11 November. A new food court / marketplace arrangement of 25 traders and 20 food stalls, the headliner is Mei Mei, a solo London debut for chef Elizabeth Haigh, the one-time head chef of the then Michelin-starred Pidgin in Hackney, inspired by kopi tiam culture and serving Hainanese chicken rice as its signature dish.
Haigh’s counter will have 12 covers, with that chicken rice available in front of the kitchen or to take away; there will also be an ox cheek rendang, which featured at her recent Mortimer House residency as a bun; nasi lemak; and “captain’s curry.” It will also take inspiration from Singaporean coffee culture, serving a rich, dark coffee heavy on cacao and burnt toffee. The entire operation’s influence is the kopi tiam — a dining space built to serve community endemic to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia that sees multiple food vendors serving the people around them in an atmosphere of inclusive community. It is also a testament to Haigh’s childhood in Singapore, and the atmosphere of Borough Market at large.
Long serving market traders are also stars, with stands from Spanish icons Brindisa, popular fresh pasta operation La Tua Pasta, vegetarian Indian specialists Horn OK Please, and well-regarded Gujarati restaurant Gujarati Rasoi, which closed its Dalston flagship in February. Cuisines represented include Iraqi, Mexican, Japanese, Israeli, and Thai. The market’s famed produce is also part of the expansion, with more space for both existing and new grocers, butchers, cheesemakers, and more.
The new area will feature communal tables, per the growing number of food halls and food courts which seek to cram a city’s worth of dining into a small space: Market Halls Victoria and Fulham will soon be joined by Market Halls West End; Arcade Food Theatre has opened below empty luxury apartments at Centre Point; Kerb has opened Seven Dials Market; Bang Bang Oriental Food Hall succeeded Oriental City in Colindale; Old Spitalfields Market’s The Kitchens, which opened in 2017, is right across the road from Time Out’s proposed site; Eataly is coming to Broadgate. There is momentum. Borough Market is distinct from these new builds in many ways: it is is a food market first, not a restaurant development; its traders have been serving food to punters for years; it’s around 1,000 years old. It also making this decision in the context of a city with a growing, if definitely not new, appetite for not just the experience but the economics of communal dining, even if both of those are often too airily characterised as “for everyone.”
More striking, though, is how this new development sits in the context of a changing Borough Market. The arrivals of Tainwanese bunslinger Bao, Michelin-starred Lyle’s’s second restaurant, Flor, and, Eater understands, a new food delivery service for the local area shows a market that is at the very least conscious of trends, and, it seems, actively catering to what it thinks London wants. Haigh’s long-awaited solo debut is also big news: since leaving Pidgin after earning it a debut Michelin star, her reputation has only grown.
More soon on Mei Mei from Elizabeth Haigh.