Friday, 3 February 2012

saturday at maltby street

st john bakery custard doughnut 
i had been waiting for my sibling to arrive in london to make an excursion to maltby street. he’s an early riser, loves walking and has a handsome appetite like me, and since maltby street requires all three he was the perfect companion to explore with. you could of course go to maltby street by noon as it runs from nine to two pm. however, if you want to get your hands on one of those infamous custard doughnuts from st. john bakery then you need to be closer to the earlier half of the morning. i got lost on my way in and was most concerned that we wouldn’t make it on time for custard doughnuts. arch seventy-two on druid street is cavernous and home to st.john bakery. a line of rudimentary tables hold loaves, rounds and batons of freshly baked bread. two kinds of doughnuts (custard and jam) along with eccles cakes and brownies take up one side of the table. there is a queue of twenty strong people ahead of us and the custard doughnut supply was perilously low. the doughnuts are stacked horizontally, seam side up, the custard seeping out. fine granules of sugar cling to their plump little bodies. luckily we make it to the head with ten custard doughnuts still on the tray. we get two of these, a brownie just because it looks good and a hundred percent rye sourdough that m carried to pakistan. we intended to eat our doughnuts the perfect way with a cup of monmouth coffee. on our way to monmouth we got sidetracked by kaseswiss oatcakes. it was the aroma that drew me to the large heavy bottomed griddle that held a thin layer of oat-heavy batter. the oatcakes are like pancakes made with oats. they are a north staffordshire speciality and are usually served with savoury fillings. we had ours with gruyere from jacob’s ladder as the kirkham’s lancashire was finished. the nutty cheese is melted on the griddle along with finely chopped red onion. m and i shared the folded buttery and cheesy goodness whilst walking towards monmouth coffee. 

staffordshire oatcake
jacob's larder cheese
staffordshire oatcakes
the queue at monmouth coffee snaked onto the road and every so often it would push and shuffle to let cars go past. m went to get us some seats outside whilst i went to get a filter coffee for him and a café au lait for myself. the maltby street monmouth is actually a roastery and training site. on saturday it is open to customers most of whom had st. john bakery bags in their hands. in order to manage the queue a barista comes and takes your order in the line and it’s ready for you by the time you make it to the till. coffee in hand i made it out to join m. he had found us some seats shielded under the canopy and had unwrapped the doughnut and brownie from their paper bags. we both bite into our doughnuts simultaneously. they are exceptionally light and feathery. the vanilla bean flecked custard is divine. monmouth coffee is robust and is the perfect contrast to the warmth and sweetness of the custard doughnut. we sit here a while working through the doughnuts and then half a brownie each. it’s what i call a gourmet brownie, not the chewy kind that you get stateside but more a fudge like chocolate studded with almonds and hazelnuts. 

monmouth coffee
custard doughnut
st john's bakery brownie
monmouth maltby street
we wander back through maltby street pausing to look at the old radiators. we have a brief glance at the kernel brewery too. fern verrow is packed with fresh produce. because it is winter there was an abundance of root vegetables and earthy tones. the bright sunlight lit up the citrus and piles of orange squash. i bought a large golden beetroot for myself to try. m picked up a large wedge of hard cheese from neal’s yard to carry to pakistan. we had intended to leave maltby street and head back toward southwark to pick up mama’s art equipment from intaglio printmakers when we made the serious mistake of stopping at bea’s of bloomsbury. wedges of pecan pie and red velvet cupcakes were more americana than we could handle so we bought a slice to feed our nostalgia. the wedge of pecan pie that m and i bring back from bea’s in a brown bag isn’t along american lines size wise. in other words is daintier than what you’d get state side. what’s important though is the taste and here it is absolutely faithful to the southern american classic. whole pecans suspended in sharply sweet clear custard set only to a precarious wobble are seated on an equally rich and buttery piecrust. this is the kind of pie that you eat in small measures if only because of its mouth aching sweetness. there is an article by william grimes in the archives of the new york times, which so eloquently describes pecan pie that i am compelled to quote it here… ‘it's classic. it's irresistible. and it's a killer. two bites into the standard pecan pie, and even dessert-toughened yankees raised on chocolate decadence cake, tiramisu and creme brulee know that they're in deep trouble. this pie is sweeter than a shirley temple film festival, more cloying than a barbara walters interview. like rhine maidens draped seductively on jagged rocks, those luscious pecans sit atop a thick tremulous layer of filling so sweet that it can make grown men cry, so gooey that it can stop a speeding locomotive dead in its tracks’. bea’s pecan pie fits the bill. i ate half a slice for sunday breakfast and spent the whole day in a sugar coma. 

vintage car, rope walk
fern verrow
winter produce at fern verrow
golden beetroot
winter squash
pink grapefruit
bea's pecan pie
bea's pecan pie and cup cakes
on the opposite side from bea's was a chef frying catalan cod doughnuts (bunyols de bacala). i was watching them being fried when i ran into sue who tweets @londonfoodfinds. we did a food-writing course together at the guardian and meet up periodically to exchange notes on food. she definitely recommended the catalan doughnuts. i must say that my curiosity was so piqued that i convinced m to create some non-existent space in his belly and try and doughnut with me. it was worth the gluttony. the doughnut was crisp on the outside with a liquid centre that looked and tasted like a salted cod béchamel. after this, our appetite was truly exhausted and so we headed to southwark and then walked down the embankment past waterloo to covent garden to work up an appetite for the evening.

catalan cod doughnut


  1. I enjoyed reading your account of Maltby Stree market, I went there for the first time on Saturday and thought it was great.

  2. Thanks Bill. It is fabulous! I definitely need to go back soon!