When I moved to Italy I had a sort of epiphany. ‘What London needs’, thought I, ‘is a place which provides the British populace with good regional Italian food. Not just Italian food. We’ve got enough restaurants serving up various pasta shapes and polpette under the ubiquitous umbrella of ‘Italian cuisine’. No, it needs the sort of place you can buy a good Pugliese burrata and enjoy tortellini en brodo the way they serve it in Bologna. Or the sort of place one might find proper pesto.
Turns out, such a place opened up in August, and it’s better than anything I could have invented. For here is a place where you can find Parma Ham legs, taste proper Neapolitan pizza, enjoy an award winning Florentine gelato and watch a man make a mozzarella.
It is, to date, the only place outside of the Italian Riviera where I have found Focaccia di Recco, a Ligurian variety of focaccia which sees two paper thin pieces of unleavened dough straddle a ludicrously messy layer of soft melted cheese (more on that here)
Mercato Metropolitano occupies a large disused paper factory in the middle of Elephant and Castle. It’s achingly hip and delightfully faff-free; a sort of 'corrugated iron roof/ slightly uncomfortable benches/ coffee in paper cup' establishment. Menus are a paired-down affair, offering only a few regional (and some experimental) specialties at each stall. Not a red-and-white checked tablecloth in sight.
The area covers over 45,000 square metres of space and encompasses a large Italian ‘supermarket’ selling Italian exports (all of your balsamic vinegars, mortadellas and obscure pastas), a large outdoor seating area (complete with stage and ambient lighting) and two large spaces packed full of exciting vendors, small artisans and Italian producers.
Personal highlights included a paper cone stuffed full of fritto di pesce (typically served like this in Liguria), some deep fried gnocchi (popular street-food in Emilia Romagna) from Tortellino and Co., and a Pizza Margherita lovingly hewn in a wood-fire oven imported straight from Naples.
I won't lie, it's more expensive than Italy, but then it's very different to anything else you'll find in London. Yes, my heart did drop a little when I spotted a bruschetta on sale for £3.99, but once I reminded myself that, just yesterday, I had spent £3.50 on a chocolate covered strawberry on a stick, I got over it. It's London.
There's also more to do than eat here. Following sister MM markets in Turin and a pop-up in Milan, Mercato Metropolitano also features an on-site urban garden, workshops and cooking schools, a co-working space, a gym and it is now home to Backyard Cinema.
According to the organisation, the Mercato Metropolitano movement is a 'reaction to large scale big industry which is overdeveloped and short on principles'. The aim here is to create a positive network of individuals, small producers and local residents and to promote sustainability, environmental and social awareness.
Just go. Have a big breakfast, skip lunch and while away an evening eating your way around Italy.
Mercato Metropolitano is open Tuesday - Sunday from 11am until 11pm. (42 Newington Causeway, SE1 6DR)
Hungry? I've written up an awful lot on Italian food over here