★★★★★ / ★★★★☆ / ★★★☆☆ / ★★☆☆☆ / ★☆☆☆☆ / Street food/food court

Mercato Metropolitano review – the Southwark street food hall trying to be everything to everyone

Halfway between Elephant & Castle and London Bridge, but nowhere in particular

Updated 30/9/2019 – added reviews of new traders and updated the reviews of Badiani, Duman, Little Sicily and Turkish Garden

Updated 16/4/2019 – added hyperlinked table of contents, corrected spelling and grammatical errors

The weird thing about street food in London isn’t the tedious semantic debate about what does and doesn’t count as street food. It’s that many Londoners continue to treat street food as a novelty – devouring it remains a notable event, worthy of filtering, hashtagging and Instagramming. This might be tied to the forced seasonality of street food in a city noted for its ‘cold’ autumns and winters, which is a shame. It’d be much healthier – and ultimately more sustainable for London’s street food businesses – if Londoners saw the city’s various stalls, markets and semi-permanent food courts/halls as a part of everyday life much in the same way as the denizens of Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore do.

Street food should be seen as a worthy alternative to the dreary high street chains that much of the nation has little respite from. That might seem like a non-sequitur, but for many Londoners their time and money would be better spent at a street food court/hall rather than at one of the mid-market fast casual chains which can barely keep themselves in business or serve anything worth eating. The quality of the food would not only be better, the average spend would still be roughly the same (and it’d certainly be less than many of the buzzier ‘destination’ restaurants I’ve been criticised for reviewing on this website).

Southwark’s Mercato Metropolitano is not only equidistant between London Bridge and Elephant Castle, it has also managed to offer, for the most part, more than just the usual stuff-in-a-bun, glop-with-chips and protein-on-rice that bedevils so many other street food markets.

That is made possible by Mercato Metropolitano’s relative stability on a plot of otherwise disused brownfield land. Reliable power, fuel, water and waste disposal mean that the various tenant traders are more able, within reason, to branch out. The copious seating, proper bogs, a reasonably cold-proof hall and a few stands selling booze mean that the whole experience is more or civilised for the paying customer.

While Mercato has gone to the the peculiar effort of hiding the names of the individual traders in favour of Mercato’s own branding (e.g. ‘La Pizza Napoletana’, ‘Turkish BBQ Kebabs’ and ‘Slow smoked BBQ’ instead of Fresco’s, Duman and Prairie Fire respectively), this can’t disguise the sometimes drastic differences in standards of cooking. Where possible, I’ve listed the trader’s actual name alongside Mercato’s branding.

What follows is not only my guide to one of the more diverse street food halls in the capital, but a look into the practicalities of what does and doesn’t work in the world of London food courts.

Table of Contents

Arepas (Guasacaca)
Argentine Grill
Le Beefed
Burgers (I Burghero)
Butcher and Grill
Caffe Latino
Caribbean BBQ (Dookies Grill)
Champagne Fromage
Colombian ceviche (La Cumbia)
Extra virgin Greek food (Kalimera)
Gelato (Badiani)
Homemade Pasta Free From (Leggero)
Pizza Napoletana (Fresco’s)
Hot dogs (Oprha’s)
La Trattoria del Mercato
Lebanese Canteen
Little Sicily
Pasta (Pala and Matterello)
Ramen (Juzu)
Seafood/Fish Lab (James Knight of Mayfair)
Slow smoked BBQ (Prairie Fire)
Spätzle (Ze Spätzle Club)
Sushi and sashimi (Katsuma)
Taco house (Hermanos)
Super Gringas and Guacamole
Thai (Pad Thai House)
Turkish mezze and grill (Duman kebabs)
Turkish Garden
Vegan Shack (Love Shack)
Vietnamese
Waffles (Waffle On)

Autumn 2019 new traders update

Deliciously British (Roast To Go)
Fry shack (La Cotoletta, formerly Tutto Fritto)
New Age Caribbean cuisine (Juici Jerk)
Nina Metayer
Okonomiyaki (Maido)
Pastorcito

Conclusions

Arepas (Guasacaca)

Venezuelan/Colombian-style arepas in a ‘mainstream’ street food hall is an unusual sight, especially given the almost certain whitewashing doom that awaits traders selling similar vittels at the nearby Elephant and Castle shopping centre.

Unfortunately, while the maize flour arepas buns themselves at Guasacaca are accomplished with a thin crisp crust on the outside and a wispy softness on the inside, it’s an altogether different matter for the various fillings.

The pork of The Two Little Pigs was moist and mildly earthy, but far too dependent on an overdose of salt for character. The occasional crunch of chicharron was far too intermittent, while the pork’s saltiness interfered with the earthy goat’s cheese. Both the chilli and avocado sauces had surprisingly little to say for themselves. These little piggies should’ve stayed at home.

illustrative photo of the Two Little Pigs arepas from Guasacaca at Mercato Metropolitano

These little piggies should’ve stayed at home.

The cow in the Buffalo Beef was an inoffensively unmemorable meat, while the cheddar, pico de gallo and gherkins barely made their presence felt. It’s a disappointing arepas sandwich indeed when the most notable filling were the slices of mildly sweet pickles. The absence of the pickles from the Cheeky Chicken explains why that variant was an almost complete letdown, with the tame chook and the dull chilli and avocado sauces proving to be utterly ineffectual.

illustrative photo of the Buffalo Beef arepas from Guasacaca at Mercato Metropolitano

There’s one born every minute.

illustrative photo of the Cheeky Chicken arepas from Guasacaca at Mercato Metropolitano

Cheeky is one word for it.

The vegetarian Dominos arepas sandwich was the best of the lot, by far. The same winsome arepas came filled with sweet, starchy plantains, moreish beans, salty wispy cheese and umami tomatoes. Dispense with the ineffectual pair of unwelcome sauces in favour of more plantains and you’d have yourself a highly respectable sandwich.

illustrative photo of the Dominos plantain arepas from Guasacaca at Mercato Metropolitano

Dominos plantain arepas from Guasacaca at Mercato Metropolitano.

From an ignorant-ass Anglo-Euro perspective, the farl/griddle cake-like arepas are a revelation with their light, yet satiating qualities. It’s just a shame that Guasacaca is such a poor advocate for their potential as sandwiches.

★★☆☆☆

Average cost per sandwich: £8-9

Argentine Grill

The Argentine Grill is one of three steak stands at Mercato Metropolitano and, somewhat fittingly given its proximity to Elephant and Castle, one of several Latin American-themed traders. Empanadas used surprisingly quotidian pastry, with the appeal lying instead with the filling of lightly fruity tomatoes and elastically creamy mozzarella.

illustrative photo of the empanada from Argentine Grill at Mercato Metropolitano

Tomato and mozzarella empanada from Argentine Grill at Mercato Metropolitano.

The mixed grill is a representative cross-section of much of the menu. Unfortunately, it’s a rather drab and unimpressive cross-section. Strips of rump were relatively moist and tender, but otherwise lacking in character. That slack was picked up, to an extent, by relatively piquant slices of chorizo and chips that, while crispy on the outside, were far too bitty on the inside. It’s a sad state of affairs when the most interesting thing on this platter was the sprightly chimichurri sauce.

illustrative photo of the chorizo, steak and chips from Argentine Grill at Mercato Metropolitano

Not a slap-up grill.

Graze on the smaller bites at The Argentine Grill, but skip the meaty mains.

★★☆☆☆

Average cost: £3.50 for empanadas, £10-12 for steak (depending on cut)

Le Beefed

Le Beefed’s charmingly Franglais name appears to be based solely on the addition of lightly tangy blue cheese to its steak. Even when taken without the cheese’s lactic accenting, the beef was already good enough in its own right – dense yet tender with a moreishly beefy tang and a respectable level of browning. Even when taking the weedy fries into consideration, Le Beefed is still considerably better than Butcher and Grill. In a kinder world, Le Beefed wouldn’t just be a temporary outside kiosk but the main indoor steak purveyor in place of Butcher and Grill.

illustrative photo of the Steak with blue cheese from Le Beefed at Mercato Metropolitano.

Steak with blue cheese from Le Beefed at Mercato Metropolitano.

★★★★☆

Average cost per dish: £11

Burgers (I Burghero)

I Burghero sells several gussied-up burgers, but I don’t rate the chances of any of them being enjoyable given that this stand can’t rustle up a half-decent version of the basic cheeseburger. Cooked medium rare, the parched dryness and excessively smooth grind of the patty meant it leaned heavily on salt for taste. There was barely any cheese and the veg had little to say for themselves. The firm, absorbent and buttery bun stayed out of the way, which only served to emphasise how dismally dreary this burger was.

illustrative photo of the single cheeseburger from I Burghero at Mercato Metropolitano

Single cheeseburger from I Burghero at Mercato Metropolitano.

Burghero? More like a Burgvillain.

★☆☆☆☆

Average cost per burger: £8 for a single patty; £12 for double patties.

Butcher and Grill

Butcher and Grill appears to be one of the most popular stands at Mercato Metropolitano, judging from the number of punters tottering around the halls with chopping boards heaving under the weight of various impressive-looking meats. Judging from my experiences though, you eat at Butcher and Grill with your eyes rather than with your mouth.

The soft squishy bun of the burger stayed out of the way which would be admirable if there was anything inside it worth having. The excessively smooth grind meant that the patty had little in the way of mouthfeel. Cooked well-done, the patty was nothing without the smoky fattiness of bacon, a dab of American cheese and a heap of salt. Even the chips were disappointing. While each chip was a solid chunk of sliced potato on the inside, they were neither crisp enough nor golden brown enough on the outside.

illustrative photo of the Burger from Butcher and Grill at Mercato Metropolitano.

Burger from Butcher and Grill at Mercato Metropolitano.

Given the insipidness of the burger, I had low expectations for the ‘prime’ rump steak. The beef I was served failed to meet even that low bar. Although cooked medium rare, the barely rendered fat and oddly lifeless malliard effect made for dull eating. While moderately tender, I ended up deriving more satisfaction from the junk salad jizzled with salad cream and the chips. Surprisingly, these had been seen some modest improvements compared to the ones served with the burger – respectably crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

illustrative photo of the rump steak from Butcher and Grill at Mercato Metropolitano

Rump steak from Butcher and Grill at Mercato Metropolitano.

It’s such a remarkable achievement to serve up burgers and steak this derisible and worthless, that I almost have a perverse sense of admiration for this stand’s gumption. Almost.

★☆☆☆☆

Average cost per dish: £10-15

Caffe Latino

Given the weak and watery flat white dished out by Caffe Latino, the main attraction at this stand isn’t the coffee but the cakes.

illustrative photo of the flat white from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano

Falling flat.

The more unusual cakes, pastries and tarts tend to be the better ones. Tiramisu has never resembled a vaguely exotic chocolate and coffee-flavoured trifle more than when Caffe Latino is attempting to pretend that isn’t. Polenta cake was a bit too dense and definitely far too sugary sweet with an overdose of lemons to boot. It’s just not good enough – if I wanted an aspirational lemon drizzle cake, then I’d go to an office charity bake sale.

illustrative photo of the Tiramisu from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano.

Tiramisu from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the polenta cake from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano

Polenta cake from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano.

Sicilian-style pastiera was a far better bet. The generously large slice proved to be light yet satisfyingly rich – buttery, eggy and fluffy with a gentle nuttiness and the bold aroma of orange blossom flower water. A slice of crostata was almost as good, despite its lack of balance. The creamy, sugary custard was delectable, but was almost overwhelmed by the lip-pursing sweetness of the soft, squishy, candied-esque fruit layered on top.

illustrative photo of the Pastiera from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano.

Pastiera from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the fruit crostata from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano

Crostata from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano.

A chunky rectangle of saltimbocca wasn’t what I expected, resembling a dense, tightly crumbed flapjack with a seam of very sweet, treacle-like filling running through its centre. It’s not especially sophisticated or clever, but then a good flapjack doesn’t need to be either to be satisfying.

illustrative photo of the saltimbocca from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano

Saltimbocca from Caffe Latino at Mercato Metropolitano.

Caffe Latino isn’t the best of Mercato Metropolitano’s dessert options, but there’s still some joy to be had here if you choose carefully.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per dish: £3-3.50

Caribbean BBQ (Dookies Grill)

It strikes me that there should be an apostrophe in ‘Dookies’. Whether or not that should be the case, there should definitely be more innate flavour in Dookies’ jerk chicken. While the meat was good enough on its own terms with the slippery skin sliding off the moist, gamey chicken, there was very little rub, dry or wet. Most of the flavour came from a sauce squirted onto the cooked chicken after the fact. Its tingly fruity heat was enjoyable enough, but this felt less like jerk chicken and more like a mildly gussied up Parisian rotisserie chicken.

illustrative photo of the jerk chicken from Dookies Grill at Mercato Metropolitano

The jerk chicken came with peas and rice which had a cinnamon-like quality to them.

Light and flaky sea bass came gently spiced, but so gently that it – like the jerk chicken – lent heavily on the sauce for flavour.

illustrative photo of the sea bass from Dookies Grill at Mercato Metropolitano

As Sous Vide Vivant found out to his detriment, the friendliness and efficiency with which you’re served at this stand can vary greatly depending on who’s on duty.

The staff at Dookies clearly know how to cook their meat and fish; if only they can get it all fragrantly and flavoursomely spiced then they’d be on to a winner.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per dish: £9

Champagne Fromage

Champagne Fromage sounds more like the results of a word association game played with a tipsy Frenchman, than it does a street food stall. As its name implies, this trader deals in cheese-filled sandwiches and raclette-based dishes.

Champagne Fromage attempts to disguise the puny size of its filled baguette sandwiches by toasting them, which unsurprisingly doesn’t really work. It’s therefore worth ordering the raclette sandwich stuffed with extra saucisson. The fatty saltiness of the cured pork melded well with the reasonably creamy cheese and its hints of boozy tanginess. The relative richness of the saucisson-cheese pairing was offset by the sourness of crunchy cornichons. If only the competently-executed potato wedges on the side had come drizzled with extra raclette.

illustrative photo of the Raclette sandwich with extra saucisson from Champangne Fromage at Mercato Metropolitano.

Raclette sandwich with extra saucisson from Champangne Fromage at Mercato Metropolitano.

Wedges topped with a blend of fourme d’ambert and raclette cheese worked far better than I expected. The blue cheese tang of the former and the boozy tang of the latter melded together well. So it’s a shame their flavour faded quickly and the texture was a bit too congealed with not quite enough gooey elasticity. The draped ribbons of ham made up for these inadequacies though with its musky, lightly salty qualities.

illustrative photo of the potato Wedges topped with raclette, ham and fourme d'ambert from Champangne Fromage at Mercato Metropolitano.

Wedges topped with raclette, ham and fourme d’ambert from Champangne Fromage at Mercato Metropolitano.

With a little more refinement, Champagne Fromage’s classic combinations of pork and cheese could become absolute must-haves. Still, if you have a craving for French saucisson and cheese that cannot wait then their pleasing if unbalanced creations will certainly scratch your itch.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per dish: £10

Colombian ceviche (La Cumbia)

The squid and prawns in the eponymous dish at this stand were nothing to write home about, but it was by no means a complete loss. The bright and zesty sauce was a many splendored thing, laced with citrus, coriander, red onions and a hint of chilli. Crunchy, roasted corn kernels and thin yet moreishly nutty deep-fried plantains were unexpectedly winsome accompaniments to the sauce.

illustrative photo of the Colombian-style ceviche from La Cumbia at Mercato Metropolitano.

Colombian-style ceviche from La Cumbia at Mercato Metropolitano.

The plantains are so good, they’re worth scoffing as a dish in their own right. They came with nutty and moreish arepas, crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. They were less absorbent than the arepas from Guasacaca though, so the lightly spicy and creamy sauces had trouble clinging to them.

illustrative photo of the plantains and arepas from La Cumbia at Mercato Metropolitano

Fried plantains and arepas from La Cumbia at Mercato Metropolitano.

La Cumbia’s chilli con carne used tender, sinewy strands of oxtail-like beef rather than the mince I remember from the school dinners version of this dish. It was all the better for it, with the beef doused in a sticky, lightly moreish sauce and accompanied by peppers that were just as tender as the meat. Thankfully, the chilli con carne wasn’t served with substandard Katsuma-style rice, but by its delectable fried plantains.

illustrative photo of the chilli con carne from La Cumbia at Mercato Metropolitano

Chilli con carne from La Cumbia at Mercato Metropolitano.

Empanadas had pastry shells that were remarkably even in their thinness and crispness. Although the filling had been billed as beef, it tasted more like salt fish and potato which turned out to be a fluffy, salty blessing. If nothing else, they’re certainly a step up from the empanadas available at The Argentine Grill.

illustrative photo of the empanadas from La Cumbia at Mercato Metropolitano.

Empanadas from La Cumbia at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the empanadas from Colombian Ceviche at Mercato Metropolitano

I can’t believe I used the phrase ‘fluffy, salty blessing’ outside of my Sex and the City fanfic.

While La Cumbia is clearly still finding its feet, it’s still my first port of call for a light yet flavoursome meal at Mercato Metropolitano.

★★★★☆

Average cost per dish: £6-8

Extra virgin Greek food (Kalimera)

The market-sanctioned branding for Kalimera’s stand at Mercato Metropolitano is eyebrow raising in so many ways. But the really quizzical thing is how the proprietors have managed to rustle up such a shrug-inducing range of souvlaki.

Dry, charmless chicken came wrapped in a thick, stodgy bread. The excessive amount of filler salad, hummus and tzatziki were almost a relief, if they weren’t all so utterly pedestrian.

illustrative photo of the Chicken souvlaki from Kalimera at Mercato Metropolitano

Chicken souvlaki from Kalimera at Mercato Metropolitano.

The characterless patties of baby sheep in the lamb souvlaki were suspiciously reminiscent of Lidl frikadellen, but with less charm. The salad was as throwaway as ever, but the thick bread was less stodgy while the hummus and tzatziki were nuttier and herbier respectively. While these improvements were welcome, they couldn’t make up for the scanty, low-quality meat.

illustrative photo of the lamb souvlaki from Kalimera at Mercato Metropolitano

Lamb souvlaki from Kalimera at Mercato Metropolitano.

Opting for halloumi instead of lamb on a subsequent visit was a better bet. While still somewhat meagre in quantity, the halloumi present was at least mouth pleasing. Each light yet thick slice had balanced measures of saltiness and milkiness, blending reasonably well with the hummus and tzatziki.

illustrative photo of the Halloumi wrap from Kalimera at Mercato Metropolitano

Halloumi wrap from Kalimera at Mercato Metropolitano.

If you think it’s impossible for screw up a kebab, then you’ve clearly never had a souvlaki from Kalimera.

★★☆☆☆

Average cost per dish: £7.50

Gelato (Badiani)

I’ve covered Badiani before as part of my gelato group test. The gelato and sorbets, while still not up to the standard of the capital’s best, are still worth having. More or less.

All the gelati I tried were creamy with reasonable levels of smoothness and elasticity. The pistachio flavor wobbled noticeably in quality, but even at its best it was only ever moderately evocative of the nut. The occasionally available ‘crema’ pistachio variant managed to boost the flavor with an injection of pistachio-flavoured fondant. While this did indeed increase the resemblance to actual pistachio, it does so at the cost of an added sugary candy sweetness. Neither of Badiani’s variants does pistachio gelato justice.

Peanut-flavoured gelato unsurprisingly resembled a Mars bar ice cream, but tasted far better due to the absence of low-grade caramel and chocolate. The somewhat easier-to-replicate flavour profile of peanut meant its resemblance to the original nut was not only far more convincing that of its pistachio-flavoured stablemates, but also of the faintly flavoured almond gelato too.

illustrative photo of the pistachio gelato and raspberry sorbet from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano

Pistachio gelato and raspberry sorbet from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano.

Raspberry sorbet was refreshing and free of crunchy ice crystals, but its generic fruity sharpness was forgettable. Passion fruit sorbet was similarly unbalanced. While texturally pleasing and suitably sweet, it lacked the tartness of the fruit. Lemon sorbet was bracingly refreshing, like its sorbet stablemates, but its citrusy zestiness was muted.

illustrative photo of the Peanut and pistachio gelati from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano

Peanut and pistachio gelati from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the passion fruit sorbet and pistachio gelato from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano

Passion fruit sorbet and pistachio gelato from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the pistachio gelato and lemon sorbet from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano

Pistachio gelato and lemon sorbet from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano.

Since I first visited Badiani’s stall, the stand has since branched out into crepes. As expected, given the lackluster pistachio gelati above, the pistachio cream crepe filling was a shrug inducing affair. The folded crepe itself was far better with a springy bite and a soft pillowy follow-through. With that in mind, you’re far better off with the plain ol’ lemon drizzle affair – its citrusy sharpness was spot on, given how hard it is to screw up a lemon-flavoured crepe.

illustrative photo of the pistachio crepe from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano

Pistachio crepe from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano.

The only stand at Mercato Metropolitano serving churros isn’t either of the Mexican stands – Pastorcito or Hermanos – but, inexplicably, the Badiani gelato stall. Sadly, the churros should be inserted not in to your mouth but into the closest possible bin. Brittle throughout and with none of the layered texturing of the very best churros, I drowned my sorrows with the caramel dipping sauce.

illustrative photo of the churros from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Churros from Badiani at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

The quality of Badiani’s sorbet and gelati remain frustratingly inconsistent several years after it first opened, so it’s unlikely to get substantially better any time soon. While it’s still better than many of London’s other gelato options, it’s still far from the best. Even so, it’s likely you’ll find yourself calling at Badiani, especially during the summer months, as it’s the only ice cold dessert option at Mercato Metropolitano.

★★★☆☆

Average cost: £5

Homemade Pasta Free From (Leggero)

Leggero’s main claim to fame is that it serves gluten-free pasta which will please both genuine coeliacs and faddish hypochondriacs alike. As someone who is neither, my main concerns were taste and texture – matters in which Leggero had a mixed track record.

While Leggero’s pasta weren’t a patch on the carbs available from La Trattoria del Mercato, the narrow and thin yet firmish strands of fettucine-style pasta were at least far more edible than many other attempts at gluten-free Italian-style pasta. The plain version dressed in truffle oil and topped with chestnut mushrooms tasted much more of the latter than the former.

illustrative photo of the pasta with mushrooms from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano

Pasta with mushrooms from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano.

The spirulina variant pasta tasted almost identical to the standard version. Much more notable was the four cheese sauce which proved to be an unexpected delight in its earthy, musky creaminess.

illustrative photo of the Spirulina four cheese pasta from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano

Spirulina four cheese pasta from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano.

Chestnut pasta mustered a wan impersonation of the nut, so it’d need a better topping than the lackluster bolognese which had few things to say for itself other then being more or less the right colour. The dusting of reasonably umami parmesan had to pick up the slack here.

Chestnut pasta with Bolognese from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano.

The only fitting topping for pesto pasta is even more pesto. It would’ve been unforgiveable if this double dollop hadn’t led to the strong taste of basil and cheese. Still, it could’ve done with a touch less cheese and a bit more basil and pine nuts. An extra helping of speck-like bacon was pleasing in its smooth, smoky meatiness.

illustrative photo of the pesto pasta with pesto and speck from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano

Pesto pasta with pesto and speck from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano.

Some form of ravioli is usually available as a special and it’s worth having if the beetroot ravioli is any indicator. Although the pasta envelopes were a tad too hard in places, the tangy earthiness of the beetroot and the creamy tang of the blue cheese filling were both made even better by the pool of clarified butter cleverly posing as a sauce.

illustrative photo of the blue cheese beetroot ravioli from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano

Beetroot blue cheese ravioli from Leggero at Mercato Metropolitano.

If you’re a coeliac, then opt for your pasta of choice topped with the four cheese sauce or opt for a ravioli special. Anything else really isn’t worth your time.

★★★☆☆

Average cost: £9.50

Pizza Napoletana (Fresco’s)

Pizza is a common sight at London’s street food markets and it’s to the credit of these various traders that the quality of these pizzas tower above what most of the high street chains are able to produce. There’s still room for improvement though.

Fresco’s margarita is a case in point with its puffy, charred crusts and soft, thin dough that’s satisfactorily elastic and tearable. While the basil was wonderfully fragrant, Fresco’s stumbled with the underwhelming mozzarella and tomato paste.

illustrative photo of the Fresco’s margherita pizza at Mercato Metropolitano

Fresco’s margherita pizza at Mercato Metropolitano.

The Pasquiliana was another mixed bag. The milkiness of the elastic ricotta contrasted neatly with the salty, bitter friarelli, but the sausage chunks were a disappointing non-event.

illustrative photo of the Fresco’s pasquiliana pizza at Mercato Metropolitano

I have a thing for tomato-less blanc pizzas. Don’t @ me.

Fresco’s Neapolitan-style pizzas won’t set the world alight, but these crowdpleasers are not only credibly executed but reasonably well priced too. I can’t argue too much with that.

★★★☆☆

Average cost: £7-12

Hot dogs (Oprha’s)

Oprha’s hot dogs are in a league apart from the suspect sizzlers you’d find outside Charing Cross station on a Saturday night. Of their various dogs, the pork is easily the must have – thick, meaty and lightly smoky with a touch of fat. The beef dog was somewhat similar, but not as satisfying as the pork. Surprisingly, the turkey variant came closest to replicating the pork’s various qualities from meatiness to fattiness and smokiness. It wasn’t quite there, but it was a close run thing. The vegan dog tasted as if it had been made from mushrooms, but its light, airy and almost mushy texture meant it was clearly a second-rate meat substitute.

Oprha’s dogs are available with various sets of toppings that generally rise above their slightly naff and contrived names. The Hawaiian combined the creamy elasticity of melted gouda with moreish mayo and moist, shredded beef. Plantain flakes added a touch of sweetness, but would otherwise have been indistinguishable from fried shallots. The Hawaiian is best enjoyed as a pork dog.

illustrative photo of the Hawaiian pork hot dog from Oprha's at Mercato Metropolitano

In all cases, the soft squishy buns stayed out of the way. As it should be.

The blue cheese used in the Frenchie wasn’t as punchy as I would’ve liked, but it still just had enough strength to make its presence felt. The charmless crunchy chicken scratchings should’ve stayed in the farmyard. The only set of toppings that managed to be more disappointing than the Frenchie was the surprisingly indistinctive melange of creamy, crunchy nothingness that comprised the Mariachi.

illustrative photo of the Frenchie-beef-hot-dog-from-Oprha's-at-Mercato-Metropolitano

The Frenchie.

illustrative photo of the Mariachi turkey hot dog from Oprha's at Mercato Metropolitano

The Mariachi.

The New York only had – as dining companion Crispy Rendang insisted on pointing out – only a passing similarity to a typical dog from the Five Boroughs. Even so, its combination of crunchy onions, salty bacon bits and tangy sauce with a rich dollop of crème fraiche was richly satisfying. This was even the case when vegan-ified, which saw the removal of the bacon and crème fraiche.

illustrative photo of the pork New York hot dog from Oprha's at Mercato Metropolitano

Pork New York dog.

illustrative photo of the vegan New York hot dog from Oprha's at Mercato Metropolitano

Vegan New York dog.

Oprha’s selection of dogs may not be a Crufts winning line-up from beginning to end, but is certainly no dog’s dinner and is one of my favourite stands at Mercato Metropolitano.

★★★★☆

Average cost: £8-9

La Trattoria del Mercato

La Trattoria del Mercato is one of four stalls at Mercato dedicated to pasta, betraying the Italian origins of the place. It should be your first port of call if you rightly tire of queuing at the nearby Padella. The narrow yet firm tagliatelle was a star attraction in its own right, but was made even better by the sweet, tenderised courgettes. Their clean aftertaste let the gently melted burrata ooze into the limelight. A little of the stark white goodness went a long way, its milky creaminess responsible in large part for the plate licking deliciousness of this dish.

illustrative photo of the Tagliatelle with courgettes, burrata and truffles from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano

Tagliatelle with courgettes, burrata and truffles from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano.

The pappardelle wasn’t quite up to the standard set by Lina Stores for this pasta, but the strands were still thick and supple enough to be crowd pleasing. The best thing on this plate had to be the meaty, bittersweet sausage ragu though. Its already superlative moreishness was turbo boosted by a judicious but nonetheless highly effective dusting of umami parmesan.

illustrative photo of the sausage ragu pappardelle from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano

Sausage ragu pappardelle from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano.

Al dente rigatoni came in a carbonara sauce which, while not quite as well-executed as the very best precision-made versions in Rome, was still a far cry from the wan, heavy and sickly imposter that has infiltrated supermarkets and lesser Italian restaurants across the country. The sticky, lightly creamy sauce had its rich salty umami goosed even further by the fatty smoky charms of guacinale. It did what so many other carbonaras fail to accomplish – delight and satiate.

illustrative photo of the rigatoni carbonara from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano

Rigatoni carbonara from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano.

Thin, narrow and flat sided strings of firm pici came slicked in a sauce full of unexpected nuance. Its umami, milky and gently woody charms were neatly balanced by a restrained but nonetheless notable pepperiness. This dish’s genteel and understated nature in no way diminished its deliciously sophisticated qualities – if anything, it underscored, underlined and highlighted them.

illustrative photo of the pici cacio e pepe from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano

Pici pic.

A special of tajarin al tartufo is most definitely worth grabbing whenever it appears, based on my experience. The thick yet narrow strings of pasta had a tender bite and came coated in a lightly eggy sauce. As comforting and pleasurable as this duo was, it would only have been half as enjoyable without the generous topping of fragrantly earthy truffle shavings.

illustrative photo of the tajarin al tartufo from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano

Tajarin al tartufo from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano.

La Trattoria del Mercato’s non-pasta specials should not be overlooked. Sliced pluma iberica was consistently, exquisitely tender with a gentle umami and hints of sweetness. Judicious applications of salt and fruity olive oil emphasised these qualities, completing a small but perfectly formed porcine treat.

illustrative photo of the Pluma iberica from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano

Pluma iberica from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano.

Porchetta, actual honest-to-goodness porchetta, is a rare treat in London. La Trattoria del Mercato’s rendition, while not quite as well accomplished as the version from the now departed Il Ghibelline stand, was nonetheless highly respectable. Each thinly sliced wafer of pig was not only moist and meaty, but rimmed with fat and tinged with a bittersweet, almost aniseedish herby hit. The accompanying selection of vegetables were competently executed, but unremarkable, which does at least mean your attention should be directed to the porchetta – as it rightly should be.

illustrative photo of the porchetta from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano

Porchetta from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano.

Vegetarians shouldn’t feel left out, given the charms of the aubergine parmigiana. Lashings of sweet and umami tomato sauce, which avoided falling into the trap of being too thick and cloying, came layered lasagna-style between alternating sheets of thin yet fleshy aubergine. A light dusting of parmesan was the umami cherry on top of a neat, tidy and precisely executed dish.

illustrative photo of the aubergine parmigiana from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano

Aubergine parmigiana from La Trattoria del Mercato at Mercato Metropolitano.

Ordering pasta at a street food market seems inexplicably wrong, as if you’re breaking some unspoken rule that any foodstuff ordered from a market stall has to be in a bun or something you can’t prepare at home. Ignore any such baselessly reactionary instincts – if you visit Mercato Metropolitano and don’t eat something from La Trattoria del Mercato, then you’re really missing out.

★★★★★

Average cost per dish: £7-12

Lebanese Canteen

The Lebanese Canteen is another one of Mercato’s curiosities – a stand that largely fails to serve up a passable rendition of its intended cuisine, despite plenty of quality examples around town. There was remarkably little on The Lebanese Canteen’s that looked specifically Lebanese, with most of its dishes falling into a vaguely pseudo-Levantine/Turkic netherworld.

Lamb shish was charred and smoky, but also drier than my gusset at the sight of a gammon on Question Time. Falafel were crunchy on the outside and smooth on the inside, but severely lacking in the distinctive taste of either chickpeas or broad beans. Neither the hummus nor the weirdly supermarket tortilla-style flatbread would pass muster with anyone over the age of 12.

illustrative photo of the lamb shish kebab from Lebanese Canteen at Mercato Metropolitano

Lamb shish kebab from Lebanese Canteen at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the falafel from Lebanese Canteen at Mercato Metropolitano

Falafel from Lebanese Canteen at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the halloumi from Lebanese Canteen at Mercato Metropolitano

Halloumi from Lebanese Canteen at Mercato Metropolitano.

Lebanese Canteen? More like Lebanese Can’t Even.

★★☆☆☆

Average price per dish: £9-12

Little Sicily

There’s a fellow serving up Sicilian sweet and savoury treats from a trabant parked permanently in the middle of the east hall and he often seems like a lonely chap. His custom is seemingly few and far between, which may explain his brusquely morose attitude to customer service. This gruffness is worth putting up with though, given the exemplary nature of the cannolo.

The pastry was neither too think nor too brittle, not too hard or too stodgy. The fluffy, gently sweet filling was also a delight, with these qualities consistent across multiple visits. The filling could’ve done with more candied fruit and a punchier dose of ground pistachio or chocolate for company, but this couldn’t detract from its innate charms.

illustrative photo of the cannolo from Little Sicily at Mercato Metropolitano

Cannolo.

illustrative photo of the candied orange cannolo from Little Sicily at Mercato Metropolitano

Cannula.

illustrative photo of the cannoli-from-Little-Sicily-at-Mercato-Metropolitano

Cannoli.

I’m not usually a fan of marzipan despite my fondness for almonds, but I’ll certainly make an exception for Little Sicily’s cassata. The marzipan shell came filled with pistachio cream, the exceptionally soft exterior thankfully neither too gooey or plasticene-like despite appearances. Unsurprisingly, the boldly nutty tastes of almond and pistachio complimented each other beautifully.

illustrative photo of the pistachio cassata from Little Sicily at Mercato Metropolitano

Top…

illustrative photo of the cassata from Little Sicily at Mercato Metropolitano

…and side.

Little Sicily’s arancini wasn’t as accomplished as the food truck’s dessert dishes, but it was by no means a total loss. The shell wasn’t as crisp as I would’ve liked, but it was at least oil-free. The mantle of rice underneath was also unremarkable, but the core of molten mozzarella was unapologetically gooey, its creamy folds dotted with smoky, meaty doses of nduja.

illustrative photo of the nduja and mozzarella arancini from Little Sicily at Mercato Metropolitano

Curiously, Little Sicily is one of the very few traders to have its own branding on full display, unobstructed.

Little Sicily doesn’t always have pannelle available, but it’s worth snapping them up when they do. These fluffy soft deep-fried chickpea wafers are essentially chips for all intents and purposes, but made from chickpeas rather than potatoes. That doesn’t make these little morsels any less light or moreish, especially when taken in a seeded sandwich bun. It may ‘just’ be an Italian chip butty, but it’s no less enjoyable for the resemblance.

illustrative photo of the panelle from Little Sicily at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Panelle sandwich from Little Sicily at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

This stand may be small in stature, but Little Sicily has stature where it counts – in the kitchen. It’s the best dessert option at Mercato Metropolitano by a country mile.

★★★★☆

Average cost per dish: £2-4

Pasta (Pala and Matterello)

Pala and Matterello is the newest of Mercato’s four pasta stands and rivals Ze Spätzle Club as the one in need for most improvement. The thin, narrow tagliatelle was too soft, while the boar ragu on top was mildly sweet and moreish, but had little in the way of meatiness. An ultimately drab affair.

illustrative photo of the boar ragu tagliatelle from Pala and Matterello at Mercato Metropolitano

Boar ragu tagliatelle from Pala and Matterello at Mercato Metropolitano.

Pala and Matterello’s pasta envelopes have nothing on the refined ravioli of Fitzrovia’s now sadly departed Latium, but at the last the spinach and ricotta filling was reasonably creamy and bitter. Surprisingly, the boar ragu showed some improvement with more umami and sinewy meaty chew than before. Not bad.

illustrative photo of the ravioli from Pala and Matterello at Mercato Metropolitano

Ravioli from Pala and Matterello at Mercato Metropolitano.

The generous helping of gnocchi ultimately couldn’t make up for its excessive softness or its tame tomato sauce.

illustrative photo of the gnocchi from Pala and Matterello at Mercato Metropolitano

Gnocchi from Pala and Matterello at Mercato Metropolitano.

Pala and Matterello’s pasta isn’t irredeemably bad, but it has that most unwanted of fillings – regret and sadness.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per dish: £10

Ramen (Juzu)

Juzu doesn’t serve tonkotsu, my favourite ramen of all time, but it can knock up a highly respectable shoyu ramen. Thin, moderately springy noodles cane in a broth with a chicken and soy-like umami that was bold but never overpowering. Bean sprout filler was kept to a minimum, while the slice of pork belly was earthy and meaty. It’s definitely worth ordering the optional extra toppings of rich, runny egg and umami nori. They should really be included as standard, but I won’t quibble too much given that street food ramen in London can often be quite shoddy.

illustrative photo of the shoyu ramen from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano

Shoyu ramen from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano.

As if to prove that latter point, Juzu’s miso ramen had a one-dimensional umami and surprisingly substandard noodles with none of the pleasing mouthfeel from the noodles that grace the shoyu ramen. There wasn’t even enough of the cubed aubergine, the vegetarian-friendly stand-in for the pork.

illustrative photo of the miso ramen from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano

Miso ramen from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the aubergine miso ramen from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano

Aubergine miso ramen from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano.

The skins of Juzu’s gyoza were far too soft and greasy. The fillings were at least reasonably bold, whether you chose the pork and chives or the vegetarian cabbage, albeit not especially memorable.

illustrative photo of the pork gyoza from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano

Pork gyoza from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the vegetable gyoza from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano

Vegetarian gyoza from Juzu at Mercato Metropolitano.

Juzu’s gyoza were a mixed bag, while the wobble in the quality of its noodles is a cause for concern. Must try harder.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per bowl of ramen: £8.50

Seafood/Fish Lab (James Knight of Mayfair)

Of all the stands at Mercato, James Knight of Mayfair has the most pretentious name. I employed the overused P word there quite deliberately, as I don’t see what’s so Mayfair about a Southwark street food stall operated by a seafood wholesaler with offices in Vauxhall and Coulsdon. Perhaps their social-climbing aspirations live in Mayfair, I dunno.

Thin yet fleshy rock oysters would’ve been a winner but for their excessive brininess.

illustrative photo of the Rock oysters from Fish Lab at Mercato Metropolitano

Rock oysters from Fish Lab at Mercato Metropolitano.

The quality of James Knight’s grilled fish dishes depends on who does the grilling. If it’s the annoyingly loud and showy beardo, then you’ll end up with a meagre-sized strip of overcooked seabass that manages to be stodgy and oily too.

illustrative photo of the grilled sea bass from Fish Lab-James Knight of Mayfair at Mercato Metropolitano

With all the grilled fish dishes at this stand, you can opt for a simple, refreshing green salad or so-so fries as accompaniments.

illustrative photo of the sea bass from Fish Lab-James Knight of Mayfair at Mercato Metropolitano

Beardo’s manhandling of the sea bass was consistently bad across multiple visits.

If almost anyone else takes charge, then you’ll end up with a sensibly seasoned and just cooked serving of meaty swordfish or tuna. The latter was particularly winsome with a crisp, neatly browned exterior and a quivering purple interior.

illustrative photo of the grilled swordfish from Fish Lab-James Knight of Mayfair at Mercato Metropolitano

The film Swordfish, starring Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman, is a brilliantly funny watch for all the wrong reasons.

illustrative photo of the grilled tuna from Fish Lab-James Knight of Mayfair at Mercato Metropolitano

Atun.

The ceviche was pleasing for all the wrong reasons. The bitty and anonymous sea bass was easily outshone by the buttery borlotti beans and the gushy squirt of lemon juice.

illustrative photo of the ceviche from Fish Lab at Mercato Metropolitano

Ceviche from Fish Lab at Mercato Metropolitano.

There was precious little majesty in the ‘Royal’ Tuna Bun. A buttery brioche hot dog roll came filled with orange-flavoured tuna and more cheap filler greens than a Pizza Hut salad bar. Even the floppy potato wedges were weedy.

illustrative photo of the royal tuna bun and potato wedges from Fish Lab-James Knight of Mayfair at Mercato Metropolitano

Royal? Peasant, more like.

I could more readily forgive James Knight’s prima facie ridiculous name if the standard of cooking at their Mercato stand was more consistent. Oh well.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per dish: £8-10

Slow smoked BBQ (Prairie Fire)

I’ve covered Prairie Fire before, but sadly this once highly commendable American barbecue stand hasn’t kept pace with the competition.

Pulled pork was reasonably dense, moist and tender, but lacking in character. It was a similar story with the beef brisket. While avoiding the boot-like dryness and toughness that afflicts the most amateurish versions of this barbecue classic, there was precious little bark and almost no extant connective tissue. Without either, this brisket proved to be remarkably dull despite its tenderness.

Illustrative photo of the pulled pork from Prairie Fire at Mercato Metropolitano

Pulled pork from Prairie Fire at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the beef brisket from Prairie Fire at Mercato Metropolitano

Brisket from Prairie Fire at Mercato Metropolitano.

Given the unbalanced nature of its core barbecue staples, it’s surprising that Prairie Fire has branched out into burgers – and rather poor, deliberately derivative burgers at that. This Big Mac imitator, like its famous forebear, leaned far too heavily on the sweet burger sauce for flavour. The meagre, flat, well-done and heavily ground double patties had all the appeal of a lengthy PowerPoint presentation. The less said about the dour bun and American cheese, the better.

illustrative photo of the burger from from Prairie Fire at Mercato Metropolitano

Burger from from Prairie Fire at Mercato Metropolitano.

Prairie Fire isn’t irredeemably bad, but there’s little reason to opt for its increasingly quotidian barbecue when the superlative Texas Joe’s is just a few minutes walk away.

★★★☆☆

Average price per dish: £8-12

Spätzle (Ze Spätzle Club)

While Ze Spätzle Club has now stopped using annoyingly pushy touts to punt its German pasta, it’s not hard to see why they resorted to such undignified desperation. Its bitty Teutonic macaroni was of a consistently shrug-inducing quality.

With no mouthfeel to speak of, extra pressure was laid on the sauces which were ill-equipped to take the load. The mushroom and chestnut sauce was vaguely earthy, nutty and milky, but these qualities were far too transient. Surprisingly, the spinach, gouda and gorgonzola sauce wasn’t that different. There was a hint of blue cheese tang in this sauce, but there wasn’t much in it. The best bits of both variants were the toppings of smoky, chewy and fatty speck as well as caramelised shallots and crunchy pomegranate.

illustrative photo of the mushroom and chestnut spätzle from Ze Spätzle Club at Mercato Metropolitano

Mushroom and chestnut spätzle from Ze Spätzle Club at Mercato Metropolitano.

spinach, gouda and gorgonzola spatzle from ze spatzle club at mercato metropolitano

Spinach, gouda and goronzola spätzle from Ze Spätzle Club at Mercato Metropolitano.

If Ze Spätzle Club were an actual club, I’d have resigned my membership already.

★★☆☆☆

Average price per dish: £7

Sushi and sashimi (Katsuma)

Serving up sushi and sashimi, especially from a street food stand, strikes me as a matter of logistics as it is cheffy knife skills. Predicting demand and then ordering just enough high-quality fish to meet it is not a task that I envy.

Katsuma gets around this logistical conundrum by using consistently limp, insipid quality fish cut with questionable ability. If the swimmer in the yellow fin tuna chirashi sushi ever had anything worthy to say for itself, then it was lost by being brutally cubed poke-style. The London poke impersonation was completed by the rock hard small-grained rice and an overabundance of sweetcorn and edamame. The most impressive elements in this bowl, by far, were the briney sweetness of the pickles and seaweed in addition to the salty soy sauce.

illustrative photo of the tuna chirashi sushi from from Katsuma at Mercato Metropolitano

Yellow fin tuna chirashi sushi from Katsuma at Mercato Metropolitano.

Whether as uramaki, temaki or sashimi, Katsuma’s drooping salmon and tuna had all the fun and appeal of a Aramaic translation exercise. At least the uramaki and temaki had the benefit of creamy sauces and avocado, nutty sesame seeds and crunchy shallots. The small-grained rice was far softer this time around and no longer an exercise for one’s jaw muscles.

Illustrative photo of the uramaki from Katsuma at Mercato Metropolitano

Uramaki from Katsuma at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the tuna temaki from Katsuma at Mercato Metropolitano

Tuna temaki from Katsuma at Mercato Metropolitano.

The least offensive of all the dishes I tried was, unsurprisingly, the prawn katsu temaki roll – a dish most suited to street food life. The nori wrapper was a tad too chewy, but that might just be me. The soft medium-grained rice, creamy avocado and crunchy, malty golden brown panko made up for the weeny shrimp and shrug-inducing tobiko.

illustrative photo of the prawn katsu temaki roll from Katsuma at Mercato Metropolitano

Prawn katsu temaki roll from Katsuma at Mercato Metropolitano.

Katsuma deserves some credit for attempting to serve sushi and sashimi from a market stall, but that credit runs out when their efforts fall so short.

★★☆☆☆

Average cost per dish: £9-10

Taco house (Hermanos)

Hermanos has outlasted many other Mexican stands at Mercato Metropolitano, but it’s difficult to see why. Not only are the staff some of the most morose and taciturn that I’ve ever encountered at a street food stand, their cooking is almost as charmless.

The tortilla used in the quesadilla was remarkably soft, but that’s all this folded and stuffed flatbread had going for it. It’s difficult to decide what’s worse – the doleful Red Leicester cheese or the watery guacamole which consisted more of tomatoes and lemon juice than it did of avocado. Piss poor.

illustrative photo of the quesadilla from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano

Quesadilla from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano.

The tortillas used in the overstuffed tacos were soft yet sturdy, but also characterless – if they had been made out of maize flour, then they hid it well. The bovine flesh used in the beef tacos was dense, but dull and overly reliant on an overdose of tame avocado and relatively umami tomatoes for flavour.

illustrative photo of the beef tacos from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano

Beef tacos from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano.

The chook in the chicken tacos was even more forgettable and the cloying sour cream should be buried in a deep, dark ditch and left to slowly rot, but at least the hot sauce had some punch to it. The best parts of the pork tacos weren’t the limp pork or the tepid sauces, but the sharp punchy onions and the crunchy, earthy bits of crackling. If everything served up by Hermanos was visceral as those bits of crackling, then we’d all be better off.

illustrative photo of the chicken tacos from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano

Chicken tacos from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the pork tacos from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano

Pork tacos from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano.

The most well-rounded of all Hermanos’ tacos was the vegetarian version. Bitter spinach, earthy mushrooms and a salty, wispy cheese made for an unexpectedly winsome hattrick.

illustrative photo of the vegetable tacos from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano

Vegetable tacos from Hermanos at Mercato Metropolitano.

With the close proximity of Santo Remedio, London’s best Mexican restaurant, there’s precious little reason to eat at Hermanos.

★★☆☆☆

Average cost per dish: £8-15

Super Gringas and Guacamole

Despite its name, this unusually-named stand doesn’t serve gringas – a sort of cross between a quesadilla and an al pastor taco. You only have a choice of two tacos at this stand and while the thin yet sturdy tortillas were otherwise nothing to write home about, it’s still worth giving the tacos a shot.

Although the pork in the al pastor tacos was a touch too dry for my liking, the meat did have a moreish sweetness. It was nearly overwhelmed by the heat of the spicy sharp relishes though. There’s clearly the beginnings of a good taco here, but it needs more balance and finesse to reach its full potential.

illustrative photo of the al pastor tacos from Super Gringas and Guacamole at Mercato Metropolitano

Al pastor tacos from Super Gringas and Guacamole at Mercato Metropolitano.

The beef short rib tacos were more fully-formed with dense, moist meat tinged with tangy sweet hints of orange.

illustrative photo of the beef short rib tacos from Super Gringas and Guacamole at Mercato Metropolitano

Beef short rib tacos from Super Gringas and Guacamole at Mercato Metropolitano.

Despite its somewhat unbalanced al pastor taco, Super Gringa’s tacos are already far better than those available from Hermanos, Mercato Metropolitano’s longest-standing Mexican stand. Here’s hoping Super Gringas lasts longer than the other short-lived Mexican stands that have come and gone from Mercato. It’d be a real shame to see it vanish before its full potential can be realized.

★★★★☆

Average price per dish: £9-10

Thai (Pad Thai House)

This stand’s prawn pad thai more closely resembles the food churned out by London’s drab, by-the-numbers high street Thai restaurants than the dishes from the capital’s far smaller clutch of Thai restaurants actually worth visiting.

There was a hefty portion of supple, narrow and thick rice noodles, but their umami was rather generic and the shrimp had little to say for themselves. The one saving grace here was the help-yourself tubs of crushed nuts and crispy, chewy shallots by the till. If you must have the pad thai at Mercato Metropolitano, then load up on both as you’ll need them.

illustrative photo of the pad thai from Pad Thai House at Mercato Metropolitano

Pad thai from Pad Thai House at Mercato Metropolitano.

★★☆☆☆

Average price per dish: £7

Turkish mezze and grill (Duman kebabs)

Given the quality of London’s mangal ockabasi, Duman’s mixed kebab was surprisingly humdrum. Lamb and chicken doner were limp and lifeless, leaving it to the thick, milky halloumi to pick up the slack. The thin flatbread was good enough its own right – pliably soft and fluffy – but it lacked the puffy, moreish charms of a Turkish-style pide fresh out of the oven. The latter may be too much to hope for from a street food stall, but high quality doner really shouldn’t be given that Duman goes to the trouble of assembling their meat tornadoes by hand, rather than buying them in pre-assembled.

illustrative photo of the mixed kebab from Duman at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Mixed kebab from Duman at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Disappointing, Duman. Disappointing.

★★☆☆☆

Average price per dish £8-10

Turkish Garden

I’m uncertain as to whether the Turkish Garden is run by the same people behind Duman, but I’d be surprised if they were given the significant gap in quality between Mercato Metropolitano’s two kebab stands. Thin yet soft, pliable and hearty flatbreads accompanied each and every one of Turkish Garden’s kebabs (as did a heap of rather forgettable salad).

Underneath their lightly springy crust, each thick and juicy kofte had hints of offal and paprika which made them even better than some of the koftes available on Green Lanes. The kofte kebab was consistently good across multiple visits; the same couldn’t be said for the accompanying hot sauce which steadily decreased in heat in almost every subsequent visit.

illustrative photo of the kofte kebab from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano

Kofte kebab from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the lamb kofta kebab from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano

Lamb kofta kebab from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano.

Cubes of lamb shish were often too tough to cut and chew, an annoyance which dissipated the goodwill that had been generated by the shish’s offaly moistness. Lamb chops proved to be far better, not only in tenderness but in character too thanks to strips of neatly rendered fat and a heavy dusting of thyme and seasoning.

illustrative photo of the lamb shish kebab from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano

Lamb shish kebab from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photos of the lamb chops from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano

Lamb chops from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano.

As expected, there was more fat and connective tissue than muscular meat on the lamb ribs. Their crisp bouncy crust and neatly tenderised strips of fat was let down by the occasional bit of tough sinewy flesh. Even so, it was still enjoyable – especially when paired with the chilli sauce which had rediscovered its fiery self.

illustrative photos of the lamb ribs from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano

Lamb ribs from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano.

The thin and elastic dough wrappers of the gozleme came stuffed with bittersweet spinach, warming herbs, gooey cheese and moreish chicken mince. With the presence of potatoes for added ballast, these gozleme were almost a meal in of themselves.

illustrative photo of the gozleme from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano

Gozleme from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano.

The quality of the gozleme has since declined though, ironically ever since Turkish Garden opened a second indoor stand dedicated to the dish. Both stands now prepare the gozleme in advance and reheat them to order. A minced meat ‘special’, while far from inedible, was considerably less moreish, bittersweet and gooey despite containing many of the same fillings as the one I had before.

illustrative photo of the minced meat house special gozleme from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano

Minced meat house special gozleme from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano.

In a strange bit of menu transferral and cross-branding that’s also historically apropos, Turkish Garden now sells some of the German dishes previously served at the German Kraft beer stand. The German items are curiously branded under Ze Spätzle’s brand, even though that pasta stand has never sold anything other than pasta, as far as I know.

If you’re really into sausage, then it’s worth bringing a fellow carnivore along to enjoy the two person minimum platter heaving with wurst. Lightly piquant sausage was joined by a smokier variant and a delightfully fatty version that was almost cheesy in its mouthcoating charms.

The sausages were almost upstaged by the smoky saltiness of the smooth speck though, which was a delectable meaty treat in its own right. Although the burrata was served bone-cold and therefore had little to say for itself, the cubes of smoked cheese almost made up for this disappointment. Although the mustard only had a light heat to it, it’s still worth slathering over the sausages.

illustrative photo of the German sausage platter from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

German sausage platter from Turkish Garden at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Turkish Garden is, for now, only a temporary outdoor fixture at Mercato Metropolitano during the warmer months but it’s easily good enough that it should be the market’s permanent Turkish kebab trader.

★★★★☆

Average cost per dish: £12 (£7 approx per gozleme)

Vegan Shack (Love Shack)

The Vegan Shack appears to be the first attempt at Mercato Metropolitano to board the all-plant bandwagon and I’m surprised it’s taken this long. The results, however, leave much to be desired.

The Mexican-style mushroom and walnut burger is perfectly fine, as long as you don’t expect it to resemble a beef burger or anything remotely Mexican. The patty resembled an earthy, nutty stuffing, but there was a bit too much sweetness from the toppings of avocado and pineapple. I could also have done without the vegan cheese, which resembled a slice of butternut squash on the verge of going off more than anything dairy. All this overstuffing meant there was inevitable spillage, despite the valiant efforts of the toasted bun. There’s the core of a respectable meat-free hot sandwich here – it just needs fewer toppings. Or at least better executed, less misguided ones.

illustrative photo of the vegan burger from Love Shack at Mercato Metropolitano

Vegan burger from Love Shack at Mercato Metropolitano.

The vegan salmon bagel reminded me of plastic food replicas designed for display in restaurant windows, the kind made and sold in parts of Japan such as Tokyo’s Kappabashi district. Like a toy sushi roll, this replica salmon bagel looked the part but the resemblance was only skin-deep. Despite the initial hits of dill and smoke, the crispness of the ‘salmon’ easily gave it away as carrot. The vegan cream cheese was a surprising non-entity, tasting of nothing, while the toasted bagel didn’t have the chewiness that I crave from a good bagel. Thanks, but no thanks.

illustrative photo of the vegan smoked salmon from Love Shack at Mercato Metropolitano

Vegan salmon bagel from Love Shack at Mercato Metropolitano.

Like many green tea drinks outside of Japan, the matcha shake here was barely identifiable as such. It tasted less of matcha and mostly of banana with a bitter hint of spinach. Neither thick nor cloying, it was actually a soothing treat as long you don’t expect it to taste like matcha.

illustrative photo of the matcha shake from Love Shack at Mercato Metropolitano

Matcha shake from Love Shack at Mercato Metropolitano.

One day London vegans will get grown-up, all-plant street food worth eating at Mercato Metropolitano. That day isn’t today.

★★☆☆☆

Average cost per dish: £5-10

Vietnamese

Supping noodle soup out of a laminated cardboard bowl seems rather undignified, but it’s worth doing for the half-decent pho available from this stand. Although the shreds of beef were scanty in quantity and surprisingly tough, the rice noodles were supple and milky. The broth was reasonably umami with hints of star anise, but was a little too dependent on the coriander and the sweetness of the crunchy fried shallots for flavor.

illustrative photo of the pho at Mercato Metropolitano

Pho at Mercato Metropolitano.

The rice flour wrappers of the summer rolls had just the right amount of elasticity, while the filling was spot on with a hearty amount of vermicelli joined by punchy fresh mint, bready tofu and tart pickles.

illustrative photo of the summer rolls at Mercato Metropolitano

Summer rolls at Mercato Metropolitano.

It’s a shame those same pickles were absent from the various banh mi – their sour tartness would’ve made for a better counterpart to the various sandwich fillings than the throwaway salad and surprisingly tame sriracha-style sauce. The squidgy, bready tofu braised in soy sauce for a bold umami was the best of the fillings. Unexpectedly moreish chicken came in second, while the one-note caramelish sweetness of the tender pork brought up the rear. The baguettes used were of a decent standard – crispy, airy and light. While hardly the best banh mi you can get in this town, these will do in a pinch.

illustrative photo of the tofu banh mi at Mercato Metropolitano

Tofu banh mi at Mercato Metropolitano.

Illustrative photo of the chicken banh mi at Mercato Metropolitano

Chicken banh mi at Mercato Metropolitano.

illustrative photo of the pork banh mi at Mercato Metropolitano

Pork banh mi at Mercato Metropolitano.

The Vietnamese restaurants of Kingsland Road have little to fear from Mercato Metropolitano’s Vietnamese stand, but its reasonably flavoursome fare is worth considering if you want something filling yet light.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per dish: £7-9

Waffles (Waffle On)

In the UK, waffles haven’t really acquired the same revered comfort food status that they have in the US. That’s not going to change as a result of Waffle On’s efforts.

The inoffensively soft and bland waffle is the undemanding sort of thing you might feed to a fussy child. That might have worked but for the inoffensively soft and dull fried chicken. If it wasn’t for the honey-sweet syrup with a hint of spice, I’d have sworn this was a Bernard Matthews effort.

illustrative photo of the fried chicken waffle from Waffle On at Mercato Metropolitano

Fried chicken waffle from Waffle On at Mercato Metropolitano.

Opting for a waffle topped with bacon and egg wasn’t much better. The crispy American-style side bacon was clearly inferior to any proper British-style back bacon, while the runny fried egg was only modestly rich – even with the dash of syrup.

illustrative photo of the bacon and egg waffle from Waffle On at Mercato Metropolitano

Bacon and egg waffle from Waffle On at Mercato Metropolitano.

Why does this stand exist? Why?

★☆☆☆☆

Average cost per dish: £5-£7.50

 

Autumn 2019 new traders update

Deliciously British (Roast To Go)

This flag-waving stand is actually an off-shoot of Roast, a Borough Market restaurant, with a short menu consisting almost entirely of roasted meats.

The roast pork belly, while respectable, wouldn’t be my first pick to represent our archipelagic nation. While the white meat itself was a characterless affair, it did have the advantage of a neatly tenderised rim of squidgy fat and chewily moreish crackling. Served in a ciabatta with fennel-like coleslaw and a sweet apple sauce that was neither cloying nor sickly, it was a satisfying enough affair. The accompanying chips, while too thin for my liking, were at least cut from whole potato with their crisp exteriors generously seasoned.

illustrative photo of the roast pork at Roast at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Roast pork at Roast To Go at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

illustrative photo of the roast pork ciabatta with chips from Roast To Go at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Roast pork ciabatta sandwich with chips from Roast To Go at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Roast chicken retained a respectable level of moistness, all the more remarkable given its time underneath a heat lamp. It was – as expected given the state of most chicken dishes on this island – an otherwise unremarkable bird though. More joy was to be had from the doughy, herby and bittersweet stuffing which was almost like a savoury biscuit from the American South. if you must have this chicken then it’d best to have it on its own, rather than inside a ciabatta, given its relative heaviness. Salad, dressed with a helping of pickled onion slices, was much needed for its refreshing qualities.

illustrative photo of the roast chicken at Roast at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Roast chicken at Roast To Go at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

illustrative photo of the roast chicken ciabatta from Roast To Go at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Roast chicken ciabatta sandwich from Roast To Go at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

The best thing from Roast To Go, by a country mile, was the Scotch egg. The crisp, tightly crumbed shell cradled herby, bittersweet sausage meat and a runny, barely set egg yolk. Although the sausage-egg ratio was heavily skewed in favour of egg, I still happily devoured Roast’s Scotch eggs on multiple occasions.

illustrative photo of the scotch egg from Roast To Go at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Scotch egg from Roast To Go at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

illustrative photo of the scotch egg from Roast Deliciously British at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Scotch egg from Roast / Deliciously British at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Roast’s titular meats by no means bad, but the star dish here was clearly the Scotch egg. Order a few of those to go along with some of the better dishes from the more commendable stands at Mercato Metropolitano.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per main dish: £8-10

 

Fry shack (La Cotoletta, formerly Tutto Fritto)

Mercato Metropolitano’s stand serving fried and deep-fried Italian dishes has already revamped itself in the few short weeks that it’s been trading. Originally branded Tutto Fritto with a menu based around tempura-like dishes and suppli, an arancini-like treat, it has since rebranded itself as La Cotoletta.

If La Cotoletta’s eponymous dish looks familiar, that’s because it’s basically veal Milanese but with adult cow as the protein of choice. The thinly sliced mystery meat tasted as it could’ve been anything though, but the quality of the fine-grained breadcrumbed exterior couldn’t be faulted. All the oil-free crunchy exterior needs is a better quality protein partner. As it was, the cherry tomatoes and umami parmesan did all the heavy lifting.

illustrative photo of the steak cotoletta from La Cotoletta at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Beef cotoletta from La Cotoletta at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

illustrative photo of the beef milanese from La Cotoletta at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Beef milanese by another name…?

Fried chicken breast looked alarmingly like a helping of chicken nuggets. The soft, seamless batter almost resembled the coating of chicken karaage in its bubbly texture, but it didn’t have the same crunch or moreishness. It was ultimately a rather unmemorable affair, especially given the chunky and relatively moist, but shrug-inducing breast meat underneath.

illustrative photo of the fried chicken breast from La Cotoletta at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Fried chicken breast from La Cotoletta at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

It’s a shame that La Cotoletta has discontinued its vegetable ‘tempura’ as that fritto dish was easily superior to either of its current carnivorous options. Although the beef cotoletta in particular isn’t without its charms, you’re generally better off with the arancini from Little Sicily if you fancy something suited in breadcrumbs. It takes a masterful level of logistical and culinary expertise to pull off budget-priced meat dishes that do the animal justice. That expertise just isn’t present here.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per main dish: £9-12

 

New Age Caribbean cuisine (Juici Jerk)

I’m both baffled and uncertain as to what makes Caribbean cuisine ‘New Age’ or not, as Mercato Metropolitano insists on branding Juici Jerk. Perhaps it’s because some of the dishes seem toned down for the lily-livered palates that still rule much of this island. The goat curry was a timid affair, but at least the meat itself was tender, while the accompanying plantains were sweet and starchy.

illustrative photo of the curry goat from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Curry goat from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Jerk chicken thighs had more character, with a gentle tang and hints of chilli heat running through the succulent meat and skin alike. It could’ve been even punchier, but that’s not Juici Jerk’s main problem. That would appear to be consistency in execution. A subsequent helping of jerk chicken served on a supermarket-quality naan was a far blander affair that had little to recommend it.

illustrative photo of the jerk chicken from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Jerk chicken from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

illustrative photo of the jerk chicken naan from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Jerk chicken naan from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

A vegan-friendly curry of chickpeas and sweet potato was unexpectedly fiery, the potent sauce forcing rivulets of sweat from my forehead. Although undoubtedly hearty, the chilli heat did overshadow the sweetness of the pumpkin-ilk and the chickpeas were arguably verging on mushy. One step forwards, two steps back.

illustrative photo of the chickpea and sweet potato curry from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Chickpea and sweet potato curry from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Battered shrimp served skewered were only modestly crisp and overly dependent on slices of tingly hot bird’s eye chilli for character.

illustrative photo of the battered fried shrimp from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Battered deep-fried shrimp from Juici Jerk at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

If Juici Jerk can sort out its consistency issues and decide whether it wants to pander to middle England’s secret lust for blandness or not (hopefully not), then it could become one of Mercato Metropolitano’s most spendworthy stands. For now, it’s merely a mid-level contender if you’re panting for jerk in Southwark and won’t take no for an answer.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per main dish: £9-12

 

Nina Metayer

This stand has largely taken over the pastry-slinging duties from Drogheria, Mercato Metropolitano’s in-house grocer, and immediately stands out for other reasons. It’s not only one of the very few stands free from the market’s insistence on its own in-house branding, it’s also the only one named after a person.

The thinness and crunchiness of pastry used in the lemon tart was remarkably even. It’s therefore a shame that the filling itself was only intermittently tart with a bit too much cream floofed on top.

illustrative photo of the lemon tart from Nina Metayer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Lemon tart from Nina Metayer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

I was more taken with the Paris Brest. The soft, lightly chewy pastry was more like choux than the stodgier doughs I’ve seen in other renditions of Paris Brest. It contrasted well the crunch of hazelnuts which, along with hazelnut-flavoured cream, brought an unmistakable and distinctly enjoyable nutty air to the proceedings.

illustrative photo of the Paris Brest from Nina Metayer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Paris Brest from Nina Metayer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

An unassuming chocolate confection had more to it than meets the eye. A crunchy chocolate cookie contrasted cozily with the chocolate cream. Although more complex bittersweet flavours would’ve been welcome, the combination of crunch and billowy fluff was enough to win me over.

illustrative photo of the chocolate entremet from Nina Meteyer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Chocolate entremet from Nina Meteyer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

The miniature cheesecake would arguably have benefitted from a base of some sort as well as tarter, sharper raspberries. Even so, the milky creaminess of the cheese-based filling – possibly ricotta – was a good fit for the sweetness of the berries. A classic combination and for good reason.

illustrative photo of the raspberry mini cheesecake from Nina Metayer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Raspberry mini cheesecake from Nina Metayer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Nina Metayer also serves up a smaller range of savoury items, such as focaccia. Although the vegetable element of a special topped with aubergine failed to impress due to its weediness, the bread itself was eminently scoffable. Soft with a tearable elasticity and tinged with oregano, it was a carby treat from beginning to end.

illustrative photo of the focaccia from Nina Metayer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Focaccia from Nina Metayer at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Nina Metayer’s baked goods weren’t all resounding successes, but the quality was generally high enough to make its selection well worth diving into.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per pastry: £5

 

Okonomiyaki (Maido)

Various guest stands have popped-up at Mercato Metropolitano to sell okonomiyaki before, but Maido is the first permanent one as far as I know. The okonomiyaki served here are, broadly speaking, Hiroshima-style rather than Kansai-style. As a result, there’s exponentially more cabbage forming the base of the Japanese flour pancakes made and served here compared to the ones at, say, Bloomsbury’s Abeno.

Having a huge cabbage base with the other ingredients layered on top, rather than mixed together, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki aren’t to my taste. A version topped with a mix of pork and prawn turned out to be a rather threadbare affair with unsatisfyingly weeny bacon bits and shrimp atop a meagre layer of batter that was difficult to appreciate. Even the bonito flakes were still and lifeless.

illustrative shrimp and bacon okonomiyaki from maido at mercato metropolitano southwark

Shrimp and pork okonomiyaki from Maido at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

illustrative photo of the pork and shrimp okonomiyaki from Maido at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Pork and shrimp okonomiyaki from Maido at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Surprisingly, the plain okonomiyaki topped with nothing more than spicy sauce was a somewhat more enjoyable affair. The fluffy soft and gently chewy batter was far easier to appreciate, shorn of the subpar protein. Mildly tart and sweet brown sauce and the lightly piquant sriracha-style spicy sauce were far better partners for the batter than second-rate bacon and shrimp. The unwantedly buxom layer of cabbage was, of course, still present though.

illustrative photo of the spicy okonomiyaki from Maido at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Spicy okonomiyaki from Maido at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

This stand also sells onigiri, but the shrimp and avocado-filled variant would’ve been better suited for pelting fascists than for human consumption. The damp, yet simultaneously hard and claggy rice was one of the most unpleasant things I’ve shoved into my mouth since my last lover’s unmentionables. Even if the shrimp and avocado hadn’t been vanishingly lilliputian in portion size, it wouldn’t have saved this clot of misery from the bin.

illustrative photo of the shrimp avocado onigiri from Maido at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Shrimp avocado onigiri from Maido at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

If you’re a fan of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, then opt for the plainest versions possible. Otherwise stay away – and under no circumstances should you attempt to ingest the onigiri.

★★☆☆☆

Average cost per main dish: £9

 

Pastorcito

It took two years for El Pastor to go from one full restaurant to two, one near Borough Market and the other near Kings Cross, but less than a year for this budding Mexican restaurant empire to open two food court/market stall off-shoots. The first Pastorcito is a tentpole operation at Arcade Food Theatre, while the second stall here takes the place of the short-lived Super Gringas and Guacamole.

Surprisingly, the tortillas used in the tacos here were of a better quality than those at Arcade Food Theatre. Fluffy soft, yet sturdy, they were apt conveyors for all of the taco fillings that I tried. Meaty, succulent fish came in a crunchy batter free from excess oil, while pickled onions provided a touch of sour tartness.

illustrative photo of the baja fish taco from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Baja fish taco from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

The intermittent fruity tang of the moist chicken was sadly drowned out by an overzealous application of deadening sour cream. The eponymous al pastor was a better carnivorous option. Lean yet lightly smoky with a fruity sweetness, the al pastor tacos were highly satisfying.

illustrative photo of the chicken taco from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Chicken taco from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

illustrative photo of the al pastor taco from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Al pastor taco from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

The sole vegetarian taco is, on paper, the same as the one at the first Pastorcito – peas, corn and Oaxacan cheese. It was far better than its West End counterpart though, with the light yet gooey cheese providing much of the visceral satisfaction. There was more corn than peas, but the vegetal duo still provided a crispness that contrasted well with the cheese, completing a well-rounded plate.

illustrative photo of the peas, corn and Oaxacan cheese taco from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

Peas, corn and Oaxacan cheese taco from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

Like its full-blown restaurant forebears though, Pastorcito struggles with consistency. Despite the superlative showing by the al pastor tacos, a super gringas filled with the pork on a subsequent visit wasn’t anywhere as delightful. Blander and greasier than a motorway services burger, it bore vanishingly little resemblance to the swine flesh from before. Plus, compared to the super gringas I devoured at the first Pastorcito, it was a meagrely portioned little thing. A hearty application of optional spicy sauce was needed to make this otherwise dour dish edible.

illustrative photo of the al pastor super gringas from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark

An al pastor super gringas from Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano Southwark.

The El Pastor restaurants have always struggled with consistent execution, especially of their signature pork. Sadly, that affliction has spread to their Pastorcito spin-offs. While the Pastorcito at Mercato Metropolitano was still far better than Hermanos, this market’s other Mexican stand, its potential to truly lead the way for Mexican food in London remains unfulfilled and as far out of its reach as ever.

★★★☆☆

Average cost per main dish: £10

Conclusions

It’s easy for newcomers to be impressed by Mercato Metropolitano. The seemingly wide range of street food traders all under one-ish roof appears, at first glance, to have something for everyone. As is often the case though, choice isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Of the 31 permanent stands originally reviewed at this Southwark food court, only seven scored Four Stars or higher in my estimation. Just seven. 11 scored a middling Three Stars, while 13 scored Two Stars or less.

If Mercato Metropolitano’s management was as diligent in applying some sort of quality control (difficult as that is) as they are at whitewashing each trader’s individual branding, then perhaps it’d have a higher proportion of street food stalls actually worth patronizing.

Although one stand is given over to a rotating selection of guest traders, it’s not really enough given both the number of traders in short-term residencies across the capital as well as the number of traders facing permanent displacement at the nearby Elephant and Castle shopping centre.

Even though far too many of Mercato Metropolitano’s stalls serve unbalanced, flawed or middling dishes, those 12 are still worth choosing over some of the rotting dreck that plagues the average high street. But then there’s the other problem – this market isn’t as welcoming as it could be.

While getting a seat isn’t a problem at lunchtime, you have to get here early for dinner or face standing while eating and balancing your food on whatever spare surface you can find. Far too many of your fellow diners treat the hall like a giant pub, occupying tables and drinking long after they’ve finished eating. That alcohol spending probably suits Mercato’s management and traders just fine. But it also closes off this market to so many other potential diners, from the elderly and those with kids to those who simply want to eat at a time in the evening that isn’t 6pm.

Then there are nagging issues such as not enough vegetarian options, the indoor areas becoming overly warm and stuffy in summer, a lack of kid-sized portions at many stalls and a recently introduced ban on bringing in bottled water. Which would be if there was freely available tap water inside, but there no longer is. In theory, Mercato Metropolitano is open to all. In practice, it has inadvertently become a self-selecting haven for the physically able 20-30 somethings who like to milk a pint of beer. As if there aren’t enough places in London for them already.

In some ways, Mercato Metropolitano represents London’s wider dining scene in microcosm. The gems are outnumbered by inexplicably popular dross and finding a seat can be hard. Innovation isn’t as common as you’d think, while traditional street food dishes as they exist in their home countries are absent or grossly oversimplified. For street food halls and food courts to truly take root in London and become more than a novelty, these issues will have to be overcome. Otherwise they’ll stay stuck in a niche, seen as little more than a specialist pursuit for sozzled young professionals, and that really would be a shame.

Stands to visit at Mercato Metropoitano Southwark: Le Beefed, Champagne Fromage, Colombian ceviche (La Cumbia), Pizza Napoletana (Fresco’s), Hot dogs (Oprha’s), La Trattoria del Mercato, Little Sicily, Turkish Garden

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