Balham Farmers’ Market – dinner for a fiver

Being budget conscious and enjoying good food needn’t be mutually exclusive, as we found out during another trip to the Balham Farmers’ Market (held by the London Farmers’ Market, every Saturday, 9am-2pm). Much as they are delicious and tempting, food markets often have reputations for being on the expensive side, left for treats and showing off at dinner parties. We decided to see how far our five pound note for dinner time would go. We wanted rich, comfort food to satisfy us during the cold snap.

Our first craving? Sausages. Forever a winter staple, they largely remind us of fireworks night, served with jacket potatoes and baked beans. We stopped by Priors Hall Farm for our meat, where they displayed all manner of pork. We went for the original classic pork sausages, £2.30 for a pack of 4. We picked up red potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli from Ivy’s Farm Shop for £1 (4 potatoes, more than enough) and £1.50 respectively.

 

Cooking took about thirty minutes in total. The sausages weren’t pierced and actually plumped out in the oven. We added about 1/2 tbsp of butter and a splash of milk to the potatoes to help it form a creamy mash. The result? Dinner for two, farmers’ market style, for under a fiver. Lush.

 

Reviewed: The Supper Club Balham

Supper Clubs are a new breed of dining and, like most things that involve food, we were keen to try it out. Having been subscribed to the Balham Supper Club’s emails for months we finally made it to one last Thursday. Of course, this new way of eating-out-but-eating-in opens up a whole new set of social etiquette to deal with. Do we take off our shoes like we might in another person’s home? Do we offer to help with the washing up? How do we tip someone in their own home?

The host and chef, John, sent out an email with the set menu to tempt you to book (you can pre-order a vegetarian option):

Starter: citrus parsnip soup with rosemary hazelnut topping

Main: Roast belly of pork with marmalade verjuice glaze, rhubarb and plum relish with seasonal vegetables

Dessert: Clementines in Cointreau syrup, lemon buttermilk pudding

John sets a ‘suggested contribution’ at £22 per person (£10 deposit per person), and you bring your own booze. Rather than handing over cash to someone at the end of the night, there’s a discretionary jug placed on a shelf by the coats to add what you like to.

We arrive shortly before the sit-down time of 8pm and most people are already there, drinks open and breathing. There’s no real table plan, but we make our way to the table at the back which has vacant seats. We’re sat with another couple, Freya and Paul and a solo eater, Kat (who we have to thank for most of these pictures -must invest in a decent camera!). They were all great company, and very easy to make conversation with. Of course, it always helps if you all really like food. The supper club caters for a maximum of around 18 people, and we were spread over two tables.

 

 

 

The words ‘citrus’ and ‘parsnip’ seem like an odd combination of seasonal produce chucked into one pot but it really worked, especially with the soft, crunchy hazelnuts drizzled on top. The aperitif served on the side was a buttery pink peppercorn biscuit with a flavour that none of us except serial foodie Kat could guess – cumin.

 

Leaving us wanting more, we were soon served our main. It’s all served on one dish – you get what you’re given, rather than helping yourself to dishes in the middle of the table, where one person invariably hogs the carbs (there’s always one). The pork pulled apart easily when tucking in, and was laced with a deliciously sticky glaze. The seasonal vegetables chosen to accompany the pork consisted of green beans and sliced celeriac, and with the plum relish it all made for a very colourful meal. Who said January was drab?

Last but not least came more citrus bites in the form of clementines, buttermilk pudding and citrus sorbet. We’re not too fond of overly fruity desserts (reminds us too much of tinned syrupy desserts) but not a drop was left on our plate. Tea and coffee was served with mini chestnut meringues (no picture – d’oh!). All very lush.

The setting was so comfortable, like you’re in someone’s, erm, home. John’s daughter Sophie played host while John stayed mostly in the kitchen. One thing that has to be noted was how calm everything was; no clattering of plates or pots boiling over. Everything was in order, and this extended to the rest of the room. No washing up necessary, keep your shoes on.

John started out with holding his supper club once a month but thanks to more flexible work shifts, he’s extending this to twice a month, with the next one on Thursday 2nd February, with this exact menu. Book asap to avoid disappointment.

Thanks to Kat at Guestaurant for supplying the food pictures.

Enq: The Supper Club Balham

 

Balham high street: keep on shopping

Bonmarche closes next week, Lucas Bond closes next month. It’s not the best start to the year for Balham’s high street, that’s for sure. Shops come and go, that’s something to accept, but it’s what replaces them that is key to the make up of the main road.

Dare we say it, but Balham’s high street is losing some lustre. The last two high profile shop closures (M&S Simply Food and Woolworths) have seen bargain shops take up residence in their place. We’ve argued before that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with these shops, but when the high street is small enough as it is, we need as much variety as possible.

We would argue that Bonmarche wasn’t the best clothing shop for Balham anyway; a teensy bit dowdy where mid-length skirts are de rigour instead of a seasonal trend. What’s bound to replace it? We’re hoping another clothes shop to balance out the homeware and food shops, rather than compete against them.
One trend we’re noticing is organisations hiring space for afternoons, rather than renting out space. Pubs with the space to allow it are showcasing vintage fairs, car parks have markets and community spaces hold all manner of events. Where rents are increasing, these spaces give an opportunity to those who want to trade without the huge expense of a shop floor.

Whatever happens, the message is clear. We need to keep spending locally. This post isn’t meant to be preachy, but just voicing concern. Besides, there’s still plenty in Balham to get very excited about…
Let us know your thoughts about the state of Balham’s high street by leaving a comment below, and what you’d like to replace Bonmarche.