New Covent Garden Market may have a new location, but it continues to supply some of London’s biggest restaurants and venues with the largest selection of fresh produce and flowers going. In 2024, the market also plans to open a new Food Quarter. The Resident finds out more…
Londoners are an industrious bunch, as the businesses, individuals and buzzing communities we feature in The Resident family of magazines often show. One of the largest hubs of industry and trade is the historic New Covent Garden Market in SW8, which is evolving with the times, as I discovered bright and early (peak trading time at the market is 5am).
It has just relocated half a mile down Nine Elms Road, in order to continue its rich history of supplying top-notch London restaurants with fresh produce and of dressing royal palaces, hotels and homes alike with creative floristry.
Rather excitingly, it has also announced plans to open a new Food Quarter to serve the general public in 2024. There, you will be able to sample a mouth-watering array of food as well as feast your eyes on a breathtaking selection of flowers in the pedestrianised railway arches. It promises vibrant stalls, specialist food and flower shops, charming cafés and fantastic restaurants to residents and visitors from further afield.
The expanding marketplace has come a long way since its inception in the 17th century. The first incarnation founded back in 1670 was situated in Covent Garden, W1 (Eliza Doolittle as immortalised by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady springs to mind). In 1974, the market moved to Nine Elms, just two miles from Mayfair and four miles from The City. Since then, it has been the largest wholesale fruit, vegetable and flower market in the UK.
These days, it houses two Royal Warrant holders, who supply blooms to the most prestigious households in the country. Other well-known customers include The Dorchester, The Savoy and celebrity florists such as Simon Lycett, Shane Connolly and McQueens.
It’s the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of fresh produce, a rainbow of fruit and vegetables in every shape and size imaginable
It supplies the likes of the BAFTAs, the V&A, the Natural History Museum and St Paul’s Cathedral with their flower-related needs. The traders there today count themselves as the thoroughbreds of the floristry world, having garnered an exceptional level of expertise when it comes to foliage over the decades and around the world.
The market has survived with a degree of cunning: top floral designers come in person to find gems that can’t be sourced on the internet, thanks to exclusive seasonal flowers from niche growers in Italy, South America and the UK. Back in 1974, the most exotic flowers may have been mimosa, brought by boat train from the south of France; these days, the seasons blur.
On my bleary-eyed tour, I was lucky enough to feast my eyes on a kaleidoscope of long-stemmed roses from Ecuador, tulips from Holland and ferns from Florida, and to witness a convivial atmosphere of bartering based around a very real passion for produce.
The growing trend for indoor plants, botanics and succulents was also very much in evidence. There’s no getting away from it: these days, flowers are cool. You only have to look at the success of internationally acclaimed florists such as Phillippa Craddock or installation artists such as Rebecca Louise Law to see that.
The food market is equally impressive, and supply London’s world-renowned foodie scene with glorious field-to-fork ingredients that are a welcome antidote to processed foods. It’s the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of fresh produce, a rainbow of fruit and vegetables in every shape and size imaginable. Healthy eating was recently voted as the number one trend, with leading gourmet food delivery services such as The Pure Package boosting sales.
Restaurants such as Nutbourne pride themselves in seasonality and are proud supporters of the market – serving up winning dishes such as a salsify salad with pear, walnut, red endives, chanterelles, thyme and wood sorrel, and rhubarb served dehydrated, poached, as jelly or as granita.
It’s worth noting that until the Food Quarter launches, the market is primarily a wholesale trade market, and although anyone can visit, they recommend that the general public visit their local florist rather than visiting the market to buy. If you’re really set on visiting yourself, to buy for a birthday party or a wedding perhaps, it’s recommended that you arrive after 8.30am when most of trade customers will have finished their buying.
Nine Elms Lane SW8 5BH; 020 7720 2211; newcoventgardenmarket.com