There’s a real charm to sitting in a railway arch on a Southwark back street, trains trundling overhead, a skip of construction detritus your view through the window (this is an‘up-and-coming’ area), while enjoying great wine and food. 40 Maltby Street is not a West End dining experience – and is all the better for it.
Maltby Street – not a ‘market’, as some call it – became an off-the-beaten track destination for food lovers when traders from nearby Borough Market set out to do something more low-key last year (you can find our feature about it here).
Alongside shops such as St John Bakery, Monmouth Coffee, Kernel Brewery and Tayshaw greengrocers, Gergovie Wines sells bottles from just 25 small-scale producers in Italy, France and Slovenia, all who work without chemicals. And now they have a kitchen fitted to the premises, hired some chefs, installed a few tables and opened it to the public a few times per week.
You can choose from any of Gergovie’s warehouse wines at a £10 mark-up over wholesale price, or do as we did and let owner Raef Hodgson or one of his team pick something interesting by the glass. (The licence means you can drop by for a drink without eating.)
They open half a dozen or so bottles at the start of the evening – two red, two white, a sparkling and a rosé – and what is poured throughout the evening changes at their whim.
We started with an easy-going pignoletto (Italian frizzante) from a young Bolognese producer, Alberto Tedeschi, as we perused the small blackboard menu of Italian-influenced dishes.
Pumpkin with pisto and a fried egg saw perfect autumn squash paired with the Spanish ratatouille-style dish of stewed vegetables; tongue salad with orange, green tomatoes and parsley was a colourful and beautifully coherent plateful.
Quail with grapes and gravy was another seasonal treat – rustic, simple.
Plates of Parma ham and garlicky salami were assembled with top ingredients. A selection of three perfectly kept cheeses (Hafod Welsh cheddar, Stichelton blue, Stawley goats’) with bread finished things off.
Many dishes were served straight from the kitchen by the chefs themselves, or by the earnest young staff, who clearly care a lot about what they do.
40 Maltby Street has limited opening hours and doesn't take bookings, so it’s better to arrive early if you don’t want to risk waiting for a table.