If someone had told us a year ago that Tooting, and Tooting Market in particular, would become one of our favourite weekend hangouts, we would have laughed. But, the truth is, Tooting Market has lots to offer and has become a bit of a hub for good food and drink. In the evenings, it transforms from a bustling and eclectic mix of stalls to a social hangout with something to suit everyone’s tastes. In the last 6 months we have seen it increase in popularity to the point where we need to book a table at Unwined (our favourite wine bar) in order to ensure they can fit us in, even when it’s been close to freezing outside. So what better way to start off our blogging, than with a bit of a back story as to why we are frequent visitors to the market, and an introduction to a few of our favourite hangouts. So for those who are feeling a bit sceptical at the thought of spending their evenings in a market, let us try to convince you.
This was the place that first encouraged us to venture into the market. We had lived in Tooting for 9 years without contemplating crossing the threshold so this was a big step for us. Located almost opposite Franco Manca (see below), Unwined is a friendly little wine bar offering a good selection of interesting wines to drink in or takeaway. This alone is good enough for us, but on top of that, every six weeks or so, a pop-up kitchen takes over the food offering in the compact little kitchen area, serving some very tasty dishes. The team at Unwined do a great job matching wines to the food on offer, and there is always a theme to the wine with an interesting back story as to why it has been chosen. I think this month’s theme is Survivors, so the story of one of the wines was about how the wine maker had survived cancer and how it had affected his ability to make his wine.
They also run frequent wine classes on a Wednesday, offering an informal and friendly way to learn a bit more about the grapes used to make the wine you’re drinking. On the evening we attended, this involved sampling 6 different wines from 2 different grape types and ended with a delicious cheese board. All for £15 which we thought was good value.
Kiki and Laura run the show and they’re passionate about what they do, and along with the rest of their team, they’re keen to encourage you to try wine that may not be your usual choice. Put simply, we think it’s great! Since March last year we have visited at least once a month and have always had a lovely time. In fact, it feels a bit like our local.
Graveney gin is a tiny but classy bar at the back of Tooting Market. Victoria makes and sells her gin from the (large) cupboard sized stall and you can see the gin still she uses behind the bar. When you meet her, her passion for what she does is obvious and it is the perfect ingredient for delicious gin. There isn’t a great deal of space in the stall, but thanks to its increasing popularity, tables are available in the middle of the market area in the evenings for you to sit at. This also allows you the opportunity to enjoy a pizza from Franco Manca along with your G&T!
One evening last year, after food and wine at Unwined and discussing the fact the neither of us really like Gin, we decided to pop over and see what all the fuss was about having heard a lot about this small batch gin craze that was in the midst of happening. ‘We don’t like gin!’ were the words we greeted Victoria with, not sure what sort of response we’d get. Fortunately this was a phrase she had heard before, so she simply smiled and set about changing our minds. In fact, it only took one drink, as a couple of measures of Graveney Gin over ice in a copper mug, some Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic water and a slice of pink grapefruit had us converted. This combination really brings out the botanicals in the gin which are complimented well by the grapefruit. They also offer a range of gin based cocktails, and the gin fizz is another favourite.
We like pizza! I’m not talking about Pizza Hut deep pan pizza, I’m talking about good pizza with a chewy sourdough base cooked in a wood-fired oven, that’s got just the right amount of toppings and not loaded with tomato stuff and layers of cheese. Franco Manca serve these pizzas and we really enjoy them. You won’t find your usual margherita or Hawaiian here but you will find something even more tasty, and probably for less money too! Franco Manca opened in the middle of 2016, and there was some concern that a bigger name restaurant may take away some of the charm of the market, but thankfully this hasn’t happened. They pulled off some good planning and have actually managed to include an upper seating level, so they can fit in quite a few diners in one go. It’s handy as it is a popular place to eat in the evenings with queues often forming. Of course, once you’ve finished, you can pop over to Unwined for a glass or two of the good stuff.
The Joint already have one location in Brixton, and have decided to join the growing food scene in Tooting market. This new addition sits closer to the main market entrance and when we visited one chilly Saturday evening in January, it was suffering from this a bit as the temperature outside was around freezing. Luckily though, they had set out a range of snuggly blankets to wrap yourself up in.
We’re big fans of slow and low BBQ cooked meat, and we’d wandered past The Joint a couple of times on our way to Unwined (can you see a theme to our visits to Tooting Market yet?), and having glanced at the menu, we knew we should stop for some food. American BBQ has been a bit of a trend over the last few years, with plenty of restaurants serving BBQ meat popping up, and we’ve had some really good slow cooked meat, so the menu which included pulled pork, beef brisket and shredded chicken, really appealed.
We sat at benches and ordered beef brisket, a BBQ pulled pork bun, cheesy fries and chicken wings. It was yummy. The beef brisket was served in a bap with lettuce, tomato and horseradish. The beef was perfectly cooked and full of flavour and the portion was huge. I couldn’t actually get my mouth around it. The cheesy fries were also a hit. The cheese had just the right amount of flavour and the chips remained crispy. The pulled pork, served in a potato bun with lettuce creamy crunchy slaw, was piled high, this was a generous helping of juicy succulent meat. I couldn’t help but spill some of the meat out whilst eating it, but it didn’t get too messy. The BBQ wings were as big as I’ve had for some time – great! Smothered in a lovely smoky sweet sauce, I didn’t mind getting messy fingers whilst enjoying the tender meat. We’re looking forward to going back when it isn’t quite so cold, to try some more of their menu.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief roundup of a few of our favourite places in Tooting Market, and perhaps it’s helped you decide to pay it a visit. There will be more blogs about each one when we visit them in the near future, along with some photos which will hopefully give you a better impression of what we’re trying to write about.