Just what the doctor didn’t order
TABLE FOR TWO Kathryn Flett tries to blend in among the ‘New Year New You’ crowd with a totally on-message salad… MARKET HALL 7/ 10
It being January, I am wearing only box-fresh “athleisure” (i.e. a pair of very taut jeggings, a baggy sweatshirt and my youngest son’s adidas running shoes), my hair is tied up in a messy pony and I am foregoing foundation in favour of tinted moisturiser. This, I think, is sufficient to ensure that a 54-year-old woman whose last gym membership expired in the early Nineties appears dialled-in to early 2019 and everyone will assume I exist on a diet of smart waters and fresh airs, lunging my way towards superskinny-mindfulness.
The truth is, of course, that I despise “Veganuary” and Dry-anyMonth-of-the-year. I am lucky enough to eat food for a stipend and I’m not about to stop doing it because Jools Holland has been mothballed for 12 months. My partner has a January birthday so we often throw an anti-sad party replete with alcohol and bowls of chilli made with red meat. There is also likely to be – gasp! – a cheeseboard with a side order of appropriate carbohydrates. This year, one invitee has thrillingly volunteered to bring a pavlova. Life is, in my opinion, too short not to do this. And if by doing it my life is shortened further, well, at least it will have been a fun life that, prone on my deathbed with arteries clogged by stilton, I shall look back on and smile. To recalibrate the adage: nobody ever gasped their last wishing they’d spent more time with their Nutribullet.
Anyway, on a Tuesday morning in early January, I am heading for an entirely seasonally appropriate lunch destination, the latest Market Hall (there’s one in Fulham and another in the West End) in London SW1, handily adjacent to Victoria station and indeed a javelin-throw away from Telegraph Towers. Previously a nightclub, this newish Market Hall is now a two-floor casual-dining multirestaurant pitstop-cum-arcade; imag- ine the edible bits of a summer festival, indoors (a roof terrace opens in spring).
When I arrived, at 12.28pm, there was a trickle of incomers, but by 12.45pm it was heaving and, judging by their destinations, very few punters were looking to buff their colons. Dining alone, however, I remained stoically on-message and, having worked out my options online, walked briskly past the ground floor bar (I did rather fancy a lager, it must be said), the fish-and-chips outlet Kerbisher and Malt, and Fanny’s Kebabs – tempting though they sounded – and instead located Squirrel, the “all-day fast casual healthy food and drink concept” mini-chain (there’s another in South Kensington), which boasts an “inhouse nutritionist”.
I ordered a soup of the day ( butternut squash) and – gah! – a “Guac ’n’ Roll” salad, containing chicken, brown rice, spinach, sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes, black beans, tortilla chips, avocado and pickled red onion, dressed in a lime jalapeño vinaigrette, and was given a machine that bleeps and flashes when orders are ready. Meanwhile, perched on a uncomfy little stool (reminding me, of course, that my gluteus could do with a buff), the peoplewatching was excellent. Just as I was wondering if the cast of Hamilton (playing across the road) had swung by en masse, some more predictable-looking locals rocked-up. Thus, watching florid-faced 20-somethings with pinky rings and arms in slings wearing their New-year-in-verbier wounds with pride alongside couples, co-workers, convivial family groups spanning several generations, middle-aged mums Gone to market: Squirrel’s “Guac ’n’ Roll” salad, above, didn’t quite live up to the picture, but Market Hall, main, has many more outlets to choose from and 20-something daughters, plus a bunch of tourists… I inhaled lukewarm soup (thin, but OK; I’d make better myself) and picked over a wan, limp, apologetic-looking salad that could have done with its own buffing, what with not remotely resembling the shiny California-ised version online.
So I was out of there, ASAP, up to the cheerier-looking first floor and, preempting Chinese NY, Baozi Inn for some “authentic northern Chinese street food”. I’ve never been to northern China so cannot testify to the authenticity of the dim sum, but the pretty five-piece Chengdu prawn and spinach dumplings, soused in soy, and the pair of perfectly crisp and sinusclearingly fragrant Sichuan cumin prawn spring rolls were exactly what the doctor almost certainly didn’t/ wouldn’t order, but really should. So, not only very happily stuffed I was allin for under £25 – always the right sort of price for lunch in January.
I forgot to order a drink at Market Hall, and as a lone-diner-table-hogger with later arrivals giving me looks of Pure Evil, I didn’t try to get one, so I left sooner than I would have liked. I could have whiled away the afternoon working through different menus but instead hastened to the station, purchasing an overpriced, ethically unforgivable single-use plastic bottle of poncy H 0 and
2 apologising to the planet repeatedly all the way home. At which point, cleansed of guilt, I was ready for supper and a nice glass of wine.
Cheers! Happy old-school new year.