Street food focus: Mercato Metropolitano Elephant Park

Henry Norman visits Mercato’s recently reopened south London site – dining at Native, All That Falafel and Wing Span

Much like its rivals Boxpark, Market Place and Markets Halls, Mercato Metropolitano has been on the move recently. Providing further proof that, despite the downturn, demand for street food is still soaring, the specialist provider of Italian eats has recently opened in three new London locations.

Originally ensconced in Elephant and Castle, and then Mayfair, it has launched more recently in Essex, Canary Wharf and Elephant Park. The latter, as the name suggests, is located near to the company’s original spiritual home, though it is markedly different from the original outlet.

Providing something of a ‘mini-Mercato’ experience, Elephant Park is the smallest of the five locations. It only reopened four months ago, adding four traders, plus a bar, to a space that previously offered just desserts and coffee, courtesy of regular fixture Bandini, plus groceries from Native.

This legacy still looms large, as the entrance resembles a high-end café or casual dining restaurant; inside, the initial impression is akin to being in a Whole Foods or delicatessen type of establishment. The difference, however, is in the four traders who are lined up on the left, with ample, simple wooden tables and chairs placed in front for relaxed, sit-down dining.

Mercato has always reflected the commendable seriousness that the Italians apply to eating; and though you are free to order either via a QR code or at the counter, there is table service provided, both by the vendors themselves, as well as from the impressively attentive waiting staff who assist throughout. It’s not unlike dining at the recently reported-on Arcade in nearby Battersea – though is eschews the enforced service charge and hiked prices that prevail there.

Somewhat surprisingly, only one of the four traders provides Italian eats, so we decide to begin there. Pizza purveyor Native is a by-the-slice proposition that displays its wares – an impressive three of which are specials – proudly at the counter.

These are reheated extremely quickly and served straight to the table, and though this system means they are lacking a tad in temperature, they certainly aren’t in taste. The resistance offered by the crunch from the base is extremely satisfying, especially when accompanied by the tang of the tomato and the cream from the burrata.

Arriving hot on its heels is All That’s Falafel’s lamb shish, which is selected partly because its chicken counterpart sadly only comes in doner form. Pleasingly, the wrap is as well grilled as the meat and there is an abundant array of fresh salad present, including red cabbage and pickles, making it somewhat akin to a shawarma (which can never be a bad thing). This is topped off with a pot of authentic chilli, which adds an extra dimension not only to this dish, but also the remaining pizza crusts – and, indeed, pretty much anything else to hand.

Last up is Wing Span, which I can pay no higher compliment to than to say I still managed to make ample room for, despite coming hot from having recently judged the wings round at our own Street Food Championships. There were no sign of fatigue, though, as their poultry effort provides the essential contrast between crunch and juiciness from the exterior to the interior, along with a subtle kick from the crumb. Once you factor in the addition of the truly tasty dips, you can see why Wing Span has garnered awards of its own.

However, despite the one-in-four split between Italian and otherwise, the trader from Mercato’s motherland, Native’s pizza, is marginally the best. The overall experience itself is extremely enjoyable, with the waiting staff going well above and beyond what is typical in this market. I very much look forward to reporting back on this impressive Italian outfit’s other new outlets in the near future. They have much to live up to.

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