Working in the City, and being a veggie who doesn't like cross-contamination (which is rampant in local sandwich bars), one gets accustomed to a hurried lunch at the desk typically consisting of a fairly unimaginative soggy sandwich from the local supermarket. (Unless of course, one is organised and sensible enough to bring one's lunch in.) Which is why, it's a real treat to be within walking distance of this fantastic little food alley, that's really quite veggie-friendly.
Whitecross St is just a short walk from Barbican, Moorgate and Old Street stations. It lies just behind the Golden lane estate and a short hop, skip and jump from the local Waitrose.
The market runs Mon-Fri and the veggie stalls I list below are usually open on all those days. There is supposedly a specialist food market on Thursdays and Fridays, but the regular weekday stalls are not particularly augmented in terms of more veggie stalls or options on these two days, although the market is busier and has more food stalls on Thu/Fri.
Typically the food stalls pitch up at about noon and are mostly out of food by about 2, although the market website says the stalls are on till 5 pm.
Although there is no standard layout to the market, typical stalls include Hoxton falafel (about half-way up and with the 'long but quickly dealt-with' queue) , Mantra serving well-cooked Indian food (at the Waitrose-end) and the burrito shop which serves one veggie option. There are also other stalls serving Thai, traditional English and Asian cuisine. That said, I haven't noted these other stalls to be particularly veggie-friendly although they do serve vegetarian options. For instance, I detected a strong whiff of fish-sauce in the "vegetarian" curry served by the Thai stall. At the burrito shop as well, I sense a strong possibility for cross-contamination with the chicken/beef (but that could be me being paranoid), as atleast the chef in particular seems to be really clear about vegetarian options.
The falafel shop and Mantra are the best options for both vegetarians and vegans. The food is cooked to a very high standard for street food and its really easy on the pocket. The falafel with all the trimmings only adds up to £4.50 and for about £3 you can get a fantastic meal at Mantra consisting of 2 curries, rice etc. I strongly recommend both stalls for service and a really friendly attitude too.
There are also a few, nice, cake and pudding shops, although these are somewhat more expensive and stall owners are a bit confused about what the terms vegetarian / vegan mean. ("Oh, you're vegetarian, so that dish contains butter and you can't have it " is a common, confused response; so I dont expect them to have thought about gelatine / animal rennet usage .)
The one thing some people get quite concerned about with street markets is the levels of hygiene and cleanliness. All I can say is that I eat there almost every day and haven't fallen ill to date.
The market is quite busy , so there's nowhere to sit down and eat within the market itself. But there are tiny parks in the lanes nearby where you can sit down and enjoy your lunch. The local , slightly grotty pub on the corner called the Two Brewers, allows you to bring in your lunch from the market, if you buy a drink. The pub is quite friendly but you have to get there early to get a decent table so you don't end up wedged in beside the stinky toilet , the dart board or the constantly swinging front-door. It's quite down-to-earth, so don't expect somewhere gastro-pubby :-); just relax and enjoy your pint.
There is also a veggie sit-down restaurant called Carnevale on the same street (which I will review separately).
Last but not least, local attractions which you might wander to, if you're heading to the market and don't have to return to your desk are
- the Barbican with its varied attractions
- the temple of Mithras (haven't been)
- a couple of art galleries
- the local church which has been converted into a concert hall for the London Symphony Orchestra and often has free lunchtime concerts
- Bunhill fields
- the Guildhall
Whitecross Street Market