What makes Doncaster Market the best in Britain?

Yorkshire Life food and drink consultant Annie Stirk discovers what makes Doncaster Market the best in Britain

There’s nothing I love more than browsing round a good food market at the weekend so when I heard that Doncaster Market had just been awarded the title of Britain’s Best Market 2011 by the National Association of British Markets Authorities, I couldn’t wait to visit.

The market is mostly under cover, housed in a series of fine historic buildings. But where it really comes up trumps is that, unlike many other markets, Doncaster focuses almost entirely on food, selling a mind-boggling array of high quality produce from all over the world.

The grey, drizzly weather on the Saturday of my visit had done nothing to put off the stalwart shoppers in search of a bargain. The adjacent car park was full to bursting and there was a real buzz in the air.

My eye was immediately caught by some great value bags of fruit and veg for just �1 each on the outdoor stalls. The displays were worthy of the finest greengrocers and everything looked fresh as a daisy.

Fresh meat and fish is very much at the heart of the indoor market and its longest standing butcher is Trevor Wilkinson of the award-winning Wilkinson’s Butchers, whose father started the business in 1954. In fine family tradition Trevor’s son, Daniel, now works on the stall and is also a sausage maker of some repute.

Not only is he the East Midlands and North West Champion Sausage Maker he’s also just come second in the Champion of Champions competition. When I pressed him for the secrets of successful sausage, Daniel told me: ‘I always use a mixture of both shoulder and leg pork, with a bit of belly thrown in for good measure.’

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The Wilkinsons buy all their pork locally and also cure their own bacon, which is a world away from most water-filled offerings found in some supermarkets.

The highlight of my visit was without a doubt the fish market where no less than 15 fishmongers sell a wide array of seafood. The displays are a feast for the eyes offering everything from halibut to haddock, squid to skate and tuna to tiger prawns. Many of the fish stalls also sell rabbits (both with and without fur or ‘jackets’ as the traders say), hares and other seasonal game such as venison, partridge and duck. Customers are also invited to tuck into a plate of their favourite shellfish including cockles, mussels, prawns and shrimps laced with salt and vinegar, there on the spot.

It was here that I found the oldest trader in the market, Norman Rouse, who will never give his exact age but is believed to be at least 90 and still has a twinkle in his eye.

On a recent visit to the market celebrity chef Anthony Worrall Thompson snapped up Norman’s entire stock of hares and is said to have declared: ‘I wish there were more markets like Doncaster.’

Cheeky banter is a great feature of the fish market not least from the Berry brothers, Nigel and Mick who have been running their fish stall for over 40 years. Nigel was 13 when he started work and remembers skinning 200 rabbits every Saturday. The brothers have noticed an upsurge in sales following a proliferation of fishy TV cookery programmes and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign.

Next is the International Food Hall, a true assault on the senses, housing around 50 food specialists under one roof. Many of these are award-winning producers, such as Rodger Topping, who supplies such esteemed establishments as Fortnum & Mason, Harrods and the Queen Mary cruise ship. I was particularly taken with Kostas Olive Bar, owned by Kostas Tsiknakis. Kostas grows his olives on his own farm in Crete, and then ships them over to the UK to be preserved in oil.

Another deli stall called Scicluna’s, run by another award-winning trader, Jose Cook, is a real potpourri of specialist produce. Jose sees her role more as a way of life than a job and says: ‘This is a true deli – if we don’t have what you want, we’ll get it for you.

The Corn Exchange a listed Victorian building is a welcome oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of the market and home to craft stalls. On Saturdays classical pianist Liam Brown tinkles the ivories and you can sit and relax among the potted palms and watch the world go by whilst enjoying a toasted teacake or full English breakfast. What a perfect way to spend the morning.

Doncaster markets have been named Britain’s Best Market 2011 by the National Association of British Markets Authorities. Judges said the award celebrated Doncaster’s fantastic fruit and vegetable, fish and meat markets, the variety of our outdoor traders as well as the antique and farmers markets. Doncaster Market is open on Tuesdays and Fridays 9am to 4pm and Saturdays 9am to 4.30pm. doncaster.gov.uk/markets

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