When I started working in the Northern Quarter a decade ago, The Market stood out. It had a personality of its own in a city where few restaurants did. There was never anything fashionable about the green and white place on the corner of Edge and High Streets, its name a tribute to the long-gone Smithfield produce market. It was just the quaint side of twee, the opposite of Modern British: Old Fashioned British, and vaguely continental in its drift. The menu was small, the service friendly, the food delicious. It was the site of my first happy encounters with an Omelette Arnold Bennett and a Kir Royal. I ate there maybe ten times over the years, never had a bad meal and recommended it to people all the time. Maybe half the time I'd hear back that they'd had a less than amazing meal or actually thought I was nuts for sending them there. But I also knew people who felt the way I did about it. The place seemed to inspire this sort of crazy devotion. The people who liked it really liked it.
I heard it had been sold a few years back to someone who liked it the way it was and visited for the last time not long after the handover and ate well. I heard mixed reviews about the place after that, so it wasn't an enormous surprise when I walked by last week and saw that it had been shuttered and painted tomato red. Some snooping around the neighbourhood revealed only that the new tenant had something to do with Kahlua and pigeons. Confusing. Then I read yesterday that its going to be the site of a pop-up Mexican Coffee House sponsored by Kahlua, involving the creative minds from Teacup and Cakes and The Liquorists. I'm still not sure how the pigeons got in there, but all will surely be revealed. It's also unclear whether The Market will be back afterwards, though the restaurant's twitter feed seems to indicate that it will.
Granted, I'm pretty much the walking target demographic of a place that serves Mexican food, screens The Big Lebowski and Duck Soup and slings drinks made with Kahlua, a heavenly liquor I have been eagerly consuming since the age of 16 when I used to haul a bottle and a gallon of milk to keg parties. But I'd be sad if the Market didn't return. There's a lot more choice and variety in the city's restaurant scene today than there was even ten years ago, and it's easy to see how the place fell out of step with its upwardly-trendy neighbourhood (the arrival of the sleek Northern Quarter Restaurant right across the street was probably the beginning of the end for the restaurant in its old incarnation.) Still, I can't help but feel that a Northern Quarter that doesn't have room for The Market is a smaller, less interesting place. After the four-week pop-up pops off, let's hope it comes back in top form.