Food review: Moli, Shrewsbury Market Hall
Market food. Urgh. Weak tea and stale cake. Curled cheese sandwiches and angry waitresses with breath that smells of fag ash. Such is the stereotype of market cafes. And yet that image couldn’t be more outdated.
Markets have come a long way since the days of indifferent service and sub-par food. Units that stand side-by-side with artisan producers, great bakers and brilliant butchers are getting increasingly savvy. They’re using the best possible ingredients, serving dishes that are quickly made and provide instant refreshment and offering service with the biggest of smiles.
Shrewsbury Market is a great example of what happens when stall holders get it right. In recent years, the market’s reputation has flourished as new stall holders have booked spaces along those who have been long-established.
And it’s not just deli store holders, greengrocers and other traders offering fine produce who are doing well – it’s also people selling street food, international flavours and the best of local.
At Shrewsbury Market Hall, there’s much to enjoy. The Bird’s Nest Café prides itself on offering produce sourced locally, in addition to plenty of Fairtrade and organic ingredients. Café AleOli is as busy as Paddington Station during rush hour as customers flock to enjoy its Spanish-style tapas.
Garlic prawns, patatas bravas, pinchos, garlic and stuffed mushrooms and churros with dipping chocolate feature from Tuesday to Saturday. All dishes are homemade, using Spanish produce and locally sourced bread, eggs, meat and fish.
House Of Yum is one of the market’s more interesting stands. It offers Thai street food in a unit that has the coolest vibes. Green curries, plenty of fish dishes, vegan offerings and more have earned it a stellar TripAdvisor rating from the town’s discerning lunchtime diners.
There is more to choose from. Mrs Dal Kaur specialises in Indian Street food, offering chicken, chilli, lamb, chickpea, daal curries, as well as vegetable and lamb samosas.
Fishmonger Ian Cornall has one of the market’s most popular stalls, a fish stand that offers Cornish and Scottish fish. Since its launch back in February 2009, Ian Cornall’s seafood bar in the Market Hall has gone from strength to strength. Called Saint Pierre, the name for John Dory in France, it has a European feel.
Ian says: “We wanted to give shoppers a chance to share our appreciation for fish, seafood and cookery and the seafood bar provided the perfect opportunity to do just this. People are becoming more adventurous with their food, visitors can sit and enjoy Maldon oysters, a crab sandwich or a seafood gondola – complimented by selection of appropriate wines.”
Next to Sain Pierre is a delightful South East Asian stand called Moli Tea House. Run by businesswoman Angela Jones, it offers a true taste of China.
Moli serves hand-made Chinese dumplings with an extensive range of loose leaf Chinese tea.
The hand-made dumplings are generously filled with fresh ingredients. Pork, beef, king prawns, delicious brown shrimp, sweet cabbage and dark kale are combined with fresh ginger and toasted sesame oil. There’s a vegan option made from local and exotic mushrooms.
Inspired by Sichuan cuisine the dumplings are served with a rich and spicy dipping sauce – Angela’s team provides separate bowls of soy, rice wine vinegar, sugar, pepper, chilli oil and crushed garlic so that people can make their own while they wait.
Their tea is imported directly from a small tea merchant in Sichuan. New teas are introduced seasonally. Freshly picked green tea arrives in spring, fragrant Jasmine tea is a mid-summer treat, while mellow Oolongs and earthy dark teas are perfect for autumn and winter days. Moli also sells loose leaf tea, tea gift boxes and hand-made glass tea pots. Moli opens from 10am to 4pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with a limited take-away service operating on Thursdays.
We called in on a Saturday to enjoy platters of dumplings on one of the coldest days in winter. Moli is very much a two-trick venue. Tea and dumplings are pretty much all that’s on offer, though there are a few additional sides, like sour-spicy kim chi, which my partner enjoyed before we got started.
We both opted for the dumplings – natch – with her mushroom-filled pockets of light pastry providing a pleasing lunch without offering any sort of razzle dazzle.
My selection of six bespoke dumplings were better. The flavours combined pork, squid, fennel, king prawn and such like, each offering a taste of something exotic. And though they weren’t particularly delicate – the pastry was a little flabby and they’d been over-fried, so some were a little scorched beneath – they were pleasant enough. The flavours were also okay, though lacked any sort of refinement.
That, however, is to be expected. Moli is a cheap and cheerful, sit-eat-and-go-kinda-joint. It makes no allusion to being anything it’s not. And while it can’t offer a gourmand experience – the pre-made dumplings are taken from the fridge or freezer, cooked quickly and served – it exceeds expectation when it comes to service. Moli’s team were pleasant, polite and remarkably charming when we enjoyed our lunch. Engaging, talking through the various fillings, offering chopsticks or conventional cutlery, they were a delight. They made what might have been an ordinary dining experience something far more enjoyable.
Moli probably isn’t looking to have a devoted band of regulars who visit for dumplings and never go elsewhere. That’s not the point. It’s part of a bigger picture – a great food offering where people can dine around the world at affordable prices while enjoying friendly service and doing a bit of shopping.
And while Moli itself doesn’t command the highest marks – three out of five seems fair – Shrewsbury Market would earn a higher figure. It’s greater than the sum of its parts, providing casual diners with plenty of options to eat, drink and make merry.
Certainly, our visit inspired us to go to the market again so that we can check out the other stalls and try globally-inspired cuisine from staff who really care.