curiosity about the ways of the world

Wanted: a covered market for Edinburgh

Imagine this. A warm October evening in the covered market: on the ground floor stalls packed with gleaming fruit and veg, upstairs friends gather to chat, drink and eat. We wander round, selecting small dishes to taste, secure our stools by the bar and dream about what might have been in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms.

Ah, if only. Inside the City Council  other plans are brewing for the George Street building undergoing restoration. But come with us briefly to Madrid where the skies are almost certainly still blue and the air is warm. The metro whisks us to Gran Via, the nearest stop to the central Chueca district. Following the street map, and an email from a friend of a friend, we find the Mercado San Antón.

The new covered market  is a remarkable space for several reasons. Not least (if my Spanish is any way correct) because this shining emporium, completed this year, came in more than €3million under budget (Edinburgh please take note).

The building itself, squeezed into a bustling network of narrow streets full of small shops, is clearly not to everyone’s taste. Probably Madrid (observing the MAD in Madrid) likens it to the worst of British municipal architecture of the seventies

But others (see guiriguide) welcome the new market – there was an old dilapidated building on the same spot – as a contemporary twist to the city’s mercado tradition. Our friend of a friend is obviously among them:

Inside there are many stalls where you can try small portions of lots of different kinds of food and cheese and wine – very much like the Mercado San Miguel off La Calle Mayor – but bigger, there are 3 floors, and a huge roof terrace. You can take your food and drink and eat inside or outside. It is not as busy as San Miguel so you can at least sit somewhere!

We didn’t spend much time looking at the architecture, we were more intent on finding what was inside.  The roof terrace was full so we retreated to the second floor and spent a happy half hour tasting cheese, chorizo and anchovies with a glass (ok, two glasses) of chilled white wine.

The roof terrace at a quiet moment earlier in the day

Imagine, we kept saying, what you could do with a space like the Assembly Rooms. Bring the Farmers’ Market indoors? Invite new and traditional enterprising local producers from in and around Edinburgh to display their skills in the city centre? Encourage a multicultural market to celebrate Scotland’s growing diversity?

Ah, if only.  It’s all too late of course.  Back home in Edinburgh, rolling along George Street in a bus on a cold October evening, we look out of the windows counting the succession of bars, bistros and restaurants sliding by: Gusto, Browns, TigerLily, CentoTre, The Living Room, Cafe Andaluz.  Is Assembly Rooms really the best location for Jamie’s Italian?

The City Council has decided. Our fantasy covered market will have to find another location.  Leith maybe?


  1. Grace Ellis

    actually some of the shops are empty ? – actually haven’t been there for some time
    What if some stalls were to set up there anyway –
    maybe it could become a mkt by stealth ( dream on as they say !!!)
    though I suppose rents would be prohibitive
    so its not going to happen
    PS I have followed your Garden writing – Scotlands garden mag etc- I’m in GHS

  2. Administrator

    Thanks Grace, what a fascinating link to images of the old Waverley market and what a loss to the city. (I remember arriving in Edinburgh during the Fringe in the mid 70s to find Billy Connolly’s Great Northern Welly Boot show in that fantastic cavernous space – Princes Mall has never created that feeling of excitement: bland, chain store shops never could). So much potential in the empty properties and derelict sites in Edinburgh these days, here’s hoping someone has the courage and imagination (and cash) to bring it to life.

  3. Grace Ellis

    Yes if only Edinburgh had a central covered market – suitable for a farmers market
    or specialist food stall /shops…………………..

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