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Let’s Not Go to Tesco – the supermarket invasion of Brixton

28 Jan


Over 200 pubs have been converted into supermarkets since the beginning of 2010, according to the Campaign for Real Ale. By far and away the main culprit is Tesco. To be fair to them, it’s so easy for Tesco to swoop in and make a grab as soon as a local pub goes out of business that if you were a corporate grocery giant with one third of all the country’s food, you’d do it. There’s no need for the supermarket chain to ask the council for planning permission, as, absurdly, changing a pub into a shop doesn’t count as a ‘change of use’.

Increasingly unwelcome and uninvited, ‘Express’ or ‘Local’ versions of the big chains are spreading like a fungal infection across Britain’s high streets. We mutter complaints about their arrival, but still use them. It’s just that they’re there, right? Right where you need them, at the end of the road stocked with bacon on a hungover Sunday morning, or on the way home from the tube on a rainy weekday evening. The long opening hours mean we get used to being able to buy food whenever the thought occurs. We know that it’s more expensive, but grudgingly accept it as a kind of laziness tax. We shop on the hop, when it suits us, just a few ingredients for that night’s dinner, and grow used to the high prices. And so the Tescopoly continues to grow.

If you live out in the sticks, a twenty minute drive away from the nearest proper supermarket, an Express opening down the road might be really handy. But Brixton has a fantastic market and some great independent shops. We don’t need this rash of supermarkets, but the chains are making sure we damn well get them anyway.

The campaign to save the Victorian George IV pub on Brixton Hill from the clutchy hands of Tesco has been up and running since the chain’s intentions became clear last year. Then news came in last week that Sainsbury’s plan to open a new 24 hour store on the corner of Tulse Hill and Water Lane. Yes, that’s right, that’s the other end of the street from the Sainsbury’s Local store on the corner of Water Lane and Brixton Hill.

Do join the campaigns and sign the petitions if, like me, you’re not that happy about this invasion. But how about also trying to avoid supermarkets as much as possible? Ok, I’m aware that I’m not going to bring down the corporate behemoth that is Tesco by buying my onions elsewhere, but I will save myself a fortune and know that it’s not my fault if every other Brixton shop becomes a supermarket chain. And even more than that, shopping in Brixton market and the surrounds is MUCH more fun.

Here’s where I’ll be shopping in my quest to resist the mindless lure of Sainsbury’s striplights, along with some Sainsbury’s Local or Tesco Express prices, so I can feel smug at how much money I’m going to save. If I’ve missed your favourite Brixton shop, do leave me a comment…

For meat: Dombey’s has been in Market Row since a very long time. Purveyors of great customer service as well as fairly priced meat, they are very knowledgeable and always happy to give advice. A whole leg of lamb is between £8 and £12, and I recently bought a massive pork loin joint for under eight quid. Oh, and don’t miss the homemadesausages.
Open Tues-Saturday from about 7.30-5, except Wed when they close at 3pm

500g extra lean mince £2.50 vs Tesco lean steak mince £4.00 for 500g
A kilo of chicken breast £5.99 vs. £10.63 per kilo at Sainsburys

For fish: I’ve written about Brixton Village’s Dagon’s before and continue to harp on about it because it’s the best fishmonger I’ve ever been to. Like Dombey’s, Dagon’s in a longstanding Brixton fixture that deserves plenty of praise for great prices and friendly, helpful service. 
Open 8-5 Mon-Sat, early closing on Wed at around 2.30

Salmon £7.10 per kilo vs £16.67 per kilo at Sainsbury’s  

For deli-type things: A&C Continental Deli is right by the tube and open until about 7pm on weekdays, so it’s very convenient. A tiny shop, it crams in a huge range of Mediterranean goodies – like morcilla sausage, smoked pork belly and cannelloni tubes – that are hard to find even in a large supermarket. Check out their olives, cheeses, homemade pesto and hummus  and cold meats. Be warned though, their white fluffy bread is highly addictive.
Open 8-7 Mon-Sat, closed Sun

100g olives  70p–£1 vs £2.45 for 180g at Tesco

For wine:You will almost certainly be ripped off buying wine in an express supermarket, as this Guardian column explains.  Far better to pay a visit to Market Row wines and ask David, the owner, what you should drink with you dinner/pour down your throat to get shitfaced.  The shop’s selection is thoughtful and reasonably priced, and will make buying overpriced Jacobs Creek from Tesco Express seem ludicrous. There’s also wine available by the glass, which’ll make the rest of the shopping trip more interesting. Now that’s not an option at Sainbo’s Local….
Open  12–6 Tues and Wed; 12–9 Thurs, Fri, Sat; 10–4 Sun, closed Mon

2011 Spanish Tempranillo £6.50, 2011 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc £7.99
Or, from Tesco, how about a Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay for £7.49 or Hardy’s Cav Sav for £7.99. No? Ok.

Nour-Cash-and-Carry from the Brixton Blog

Cupboard stuff: The Brixton Blog have written often about the excellent Nour, to which it seems unnecessary to add. With entrances at the top and of Electric Avenue and in Market Row, it might be slightly tricky to find the first time, and thanks to the odd shape of the premises, not easy to get into, but it’s full-to-bursting of all sorts of hard to find ingredients. I mean, they’re pretty difficult to find in Nour too, but odds are anything you want is in there somewhere…
Open 7am to 7pm everyday

Can of chick peas 35p vs 79p at Tesco
Fresh coriander around 50-70p a large bunch vs 85p for a few stalks at Sainsburys

Fruit and veg: Brixton is full of cheap fruit, veg, herbs etc, at prices sometimes a third of what the supermarkets charge. That first stall on Electric Avenue has been there for over fifty years, and is the perfect place to grab some fruit on the way to work. For me, wandering around Brixton market after work or at the weekend is one of the best things about living here. It is Brixton’s centre, and there’s not a self-service checkout in sight.

Five peppers from Brixton Market for £1 vs two for £1.25 at Tesco

And if you want to read more about how the supermarket chains are working their way into our high streets, there’s a good article here.

Herne Hill Farmers’ Market (*may not contain actual farmers)

1 Dec

An easterly wind on a Sunday has quite an effect on dogs in Brockwell Park. My human nose could detect the smell of cooking steak and burgers by the time I was level with the lido, so it’s not surprising that those with a powerful canine one were acting quite strangely.

Although some of the four-legged Brockwell regulars must be used to it now. When the Herne Hill Farmers’ Market first set up its gourds in July it became a fairly instant hit. One of ten markets run by a company called City and County Famers’ Markets, and organised in conjunction with the Herne Hill Forum, the market sets up every Sunday outside Herne Hill station at the pedestrianised end of Railton Road.

Now, a lot of people don’t like farmers markets. Perhaps they feel making food shopping into a pastime smacks of comfortable middle-class smuggery, and fetishising expensively produced food is a bit weird when many don’t have any at all. Or they are confused by the olive stall (there is always an olive stall), and wonder who is growing olives in the home counties. All fair points, but the solution is probably ‘Yes, so don’t go’.

The naysayers won’t be missed. Sunday lunchtimes are invariably buzzing. Sure, many people are just browsing, but popular items regularly sell out and, despite the increasingly cold weather, stallholders I spoke to a couple of weeks ago were looking forward to a busy and profitable run up to Christmas.

From apples to veal, chocolates to vintage plates, liqueurs to cake, the range of goods might play a bit free and easy with the term ‘farmers’ market’, but look past the handmade scarves and indefatigable cupcakes and there’s a pretty good selection of foodstuffs that you’d usually have to take a trip to Waitrose to find.

You’d expect meat to be expensive at Farmers’ markets, and mostly it is here. However, this Couldsdon- based butcher had plenty of game on offer, including rabbit, pheasant and partridge, at very reasonable prices. I love eating game. So much better than idiotic farm animals, drugged up and dependant. I like food that has lived on its wits and until one day losing the battle between gun and running away.


Running one of two wine stalls, Simon Fisher sells wine made from grapes grown around the south (yes, of England) and his Croydon-based West Fisher winery is one of three inside the M25. He’s also restoring a small vineyard in Kent. I bought a bottle of his wine, but sadly it doesn’t say ‘Wine of Croydon’ on the label. Possibly a good marketing decision on reflection.

Handmade Dandelion chocolates were pricy, but beautiful. Especially the metallic blue ones. I was too scared to try the naughtily tempting free samples – I could see exactly what would happen…

You can’t eat or farm vintage, but that doesn’t deter the four-or-so stallholders selling retro clothes and homeware. Here’s some Christmas things at the Society for Unwanted Objects. As well as his market stall James Castle’s Objects have been on sale at pop-up shops in Herne Hill, and he’s hoping to open a permanent shop next year.

The main reason for going to a Farmers’ market is to buy good quality food straight from the producer, who should be as locally based as possible. On their website, CCFM who run the market explain their aim that most of the food sold at their markets should come from within a 100 mile radius. And I’m sure this is mostly the case in Herne Hill. Although the cheese stalls seem to be mostly run by businesses based in Wales, Glasonbury and Bath (which seems a long way to drive a cheese to me), Kent, Sussex and Hampshire were all fairly well represented. Actual farmers may be somewhat outnumbered by vintage teacups, but there’s still enough interesting food on offer to make it well worth taking a stroll ­past the dribbling dogs in the park to Herne Hill on a Sunday.

The Opening of the Astoria – Brixton’s ‘wonder cinema theatre’

1 Nov

ImageIn the evening of Monday 19th August 1929 Brixton was in a state of excitable chaos. Despite the special parking that had been arranged for guests arriving by private motor car, Stockwell Road had become completely impassable. (I like to imagine laconic 1920s road rage, flappers gesticulating with cigarette holders etc).

The first to arrive had been a group of schoolboys, who took up residence on the steps at 8.45am. Through the course of the day they were joined by as many as 10,000 others in a queue that wound around the block and beyond. Some waited with the hope of securing one of the limited tickets to the gala opening night. Others just wanted to see the celebrities due to appear. But despite the crowds and the inevitable disappointment for some, the South London Press cheerfully reported that, ‘the greatest good humour prevailed’.

The management of the self-proclaimed ‘new wonder cinema theatre’ had been expecting, and no doubt hoping for this reaction from the locals. The Astoria had taken two years and £250,000 to build, and would be in competition with around nine other nearby cinemas. But Wall Street hadn’t yet crashed, the twenties were still roaring and the people of this popular South London shopping area were ready for a bit of West End glamour: 2.3 million tickets were sold in the Astoria’s first year.

When those who had been queuing all day were finally admitted they can’t have been disappointed. In the centre of the marble-floored foyer, flanked by huge bouquets of flowers, water flowed from a mosaic fountain into an engraved glass trough. The glamorous celebrity guests ascended staircases that climbed the foyer walls to reach their seats in the circle, passing an elegant tea terrace furnished with low wicker chairs. It was all thrillingly modern.

ImageThe previous Friday the Brixton Free Press had printed a special (no doubt paid for) supplement that listed every last detail of the new cinema. ‘It can safely be said that the directors of the Brixton Astoria have left no stone unturned in their endeavour to produce the cinema du luxe’ they gasped. But even four pages of gushing 1920s advertorial weren’t equal to the splendid auditorium in to which the first night crowd now flowed.

Trees and vines climbed the elaborate façade of the huge proscenium arch. Mock-Renaissance statues stood importantly in alcoves, among columns and urns, beneath a mini Rialto-style bridge from which singers would perform. The auditorium itself was crowned with huge copper dome, (large enough to cover the centre of Leicester Square! – the management jovially declared) on which lighting produced a ‘morning, noon and night’ effect. In her memoir of growing up in 1930s Brixton, Dora Tack remembers a ‘moon’ in the night sky that moved across the dome over the course of the picture. Even the carpet was designed to look a bit like a lawn, complete with crazy paving.  It was the start of Hollywood’s romantic golden age, and a replica of a classical Italian garden probably seemed an entirely suitable setting for watching its films.

ImageThe enormous safety curtain was raised at 7.15pm (it weighed 8 tons! – some murmured) to the South London Music Club singing the national anthem. Conservative MP Nigel Coleman took the stage to a fanfare, something I’m sure many modern Tories would love to see reinstated. He thanked owner Arthur Segal for choosing Brixton for the first of his Astoria cinemas (four more would follow in Streatham, Finsbury Park and on the Old Kent Road; all beautiful, but none so grand) and praised nominatively determined cinema architect Edward Stone for his remarkable design.

The main picture was Al Jolson in The Singing Fool. The film was a year old, why had they not shown a premier? – the South London Press wondered. Perhaps it was chosen as a guaranteed hit, or maybe the Astoria didn’t want to be upstaged by something new on opening night. As the follow up to The Jazz Singer, the first real ‘talkie’, The Singing Fool was actually quite an appropriate choice for an era perched between silent film and synchronised sound.

ImageThe gala night concluded with dancing by the Brixton Astoria’s Hudson Girls and music from the Astoria’s own in-house orchestra. ‘It is probable that no orchestra in the world has ever enjoyed playing to an audience in so magnificent a stage setting’ sighed the Brixton Free Press, a little ridiculously. The last 45 minutes of the performances were transmitted on the wireless by the BBC, the first time a broadcast had ever come live from a cinema, which was quite a coup for manager Charles Penley.

For the first few years of its life the Astoria would continue to show both silent films and talkies, alongside a variety programme. Odeon stopped most of these live performances after taking over in 1939, preferring to concentrate on the more lucrative business of showing films. The building survived both German bombers (nearby Quin and Axtens department store was almost completely destroyed in 1941) and the 1950s trend for ‘modernising’ that led to the ABC (now the Electric, formerly the Fridge) and the Classic (happily restored as The Ritzy) losing much of their original features.


A trolley clatters past in 1950

But, of course, the Astoria was too big to go on as a cinema forever. It was closed by its owners, the Rank organisation, in 1972, by which time only the circle was open anyway. There was talk of demolishing it, but fortunately it was awarded listed status. Various doomed projects came and went  – mainly based around live music and nightclubs, with even talk of an indoor skatepark at one point in the early eighties.


The Astoria in the 1960s

In 1983 the Astoria opened once again as the Brixton Academy. Rather than dancing girls and black and white movies, the entertainment on this occasion was reggae band Eek A Mouse. Live music had always been a part of the Astoria, even in its cinema days. It has seen performances from Shirley Bassey, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, among many, many others. Carling’s sponsorship in 2000 led to the brand’s name being affixed, then replaced by O2 in 2006.

There’s still often queues along Astoria Walk, alongside the right hand side of the Academy, where those Brixton cinema goers waited to see get a glimpse of the first ‘landscape cinema’ and watch their favourite Hollywood stars on the big screen. About which I’m sure Mssrs Segal, Stone and Penley would be pleased, even if a little unsure about the musical style of the entertainment, and probably the lager in plastic cups.

Many thanks to the Minet Library Lambeth Archives, and particularly to Clive and Rachael at the Cinema Theatre Association who are brilliant. Any errors very much my own.

Brixton author Katie Mowat launches her book at Seven

29 Oct

A guest post from editor Hannah Knowles on last week’s launch of Brixton-based author Katie Mowat’s lovely new book…

Last Thursday at the buzzing Seven in Market Row, there was a sprightly launch for the refreshingly non-twee and so-bright-you-can’t-miss-it knitting book Grannies Inc Guide to Knitting (yes I’m biased but it’s true).

 Brixton-based author, Katie Mowat, set up her company, Grannies Inc. in 2009 – a knitwear company with a difference: the products are made by the real experts, GRANNIES.

 Katie and the Grannies have featured in the Sunday Telegraph, Saturday Times Magazine and the Big Issue, and appeared on Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 show. Grannies Inc is a sort of antithesis to throwaway fashion - giving everyone who buys something through the website a real connection to the product and the person who made it too. (It’s also a great way to get lovely knitted things for those too cack-handed to do it themselves.)

Grannies Inc has been nominated for the ‘Smarta 100 Business of the Year’ award, given to ‘the most resourceful, original, exciting and disruptive small businesses in the UK.’ You can vote for them by clicking on this link.

We toasted all the hard work that has gone into Katie’s brilliant introduction-to knitting-with-a-difference with tasty tapas and plenty of cocktails and fizzy stuff. To see what the fuss it about, you can have a nosey at the book here.

Follow Hannah @sunshinesdaily

What is Remakery?

24 Oct

According to the Department of the Environment we throw away 290 million tonnes of rubbish every year in the UK. We are getting better at recycling – 40% of household waste and 52% of industrial and commercial waste was recycled last year – but that’s still a huge amount heading straight for landfill. Everyone (even people like Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn) agrees that this is both a terrible idea and totally unsustainable. Remakery aims to address this problem on a community level, creating workshops and other useful spaces where materials that would otherwise be thrown away can be collected and reused.

Like the Brixton Pound, Remakery originated with a small group of interested people at Transition Town. They came up with an idea for a ‘reuse centre’ but were still wondering how to find suitable premises when local councillor Steve Bradleycame along to a meeting and suggested a possible location on Paulet  Street, north Brixton.

Now, to call this particular spot an unloved corner of Brixton is being kind. A disused car park, popular only with fly tippers and dead foxes, the council were about to brick it up forever when Remakery got involved. Working with architects, the team came up a plan to make this otherwise useless space into the perfect home for a community of remakers. So the first job of Remakery – fittingly – is to recycle a building.

Project manager Hannah Lewis is one of the original team of three that first set up the project. She’s hoping that Remakery will be up and running by spring next year, but admits there is a lot of work to be done to the space to make it suitable for its new purpose. Some of the space will be workshops used by small commercial enterprises, whose business models involved creating products from scrap – so far over 90 busineses have expressed and interest, including bike repair, computer and IT reuse, furniture refurbishment, textiles upcycling. There will also be space for local people to learn new skills and try out their own ideas. As far as the team is aware, there is no comparable project anywhere in the UK, so they are prepared for the process to be a learning curve.  Before the contractors move in to do the heavy work the two main jobs are cleaning up and sorting through some of the reclaimed materials that have already made their way to the former garage.

To get this work done while involving as many people as possible, every Thursday has been designated a ‘site social’, giving anyone who is interested the chance to go along and contribute to getting the building ready for its reincarnation as a community hub of creative reuse. From six to eight in the evening everyone’s invited to join in the clean up, followed with a reward of pizza and beer afterwards.

So last Thursday I found myself in a hard hat, high-vis vest, boots and gloves listening to the prerequisite health and safety chat. I was introduced to Andy, the site manager, who showed us what our jobs were. (You can tell Andy is the site manager because he seems to be able to complete most tasks while holding a cup of coffee).  Some volunteers got stuck into hosing down the grimy walls at one end of the building; I began by attacking a gym floor.

The long pieces of Canadian maple wood had previously been on the floor of a sports hall at Goldsmiths, but a radiator leak had damaged one corner, and instead of repairing it the whole thing had been ripped up and was on its way to a skip. Remakery was able to rescue part of it, and it’s now earmarked to play a part in the build, possibly as panelling for a wall. So I got to work clipping out the embedded nails and sorting it into sizes so it’s ready for its second life. It was great to do something physically useful after a day sat behind a computer, even if it was possibly the most time I had ever spent with any part of a gym.

It was a fun and rewarding Thursday afternoon activity, and a great way to get involved with a genuinely interesting and inventive project. I’ll definitely be back to help out again, and it’ll be fascinating to see how Remakery shapes up.

Site socials every Thursday – follow them in Twitter @remakery

The Magpie Lands and Brixton’s Bank Holiday Feeling

23 Aug

The French take a day off work to let off fireworks on Bastille Day, on 14 July, to commemorate a key symbolic event in the French Revolution. The Americans get all pyrotechnic on 4 July in celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And the people of the Philippines celebrate their independence from the USA, and Spain, with fireworks and a public holiday on 12 June.

As a nation, Britain is in the rather embarrassing historical position of generally being the ‘oppressor’; looking through the list of national days on Wikipedia, most countries seem to be celebrating their independence from us. So the UK’s designated ‘fireworks day’ on 5 November, rather than a commemoration of the glorious achievement of nationhood, is in honour of some disgruntled Catholics who tried to blow up the government, and were then executed. What exactly we’re celebrating here is a bit of a grey area, but unless the government suddenly grants us a public holiday to do it, I reluctantly mention that this weekend coming is the last Monday off until (shhh) christmas. So let’s use it wisely, eh?

The refurbed Upstairs at the Ritzy is having a free relaunch party  on Friday featuring music from awesome skiffle band The Severed Limb. The Windmill (sticky floored music venue not historic mill) are planning to barbecue on Sunday to the sound of their 1992 ‘Retrospectacular’  – with various bands covering songs from this year. Dressed in global hypercolour, hopefully. Also on Sunday, Radio6Music’s Gilles Peterson has been confirmed for the roof terrace at Brixton Clubhouse. Or head over to Myatt’s Field for a picnic to learn about Remakery and Makerhood, skills swapping and local craftiness from 1pm.

Also taking place this weekend at The Brick Box’s temporary home at the old Angel Pub is Magpie, a mini-festival of music, art and performance, weirdness and wonder, kicking off on Thursday night (£3 entry) and carrying on through Friday and Saturday evenings (£5 entry).

The Angel is destined to become a development of four houses and four flats once planning permission is received by the property company, Lexadon. Until October however, they have been renting the space out to The Brick Box, a grass-roots arts organisation who put on various community-based shows, workshops and interactive arty experiences from their usual locations in Brixton and Tooting markets.

There’s a veritable artistic buffet of performers lined up for this weekend’s festivities. Local artist and curator of Magpie David Nevin will be displaying his work, and Aerial Sparks has made a house out of dolls. Creepy. There’ll be poetry from acclaimed poet Dan Holloway on a roof, as well as in a very small ‘Eritrean Hut’, where, for the brave and, er, probably those whose courage comes by way of Holland, more intimate performances will be taking place. That’s not a euphemism. (Apart from the bit about Holland, that was).

Music tonight comes from the London City Reggae Choir and Brixton DJ Geoff Parker, who I think is behind the Catch a Fire nights Upstairs at the Ritzy. Tomorrow night is Gothic rock from Andi Sex Gang and Chris from United 80 will be DJing on Saturday.

If you’re there at around 10pm definitely look out for weird, absurdist comedy from Annie Bashford and Grumpy Lettuce. Having trained at clown school in Paris (where she met her comedy partner) Annie’s just back from performing right wing cabaret  with Frank Sanazi (say it out loud) at the Edinburgh festival. As you do.

Hungry? There’s veggie curry on offer tonight, and expect fantastic LA-inspired meat sandwiches on offer from London French Dip on Friday and Saturday. Get there quickly because odds are they’ll sell out.

Right then. I’ll start the Weekend Countdown Clock then shall I?

Brixton Book Jam

3 Jul

Peer in the door of many publishing houses at the moment and you’ll notice that the onward march of eBooks is shaking up and dusting down what can be a pretty foot-draggy industry. It means that anyone can publish a book and sell it through Amazon, without having to jump through the hoops of finding an agent and getting a book deal. Pale and shaken publishers claim that without their quality control and marketing budgets the internet will become a hideously democratic cacophony of pseudo-literary ramblings, causing everyone to throw up their hands and stop reading books altogether. Of course this assumes that, with the kind of innovative Darwinian solution for which it is known, the interwebz does not come up with some way to sort the wheat from the paff and we all adapt and survive. If you could see my slush pile at work you’d certainly hope so. (Although this will be academic when Amazon eventually takes over the world and all thinking.)

The greater, and often fatuous, debate aside, what eBooks are undisputedly great for is giving talented writers a platform to try out their material and connect more directly with an audience.  And what live book events are great for is getting those writers out from behind their laptops and face to face with their readers; preferably in a noisy pub, stuck three intimidating feet high on a stage. And so it was at Brixton Book Jam last night.

Many of the writers at the first Brixton Book Jam did have physical books to promote, but a noticeable number were download-only.  The intention of the night, organiser James Wallis announced ambitiously in his opening gambit, is to create ‘a belle époque, a fin de siècle salon in the Hootananny’. ‘Yeah, bon chance on a dark and soggy Monday evening mate,’ you might think. But in piled the audience to drink beer, eat tacos from El Panzon, and hover pleasingly between ‘attentive’ and ‘rowdy’. When asked to ‘stick up a hand if you’ve written a book’ (published or unpublished) about a fifth of the room did.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as all the authors were fairly local, many of the books were set around London. Chris Chalmers opened with a reading from his eBook Five to One, the story of a helicopter crash on Clapham Common. Glen Mehn’s ‘The Unkindness of Ravens’ and Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son both featured a darker, more fantastical London. Zelda Rhiando – co-organiser of Book Jam – read from her novel Caposcripti which is about photography, London, and shrunken heads. Independent columnist Rhodri Marsden spoke about Crap Dates; many of which will have inevitably taken place in London. And the ‘Bard of Brixton’ Alex Wheatle brought the house down performing his poem ‘Uprising’ about the 1981 Brixton riots.

It apparently took just four weeks (although slightly frenzied ones I imagine) to set up this month’s event. The team are hoping make it a quarterly occurence, which, once word gets around, I’m sure will be in great demand  from both writers and readers. If this is the future for books then I for one am ready to embrace it. I just need to, er, buy a Kindle.

Market Row Wines

26 Jun

I sense the doom-heralds might be getting out their gentrification trumpets, for a wine shop has opened in Market Row.  Ok, I’m sorry, I am being facetious about a serious issue, but I do really, really like wine. I probably deserve to be drowned in a vat of hummus or nailed to a gazebo or something.

David Simpson opened Brixton’s first proper wine shop about a month ago. After he was made redundant from Oddbins  a year back, David thought about getting out of the wine business all together, but soon found himself up the road from his home in Streatham, scouting out premises in Brixton. And so Market Row Wines came to be.

Small but perfectly formed, it’s friendly and unpretentious. Prices are chalked up slightly illegibly on a blackboard, or written on post-it notes stuck to the wall. I spotted a verdejo for £6.50 – around the cost of a bottle of wine in my corner shop. A rather fetching bottle of cava priced £9.99 looked like a lovely treat. And £8.99 got me the best bottle of wine I’d had for ages: organic, biodynamic unoaked rioja Gran Cerdo, or ‘big pig’. So called because brilliantly-named winemaker Gonzalo Gonzalo has dedicated it to the bankers who refused him a loan to make it. Bloody bankers, eh? First global financial meltdown and now this…

Few restaurants either arcade still have a BYO wine policy – Kaosarn and Elephant are the only ones that spring to mind – so passing trade from those wandering past in search of dinner is probably small. However, David has turned the concept somewhat on its head with BYO food nights. The idea is that you bring along some food you’ve bought, most likely from a nearby restaurant, and he’ll whip out some trestle tables and uncork some wine to go with your meal. The July BYO event is sold out, but fingers crossed for more. Other future plans include making a delivery service available for those who have got a bit over excited and bought a whole case, and some potential cooperation with the Heritage Deli over in the Village…

Vino is obviously the thing here, although I did also see some Manzanilla sherry that has apparently been selling well, and a few beers, including Australian lager Coopers which is available one at a time or by the case. Mr Liz will be thrilled.

So a very warm welcome to Brixton, Market Row Wines. I’m very excited that you are here. Although I’m sure both Sainsbury’s and Jacobs Creek will be devastated to lose my business.


Closed Mondays; 12–6 Tues, Wed; 12–9 Thurs, Fri, Sat; 10–4 Sun

Octopus Adventures – a Very Brixton Lunch

12 Jun

Sometimes when you meet someone you just know that you’d like to cook an octopus with them.

Nikky is one half of the team behind NorthSouth Food. As her alter ego Miss South, she writes on various topics related to urban eating, while her brother in the rural North contributes posts of a more pastoral sort. Kind of like the town mouse and country mouse of food blogging.

Nikky is what most would call an adventurous cook. Undaunted by unusual ingredients and totally au fait with offal, her previous culinary adventures have included brain nuggets, squirrel satay and pig’s heart.

But back to the octopus.

I’ve no idea what started us talking about octopuses (octopi?) when I met Nikky at Meet Brixton, but it turned out it was one of the few species not to have made an appearance in her kitchen. And so a plan was formed to acquire one and, er, find out how to cook it.

First stop was awesome fishmonger Dagons in Brixton Village. A fixture in the arcade for more years than anyone seems able to remember, Dagons is friendly, helpful and inexpensive. Our multi-legged victim was but four quid. A handful of samphire to go with it? One Great British pound. A whole mackerel for that night’s tea cost just £2. And I could have bought three sea bass for £7, but at that point we decided to step away from the dead fish before it all got out of hand.

The Spanish butchers on Atlantic Road furnished us with some rather nice baby tomatoes. And with some parsley from Wing Tai, a bag of lemons from the stall under the railway bridge and a box of Alphonso mangos from Dannys for pudding we were good to go.

So to cook our floppy friend. And it couldn’t have been easier really. On the advice of Rick Stein we wanged him into a pan of simmering water; retrieving him about 45 minutes later firm, white fleshed, and remarkably edible-looking. Triumphant, we chopped him up and chucked him in a pan with some spiced, fried potatoes and sat down to eat lunch.

So, dear reader, if you are ever lucky enough to find someone who wants to cook an octopus with you, embrace it. It tastes great.


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