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

28 Jan

Tesco-471x500

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.

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.

@MarketRowWines

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

Brixton’s Best Baker Announced at the Great Brixton Bake Off!

28 Apr

(trying saying that with a mouth full of cake)

Councillor Clive Bennett, Lambeth’s new mayor, praised Brixton for getting behind the organisers of the Great Brixton Bake Off, and turning out despite this rather despicable weather. Fortunately for the  damp assembled crowd he got to the point pretty quickly, and announced Anna Smith as Brixton’s best baker!

Anna also won a prize for her fruit pies. I’m afraid I can’t comment first hand on their quality, but I am munching on a apple and date flapjack now and can confirm that it’s delicious. Here’s a picture of Anna’s stall:

There were some tired faces where dedicated bakers had cooked through the night. Mixing Bowl Magic  was one who hadn’t slept. Although their carrot and banana cupcake was absolutely delicious. Is this a common cupcake flavour now? I definitely didn’t get the memo on that …

Mahalia won the prize in the ‘cake’ category. Check out this butterscotch beauty on the right. Mahalia was another baker to admit that some of her cakes had been iced at 4am this morning.

This is Auntie Shelley. Her cakes are gluten free, although you honestly wouldn’t know it. Impressively, she also makes birthday and wedding cakes.

And finally, I have to include a picture of the cupcakes at Lilliput, because they look a bit like they’re wearing individual rain jackets. Which is cute.

Now how to get these crumbs out of my laptop keyboard?

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