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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.

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

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.

May Bank Holiday Weekend in Brixton

4 May

Happy Star Wars day everyone. How do we know it is Star Wars day? Well, May the 4th be with you. (And it’s on Wookiepedia).

The weather is bad but the force is strong within you Luke, so brave the weather, and try out one of these Brixton bank holiday suggestions…

Here’s something a bit different: head to the Transition Centre (on Robsart Road, opposite Brixton Jamm) on Saturday between 1pm and 9pm and find out this Brixton group and their friends are reducing carbon emissions and energy needs in community-based projects that everyone can become involved in. Did you know that Brixton has it’s very own locally-owned energy company, for example? Yeah, take that EDF. I met some of the guys from TTB (as the cool kids call it) on Wednesday at Meet Brixton, and it’s absolutely fascinating what can be achieved.

Get ready for some words: it’s the fifth Modern Movement event on Saturday and Sunday at Brockwell Lido featuring the Big Jump! [mandatory exclamation mark]. Now, it has taken some time but what I think this means is that there will be stalls set up around the pool selling antiques and collectables from the middle bit of the twentieth century, which I am sure will be lovely in the thirties surroundings if the lido. On Saturday at midday, while some gently peruse modern design classics, some people (presumably the losers of some sort of sadistic bet) will be jumping into the very cold water of the lido all at the same time. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong with this combination of activities; we don’t want a tiffany lamp going for a burton.

Fingers crossed it doesn’t rain on the Annual Brixton Windmill May Day Parade  on Monday 7th. Starting form Windrush square at 1pm everyone’s invited to join in on the walk down to Ashby Mill in Blenheim Gardens where there will be music, food, activities and probably cake. The theme this year is recycling, so should the weather be unkind you can at least put on one of those orange bags and say it’s a costume.

French Dip Comes to Station Road

20 Apr

None of us can make it rain,’ says Thames Water’s posters, ‘but we can all use less water.’ This rather unimaginative advertising campaign has proved to be the marketing equivalent of a rain dance. Since the imposition of the hosepipe ban it has – predictably – barely ceased hammering down, thereby forming a perfect alliance of two things the British are known for: irony and weather. And I don’t even have a hosepipe.

Looking at the forecast this weekend, the best available window for being both ‘outside’ and ‘not wet’ is going to be Saturday morning to mid afternoon. So, how to spend these brolly-free hours? Well, if you trot over to Brixton’s Station Road market, you will be able to peruse some retro and vintage stalls and, AND, eat something you’ve probably never eaten before. Because people, we may have frequent precipitation, but until tomorrow Britain does not have a French dip stall.

When Brixton-based food journalist (and occasional Brixtonia contributor) Rosie Birkett went to LA and tried the sandwiches, like a modern-day Sir Walter Raleigh she immediately resolved to bring French dip to the people of South London.

‘But what is it Liz?!’ I hear you cry, frustratedly. Based on the concept that ‘bread and meat are both brilliant’, it is essentially an LA-style meat sandwich, made in a baguette, that has been dipped in the juices of the roasting meat. Simple right? And so, so good.

Rosie and her business partner Andrew Dolleymore are using quality Scotch beef  (it’s beef tomorrow, but they’re hoping to do pork and maybe lamb next time) from Clapham butchers Moen and Sons and bespoke baguettes made by Herne Hill’s Kindred Bakery. So all in all, a local venture of the best kind.

Follow them on Twitter for updates @LondonFrenchDip

Lowie Frock Shop Pops Up in Herne Hill

31 Mar

Previous guests have included art galleries and furniture dealers, but the latest shop to pop up on the corner of Dulwich Road and Rymer Street is local frock label Lowie. They’re popping back down again tomorrow, but it sounds like it’s been a pretty successful couple of weeks, as plans are afoot to open a permanent shop all of their own in Herne Hill.

Inspired by vintage clothing, designer Bronwyn is passionate about using high quality ethically sourced materials, mainly organic cottons and merino wool. So Lowie clothes are not cheap. But it they are lovely, and very beautifully made. The spring range is nigh on awash with nautical influences. A friendly graphic designer has even created a unique boat print, both in sea-y grey and sea-y blue that makes me want to sit in a beer garden in Cornwall. A lot of love has gone into these designs. My favourite dress has a beautiful lace up, latticed back, that was apparently directly inspired by a particular vintage dress that the designer came across.

Lowie’s studio is in the Piano House in Brixton. And if you sign up to the mailing list you may even get invited to visit. When not running a pop up shop they host occasional ‘friendly Fridays’ where you can see both the clothes and the reportedly lovely sunset from the big windows. I’m so in.


Where am I? Brixton Hill

10 Mar

Geographically speaking, the answer to the question ‘Where Am I?’ on Saturday morning was ‘at the café that used to be called Paulo’z Way at the top of Brixton Hill’. ‘What’s going on here?’ demands a somewhat more involved answer. Where Am I? has been open for just two weeks. It is a both a licensed café and vintage clothing, furniture and knick-knack shop. It also has a ceiling that is entirely covered by a hand painted Portuguese flag.


We sat down at a table next to a stuffed cockerel, a small carriage containing an empty bottle marked ‘gin’ and a 1981 copy of The Joy of Sex. My kitch-ophile friend shouted ‘Amazing!’ a few times and ordered an omelette. I decided – in the interest of good blogging you understand – to confront the full English. While waiting for the food to arrive we entertained ourselves browsing the old records for sale, coming across such gems as Gilbert and Sullivan, Simon and Garfunkel, and, rather more dubiously, the Black and White Minstrel Show. We were confused but then so was the coffee – my friend’s cappuccino came with a question mark on the top.

The full English arrived with (deep breath) fried egg, two bacon, mushrooms, three thick bits of buttered bread, black pudding, beans, tomato and chips. For £4.50. The only questionable thing about the whole experience was the sausage, which was essentially a long stick of reconstituted animal (?) fat.  But for that price it seems silly to quibble over a sausage. Particularly as I didn’t need to eat again until approximately 6pm that evening. All in all it was a breakfast that really deserved a hangover; next time I’ll be sure to take one.

Before we left had a quick chat to Sergio who was serving behind the counter. He explained that the café’s brilliant decoration, much of which is comprised of torn up Look and Learn magazines, was largely a team effort. He also was able to shed light on the ceiling flag – it’s a relic from the previous incumbent that Sergio and friends, being Portuguese, couldn’t bring themselves to paint over. I’m afraid to say he shed no light on the café’s name; his story about this just left us more confused.

At the moment Where Am I? is open during the day only. All being well they may start opening on Friday and Saturday evenings, and, excitingly as it would be a great venue, are open to the idea of private parties. They don’t have a website as far as I can tell. But then you try Googling ‘Where Am I?’

A & C Co Continental Grocers – the best deli in Brixton?

23 Nov

According to José, who owns this little deli at the end of Atlantic Road, people regularly wander in and express surprise at not having noticed the shop before, asking whether it’s just newly opened. There has actually been a grocer’s there for about forty or fifty years, José thinks. His father bought it from a Greek Cypriot couple about twenty years ago, and they’d been there a while.

But apart from its status as something of a Brixton institution it seems a bit odd that you could walk past unawares. Stacked on the tables outside are piles of all sorts of fresh herbs, and if this doesn’t get your olfactory attention then the incredibly strong smell of cheese wafting out of the door really should!

The continent in question is mainly southern Europe, and despite the modest premises there’s a quite the range of goodies packed in here.  Apart from the meat and cheese counter, there’s homemade hummus and pesto in the corner fridge, fresh white round loaves, a few sweet pasties and huge tubs of olives to buy by the 100g. Just for a start. I once traipsed all over Brixton looking for cannelloni tubes. Guess where I finally found some?

The new markets on Station Road have been good for business apparently, encouraging more people to turn right out of the tube I suppose. They’re a very friendly lot in A&C (see the comments page of the blog for proof of this!), will give you advice on cheese, and they are open until eight most evenings (although closed all day Sunday) so you can even stop by on the way home from work.

3 Atlantic Road, SW9 8HX. No website though, so just sniff if out.


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