Tag Archives: Brixton

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.

www.remakery.org

Site socials every Thursday – follow them in Twitter @remakery

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.

@MarketRowWines

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.

Brixtonia on Holiday – is the East Village New York’s Brixton?

7 Jun

Travel broadens the mind, apparently. Or perhaps it narrows it, making you compare everything with something more familiar at home. At uni in Canada I knew an Australian called Dave who couldn’t see anything without telling us about its equivalent ‘back in Adelaide’. So, forgive me if I sound a bit like Adelaide Dave, but New York’s East Village did sort of remind me of Brixton.

Originally part of the working class and largely immigrant Lower East Side, the term ‘East Village’ was coined in the sixties, when artists and musicians started to move in. But the first residents of the tenements built here from the 1840s onwards were mostly German, to the point where the area was became known as Little Germany. Which is somehow not as poetic as Little Italy, but the omnibuses probably ran on time.

Further groups of immigrants arrived after the Second World War, from Poland, Ukraine, Puerto Rico and many more. Allan Ginsberg lived here in the fifties. In 1966 Andy Warhol showed his work here, using music by the Velvet Underground. In the 1970s Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and the Ramones played the famous CBGB club. But by the eighties Tomkins Square Park was mainly attracting the homeless and disenfranchised. Policing was heavy-handed and in 1988 a riot broke out. To a tourist like me, the East Village now seems like an exciting and energetic neighbourhood, but I’m sure it’s been a difficult process, with long-standing residents finding themselves priced out along the way.

So, an area that owes much of its vibrancy to groups of immigrants; nucleus of the punk scene; the setting for protests and clashes with police; somewhere that’s had its share of social problems; was once branded ‘edgy’ but is increasingly referred to as ‘gentrified’. And a lot of people here seem passionate about their community. Sound familiar?

Well, of course the East Village is in New York, not London, and they do things differently there. But still it’s an interesting comparison. And there are definitely some things I’d like to borrow for Brixton. For example, according to Wiki there are 640 community gardens in NYC. Tucked behind wire fencing and greenery on Avenue B, we could just catch a glimpse of one, with kids playing, sunbathers and, later in the day, some sort of festival. Space might be at too much of a premium for the likes of Brockwell Park, but it was great to see these scraps of land being used and enjoyed by so many people, who evidently see it as their own in a way a larger park can’t be.

If there was ever anything on the scale of the Brixton Academy in the East Village, I imagine it would have long since been lost to the city’s notoriously ruthless developers. The area’s once pioneering music scene has dropped off considerably in recent years, so points to Brixton for Hootenanny and the Windmill. However, the small East Village bars are individual and quirky in a way we don’t have so much in Brixton. Many even have a street terrace or even a garden out back that, oddly enough, give a laid back, European feel that I wasn’t expecting to find in Manhattan.

Of course, I’m sure someone visiting Brixton from the East Village would have a completely different take. I’d love to hear their thoughts on gentrification for example: so many in Brixton feel strongly about the issue, and the East Village seems to be some way further down this path. Perhaps during the Olympics I’ll try to flag down a passing New Yorker and ask.

(They can keep the bloody subway though. Victoria line – all is forgiven.)

How Does It Feel To Be Loved at the Canterbury Arms

1 Jun

How Does It Feel to Be Loved is back at the Canterbury Arms tonight for one last time before a three month hiatus, while they play at festivals and go on holiday. So why not grab the opportunity to start the weekend as you mean to go on and head down for a bit of a dance to an eclectic mix of cheerful tunes at this essential Brixton night.

From the Smiths to Dusty Springfield, Hole to The Temptations, via Aztec Camera and Dexy’s Midnight Runners; How Does It Feel is essentially an indie and soul night, although the music policy is hard to define exactly. The emphasis is on indie pop rather than indie rock with northern soul, Motown and a load of sixties stuff thrown in. Requests are encouraged.

It’s £6 on the door, but if you email them this afternoon with your name there will be a PERSONALISED, LAMINATED membership card waiting for you on the door, which will earn you admittance for the valueous price of £4. The lamination alone wins me over. Oh, and seeing as how the Canterbury Arms is a pub, the drinks are pretty reasonable too.

Brixton resident Ian Watson first brought How Does It Feel To Be Loved – named after the closing lyrics of ‘Beginning To See The Light’ by the Velvet Underground – to the Canterbury Arms back in November 2003. I always thought that the pub’s deco was a hundred percent unreconstructed 1970s, but this photo from the first Brixton HDIF proves that that its current look is in fact an update! Bring back the green flock wallpaper and illuminated New York skyline I say. (The year-round Christmas lights are still there of course, contributing the essential Phoenix Nights factor).

These days Ian also puts on HDIF at the Phoenix in Cavendish Square, Central London, but he says that the combination of having a bit more space to throw some shapes on the dancefloor, and the fact that people seek out the Canterbury Arms, rather than stumbling on (and into) it makes the atmosphere at the Brixton night particularly great.

The uninitiated might associate Brixton exclusively with reggae or punk, but How Does It Feel’s long tenure at the Canterbury Arms means it’s right at home here. Ian says, ‘I remember on the first night someone saying that they’d never danced to Simon And Garfunkel in Brixton before, and that made me really happy. It feels good to be putting on something in Brixton that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

‘The night’s perhaps not something that people would expect from Brixton, but that diversity is what makes Brixton so exciting for me. It’s somewhere where anything can happen. And we’re living proof of that.’

So head on down tonight, or you’ll have to wait til September.

And to get into the extra-long weekend spirit Ian has kindly recommended some appropriate songs to listen to as you get ready to head down to How Does It Feel tonight:

A Sweet Summer’s Night On Hammer Hill by Jens Lekman – upbeat, feelgood … and people singing and dancing in the background 

Let’s Dance by Jimmy Cliff –  Jimmy Cliff might be more familiar from reggae classics like ‘The Harder They Come’, but this is a supercharged northern soul dancer

A Summer Wasting by Belle And Sebastian – a carefree start with a big, euphoric end. Very summery indeed.

www.howdoesitfeel.co.uk

Boqueria Tapas, Acre Lane

15 Mar

The more I think about our evening in new restaurant Boqueria the more I’m impressed. The wilderness of Acre Lane is not where you’d go looking for great modern Spanish food, expertly served in smart but low key surrounding. But you should. 

Named after the famous Mercat de San Josep de la Boqueria in Barcelona (I’d totally heard of it), the dishes here are in fact inspired by cooking from all over Spain. This is not cheap and cheerful mounds of tomatoey fried potatoes to put in face while drinking. There were no straw donkeys and nothing made of terracotta appeared to be mounted on the wall. In short, La Tasca it ain’t. It is however run by people that clearly care about what they are serving. Questions were answered, dishes freely described and recommended – although I thought the waiter might cry when my friend asked for ice in her sherry.

Boqueria’s location puts it in a no-man’s land between Brixton and Clapham. It doesn’t at all fit in with Brixton’s food scene; there’s no sense of the Village’s enthusiastically amateur or charmingly makeshift, for example. So are we in Clapham? we asked, looking around suspiciously. Well, no actually. The décor is grown up and minimalist, the crowd a little dressy on a Friday. ‘It’s like we’re at a restaurant in town’ my friend said. And she was right. So it was a bit of a surprise when we stepped outside and realised we were stood right opposite a boozy night at Grand Union.

I noticed that one or two people on Twitter mentioned that they found it a bit pricy, but I’m afraid I have to disagree.  Tapas dishes range from £3.90 for the excellently smoky fabeda, made from white beans, chorizo and bacon, up to just under eight quid for monkfish and prawns. The belly of pork was probably the highlight, and fortunately the second portion we ordered arrived quickly, or our table might have fallen out with each other. I’d love to go back and try the paella, which at £10 each for a minimum of two people seems like good value. But, being realistic, it’s highly unlikely I’d ever get past the small plates menu. Tapas restaurants are my sweetie shops.  I WANT IT ALL.

House wine starts at £13 a bottle, which is when we knew we definitely weren’t in central London. We had the Verdejo (at £19), which was marvellous and seemed to go with everything we ordered. There’s plenty of sherry and cava (replacing Prosecco as a trend this summer?) on the menu too, which lots of people were enjoying in the small bar area as well as the restaurant.

So thanks for a lovely night Boqueria. Now the rest of you just need to get there before Jay Rayner reviews it. You know what happens then…

www.boqueriatapas.com

@BoqueriaTapas

Thanks Rosie Birkett (@rosiefoodie for taking the photos)

Being Your Own Boss – the story of Brixton Space

7 Mar

So what’s it like to open your own business in Brixton? Pretty exciting it seems, if the enthusiasm of the team at Brixton Space is anything to go by. Agnieszka and Oscar first met while working at the Woolpack in Bermondsey, and always wanted to run their own bar. Now they do, and their passion for their project is clear.

Agnieszka claims that they mainly chose Brixton because it’s equidistant from their respective homes, in Colliers Wood and London Bridge. Just as they have divided up the journey to work, they also divide up the responsibilities of running Brixton Space. Oscar, who’s there mainly during the day, plans the menu, tweets, and is the man responsible for the awesome orange wallpaper. Agnieszka’s responsibilities include the wine list and working the evening shift. Oh, and she’s a primary school maths teacher too. (Just thinking about this makes me feel quite tired.)

They describe opening their first business as being akin to being a proud parent. But despite the zeal there must have been times during the nine months they’ve been open when it felt like a slog. Shortly after opening last May a few of the neighbours opposed the licence, which must have been a huge spanner in the works. Quite a lot of (predictable) wrangling with Lambeth council was needed to finally get it granted. And surely the location too would have presented a bit of a challenge, at least at first. It’s a good ten minute walk from the tube, on the Water Lane crossroads with really only Hootenanny for company, so Agnieszka and Oscar must have really hoped that the locals would get on board.

And so they have. Brixton Space is buzzing, and feels far more established than its age suggests. During the day freelancers order coffee and tap their laptops, and parents swing by with the kids for cake on the way back from the park. In the evening it’s couples having dinner, or groups of friends snacking on the tapas and catching up with a drink. It’s even been the setting for a few blind dates.

So what is it that’s made the tapas bar feel like a Brixton fixture so quickly? The brilliant eye-catching decoration must help – walking past you really can’t fail to notice the place. But I would guess that the real reason is that it’s just so downright friendly. Regulars plug in their own iPods, space is readily cleared for prams and the menu was even swiftly expanded when customers started requesting patatas bravas.

They’ve got some interesting plans for the future too. They want to convert their basement into a small cinema, which will also function as an area for private parties. There’s talk of using it as a gallery space, showing local art. However, what there will never be at Brixton Space, according to Agnieska, is speed dating, karoke or TV football. I guess when you run your own bar, you can make your own rules!

www.brixtonspace.com

@brixtonspace

In praise of Franco Manca

8 Oct

So I’ve been going to Franco Manca for pizza for as long as the place has been open. For me, the arrival in Brixton of sourdough pizza, accompanied by organic beers (usually) or homemade lemonade (more occasionally) marked a change in the area.

So much has changed since it opened, something really obvious this morning as I walked around Brixton Market marvelling once again at this new cafe or that new vintage shop. I know that some people complain that it’s gentrification gone extreme and whilst I don’t entirely disagree, I personally find the rejuvenation of the covered markets a really brilliant thing. And how nice to feel that Franco Manca is no longer a rose between two thorns but a Brixton institution and one that now faces stiff competition. Still, there’s not much that beats a Franco Manca margherita with added artichokes…

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