Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Trainspotters' guide to the Victoria line

Here's another feature of mine that's published on UK website The Collective Review - it's a love letter to my favourite transport route, the Victoria line.

You know you’re well on the way to being a London local when you can converse about tube lines like you might your favourite pizza topping or U2 album (e.g. everyone has their favourite; most will have one they truly detest). In fact, I’d say the tube map is more of a London icon than Buckingham Palace or Big Ben – although beware, new Londoners: it’s not spatially accurate! (Hands up who wasted tens of pounds during their first weeks in the capital, traversing tube lines that could have been power-walked on street level in half the time?!)

The cool kids in Stoke Newington and Hackney might disagree, but vicinity to a tube stop is as much of a priority as broadband internet and for most inner-city sharehouse-hunters. And while the Central line is the system’s longest (74km between West Ruislip and Epping) and the Northern line might have inspired a Jamie T track, for slick efficiency and sheer cool factor, you can’t beat the Victoria line. The pale blue route stretches from Walthamstow in E17 to Brixton in SW9 and offers more bang for your Oyster buck, especially if you’re after a feed, a night on the tiles, or some cultural stimulation. Here are some highlights along the line:

I remember the moment, ‘fresh off the boat’ in London, when I made the connection between this east London locale and the UK’s finest exponents of 1990s white boy hip hop. Walthamstow was the hometown and debut album title of East 17, clearly the grittier option to Take That, in the battle of the boy bands (they were fleetingly massive in Australia, FYI). With the 90s the retro decade du jour, it’s only a matter of time before someone plots a circuit retracing the band’s local haunts in E17, á la Sex and the City tours in Manhattan… right?

Highbury and Islington
Band venue the Garage had a facelift last year, now apparently called the Relentless Garage and boasts a band room that is more basketball court than stylish salon. Still, it attracts an impressive roster of indie bands and is still walking distance from Angel and Islington.

Forget Brick Lane – a more chilled-out option for decent grub from the Indian subcontinent can be found in Drummond Street, near Euston tube. Cheap-as-chips lunch buffets and vegetarian menus are the main drawcard here. Regulars to Raavi Kebab rate it above the legendary Tyabbs in Whitechapel for Pakistani grill, but don’t get caught expecting a beer – it’s a dry zone, people.

The Eagle is an institution on the London gay scene, especially Sunday night’s Horse Meat Disco. An alternative sweaty and glam night out can be found Thursdays to Sundays at Roller Disco at Renaissance Rooms.

Just down from Brixton Academy on Stockwell Road is one of south London’s best skate parks, whether you’re skating, scootering or BMXing – or just watching the talent from the sidelines. Formerly ‘Little Lisbon’ due to the Portuguese community who call it home, it’s attracting more gentrified crowds thanks to recent gastropub facelift on the Canton Arms (the Observer’s Jay Rayner is a loyal fan).

Foodies should make the journey for the best range of Afro-Caribbean produce in the heritage-listed Brixton Market, also home to London’s best pizza (Franco Manca) and Nigella Lawson (crossed with Sophie Dahl and Alexa Chung?)’s heir apparent (Rosie Lovell of Rosie’s Café).

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