Monday, May 31, 2010

The best place in 'souf' London on a Saturday afternoon, innit


In Melbourne, my Saturday morning go-to for killing multiple birds with single stones – e.g. sating a hangover, sucking up some culture, attempting to get my shiz together for the week ahead – was the Preston Market. Here in London, the Brixton Market is a pretty sweet equivalent. The first weekend I arrived, in July last year, I was taken on an excursion to the infamous Franco Manca, but it was the haphazard street stalls selling unidentified veggies (in hindsight, probable yam sub-species) and miscellaneous crap, the crowds of locals cruising around like they had all the time in the world and, above all, the reggaeton and dancehall music floating through every laneway. Nearly a year later, I still break out into a silent boogie when I see the street sign for Electric Avenue.

The market is generally regarded as “the” place for Afro-Caribbean food shopping, but I think it’s still a bit too intimidating for your average Waitrose-type foodie. I’m pretty sure most of the diners who line up for a perch at Franco Manca hightail it to the tube once they’ve polished off the last of their sourdough crusts and organic ales.

Coldharbour Lane entrace to Brixton Village

My hands-down favourite place in the market on a Saturday is Brixton Village – a 1930s market arcade with entries off Coldharbour Lane (beyond the train line) and Atlantic Road (past Argos, on the other side of the road). When I first ventured there last year it was downright grim, and half the shopfronts seemed vacant. But since November, Lambeth Council and Space Makers have supported its transformation into a bonafide community of pop-up shops and culinary enterprises. The “slack space” project apparently offers three months’ free rent to creatives and entrepreneurs, so amongst the six rows of shops and stalls you’ll encounter everything from a Thai massage studio and art workshops to handmade cupcakes and confectionary. The Community shop also sells the Brixton Pound currency, which gives you decent savings on goods and services spent at local businesses.

It’s awesome to see permanent businesses like the Agile Rabbit setting up shop in the arcade – it’s the newest kid on the block, and will hopefully stick around longer than three months. The stylishly no-frills café/pizza bar serves up generous pairs of thin-base pizza squares, which you can eat off grease-proof paper on communal tables. If you’ve ever had to fight the tourists outside the Franco Manca, you’ll appreciate an alternative for fresh, cheap artisan pizza that’s far from the madding crowds – but for how long, who knows... I discovered the Agile Rabbit a few Saturdays ago when I was guiding my frightfully hungover pal through her first Brixton market tour. After splitting a pair of pepperoni squares and a can of coke between the two of us (£4 total) and then chatting to Victor, the owner, I discovered I wasn’t going mad – “I swear to god, this place was not here last weekend…” – it had only opened for business the day before.

Other shop to visit include Federation Coffee – damn fine Melbourne-quality coffee, unfortunately not exactly Brixton-cheap though – and Etta’s Seafood Kitchen, which serves Caribbean-influenced seafood dishes. Ok, so I haven’t actually eaten at Etta’s but I curse this every time I walk past and read the daily specials. It’s Brixton cheap, too. Brixton Village is the place to head on Thursday nights, as all these new pop-ups trade from 6-10pm and you can BYO booze when you eat in. More often than not there’ll be a cracking soundsystem and a huge smoky BBQ pumping near the Coldharbour Lane entrance. The Brixton Village Facebook page gives regular updates about special events and new occupants in the arcade.

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