When you think of Brixton, you might think of the riots that scarred this London borough in the 80s and early 90s. During my time in London, I made many a trip down the Victoria line to see gigs at the Academy. The venue had a special place in my heart – the venue packed the people in but still managed to seem intimate – and I was lucky enough to see Babyshambles, Pete Doherty (solo), Franz Ferdinand, Julian Casablancas from The Strokes.
One of the major issues of getting to these gigs was that there was no real food options in that neck of the woods, other than a hidden Portuguese place (for those in London – walk straight past the front doors of the Academy, keep walking, past the skateboard ramps and head to the place right next to the bike shop, it’s full of the local Potuguese population, who are usually heckling the large wall-mounted TV screen). In recent times, however, the Brixton food scene has changed – as highlighted in a recent review by arguably the best food critic in the world – Jay Rayner – in The Guardian. He highlighted a section of the enclosed Brixton Market (off Atlantic Road) as being one of London’s foodie destinations of the year. Of course I had to see what all the fuss was about.
I headed down on a Monday to miss the weekend crowds but as a result I did find quite a few places out of action. But in hindsight that was a good thing. Had they all been open my brother and I would have made ourselves sick by forcibly eating our way through every single restaurant.
Upon entering, we were drawn to a coffee shop right in the centre of the market, totally out of place but doing a ruddy good trade (in an Alan Partridge voice). Federation Coffee did a fantastic flat white and I really loved their take on the wall mounted coffee menu.
And have a look at these. They are more comfortable than they look.
And so began the odyssey. We followed Jay’s map and found ourselves at Take 2wo, a jerk chicken Caribbean takeaway joint. I love how Jay is able to remain grounded in everyman’s food and doesn’t just focus on fine dining.
Jerk chicken is very popular in south London, many places do it but not many do it well. The reason Take 2wo is worth a visit is because food is cooked over coals in a kettledrum, rather than in the oven. If you walk into the shop and no one is behind the counter just head out into the parking lot and you will find the owner slaving over the smoking drum getting ready for the lunchtime rush.
We were going to share just one but I didn’t want to be stingy and lets face it, it’s a bargain so I opted for two jerk chicken and one with a side of peas and rice. Lucky we both didn’t order the side as it would have put us out of commission from the get go.
It was the first time my brother had heard of jerk chicken and he loved it. Mind you – it is a 10-napkin job to get through the entire dish.
I had to bypass Franco Manca on this visit. Franco is an Italian who knows pizza. He opened up shop here with pizzas and wines starting at five quid, serving only a selection of what he deemed to be the best pizza toppings and only open at lunch. I made the pilgrimage quite a few times before Jay Rayner (yes, he pops up again) came and reviewed the place to massive acclaim. The next time we visited there was a line snaking down the market with a one-hour wait. That was my last visit – but now there is so much competition close by it is likely the wait will be less.
This is what I call a nice amount of quirk to utilize a space!
Another place I didn’t get to try was this Thai Deli. The menu looked fantastic.
After the jerk chicken we needed something sweet and headed into Ms Cupcake to check out their wares and for my brother to buy an apron (he says it wasn’t for him but I don’t believe it). We got chatting to the owners and found out all their cupcakes are totally vegan (dude!).
Word is starting to get out about them and they have big plans underway and the BBC has just commissioned a TV series to document their exploits during the next phase of their business. Good luck to them.
Our next food stop was Etta’s Seafood Kitchen. We really didn’t have much room after the massive meal at Take 2wo but we decided to push on anyway.
Etta is the chef and Cheryl is the daughter and the two of them give this place an electric vibe from before you step through the door – they actually yelled out and motioned for us to come in when they saw us photographing the outside of their digs. Inside is bare but for many of the chefs looking to start out they have to go with the bare minimum before they even start cooking. I liked what they had going on as it gave the place some charm.
Everything is cooked to order and fresh – which I found out first hand as I placed our order and Etta sent her daughter out into the market to buy the necessary ingredients.
A smile passed both of their faces when I ordered the fresh ginger beer and Cheryl was once again ordered back into the market to buy a nob of ginger. I can honestly say this was the freshest ginger beer I have ever ingested.
Out came the Caring & Sharing Platter of cod bites, crab fritters and calamari. This was good unfancy food done well and just the right amount for us both. I would happily come back again to try the rest of the menu – but will leave that up to my brother stationed out there.
A massive thanks to both Etta and Cheryl for making us feel right at home in their great little restaurant!
Also in the market but missed on this occasion included: Kaosarn, Honest Burgers, WAG Free, Mama Lan’s, Elephant, Brixton Village Grill, Breads etc and the fantastically named Laboratoria Artigianale del Buon Gelato.
When I previously visited the market it was fast and frenetic, with a soundtrack of pulsing reggae, a healthy availability of skunk and an array of stalls selling fruit and veg, hair extensions and weaves, and anything in between. Nearby Electric Avenue was (and remains to an extent) the beating heart of the borough’s vibrant Afro-Carribbean community. It’s not that we didn’t fit in, but let’s put it like this, you probably wouldn’t whip out your MacBook and order a demi capp for fear of being knifed (sorry Brixton).
I am now in two minds as to how I feel about what is happening to Brixton Market. Yes – it is becoming a foodie drawcard as my brother has since returned on a Thursday night and found the place heaving with bands playing and lines at every restaurant. This is the place new restaurateurs come to ply their trade before realising whether their concept can be rolled out elsewhere. But that is at the expense of pushing out long-term shop owners who have traded here for decades and have a loyal customer base.
Either way I have my brother on the case and he will hopefully be filing guest blog posts about the market restaurants that I missed on my travels there. I can only imagine how much of a hit a place like this would be in Melbourne, but alas, London is where it is happening.
What do you think about Brixton’s reinvention? Is it ok that old-school market stalls are being replaced by a new latte-drinking Apple-using generation? Is it betraying the heart and soul of a historic institution? Or is the quest for cheap world food all that matters?
Granville Arcade, Atlantic Road,
Transport Brixton Tube