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Stories from our Travelers

A Foodie's Pilgrimage to Brixton, South London

French press coffee and breakfast at Cornercopia

Mojitos at Seven at Brixton

Phillips Butchers in Market Row
by Isabel Clift

[From Spring 2012] Saturday morning in Brixton Village, South London: sunshine pours in through the covered market’s high windows, kids charge up concrete aisles on scooters and colourful cafés heave with brunching groups picking their plates clean.

Two years ago, this ‘30s indoor arcade was almost derelict and due for demolition. Its turnaround is owed to a council partnership with charity Spacemakers, who filled units by offering temporarily free leases to independent, locally-based start-ups. Cafes, boutiques and record stores moved in among the fishmongers and grocery stalls, and a buzzy new food destination was born.

The range of tasty and inventive cuisine on offer under the Village’s glass gabled roof is phenomenal, with hot and fresh Tom Yum soup at Thai café Khaosarn, creamy flat whites at Federation Coffee and posh Full English breakfasts at Breads Etc, which offers a selection of sliced loafs you toast yourself at your table. Brixton Grill excels at sticky spare ribs and bloody Marys under baroque black chandeliers, while Elephant serves up steamy Indian street food in sectioned tins. Top it all off with a salted caramel and pistachio gelato from Lab G and you might just have to roll home, but all the happier for it.

The Village is now a weekend pilgrimage for Londoners who’d never normally go further south than Waterloo Station. A blackened, bordered-up JD Sports shop on Brixton Road is a stark reminder of the touch of last summer’s riots, and this bit of the city reverberates in the collective mind as a supposed drugs-and-crime hotspot. Word-of-mouth positivity brought here by the Village isn’t to be sniffed at; despite the fact Brixton’s rough-edged charm and capacity to produce delicious eateries is no big revelation to locals.

You can chart the market’s triumph by its burgeoning surroundings: parallel covered arcade Market Row has also had a surge of recent foodie openings, and Station Road now hosts open-air markets for retro furniture and new designers’ crafts. The ultimate test of this sea-change, for me? People used to raise their eyebrows when I said I lived in Brixton, now they’re more likely to tell me about this great little place they discovered here last Saturday.
Devotees have inevitably started to wring their hands over the price of the Village’s success, and the possibility of rent hikes and big chains elbowing out local sellers down the line. My advice? Join the queues at Village now, while the vibe and scruffiness remain. It’s the most exciting and delicious place to eat in London, whatever you’re craving that day.

My Top Three Picks at Brixton Village and Market Row

- For Modern British, check out Brixton Cornercopia (4th Ave, Brixton Village). One of the first restaurants to set up here, Brixton Cornercopia’s hyper-local ethos and DIY look created the café blueprint for the Village. Spread across three units, the cornershop-deli-cum-restaurant sells jars of allotment-grown damson jam alongside table service for meals sourced from Brixton market and the farmers’ market on Station Road. Menus are hand-written that day, and tables are covered in chequered cloth, adding to that knocked-together, neighbourhood feel. Typically, your plate will be filled with hearty stuff that makes you go “mmmnh,” like Pecorino and broccoli frittata and venison and parsnip mash.

- For Burgers, go to Honest Burgers (Unit 12, Brixton Village). What makes a burger honest? Plenty are raring to find out: there’s huge bloggers’ buzz on this styled-up fast food joint, with a flood of froth-mouthed online praise accompanied by gratuitous meat and bun shots. A flowchart-type menu across one wall sums up the simplicity of Honest Burgers’ operation, and its triple-fried, rosemary-infused homemade chips are heaven in potato form. The Rolls Royce of their output is the off-menu Federation burger: two rare beef patties come sandwiched in a fat glazed bun together with mature cheddar, smoked bacon, red onion relish, gherkins and lettuce.

- And finally, for Cocktails stop into Seven at Brixton (Unit 7, Market Row). You may find yourself sitting on an upturned crate or church pew with a workshop bench for a table (ours had a vice on it) at this open-fronted cocktail cave on Market Row. Like the selection of £5 cocktails, it’s eclectic and full of personality – vintage suitcases hold spirit bottles behind the bar, and each table comes with a deck of cards and cutlery in an old smoked paprika tin. Fancy a few nibbles alongside your ginger and basil mojito? Pick up Spanish pintxos (tapas on sticks) at the bar – the selection changes all the time, but favourites include chorizo and manchego cheese, and figs on bruschetta. Upstairs, five rooms show local artists’ work for free.

If You Go:
Nearest tube stop: Brixton. For the Brixton Village Market, market entrances are on Coldharbour Lane and Atlantic Road, Brixton SW9 8PS. For Market Row, market entrances are on Atlantic Road and Electric Lane, Brixton SW9 8JW.

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