Thursday, 7 July 2016

Why Brixton is London at its best

For some folks the Big Smoke can feel cold, aloof, frustratingly self assured and slightly intimidating, enough for them to give it a fairly wide berth forever more. But London is a city whose appeal increases exponentially as you peel back its layers. Artists, musicians, writers, inventors and ordinary folks from every country around the globe have been drawn to this bustling metropolis, shaping it over time and creating an incredible melting pot of people, cultures and influences.
No area embodies this better than Brixton and Mind the Gap's Gourmet Market Tour provides the ideal introduction to the area for tourists and Londoners alike. Keen to explore what is a fairly uncharted part of the city for me, my sister and I emerged from Brixton tube early one Saturday morning to meet our guide, Roo, a knowledgeable local who would cheerfully entertain us for the next few hours with tales of Brixton's colourful history and introduce us to its delicious offerings.

Brixton feels less like just another area of the city and more like a little village in itself, and one that is fiercely proud of its local identity. So it's perhaps unsurprising that they have their own currency here - the Brixton pound - which you can buy in vending machines in the market and can use to pay for goods in selected local shops. With the faces of famous and important local residents printed on the notes, the currency was designed to foster community spirit and avoid the onslaught of chain stores by encouraging people to buy locally.

As Roo guided us through Brixton's markets and side streets we enjoyed a safari brunch from around the world and marvelled at the sheer variety on offer. Where else can you have supper with a Masterchef winner, sip on mango lassis, bite into Mexican bunelos with chilli sauce and tuck into jollof rice and noodle broth, within a stone's throw of each other. Some highlights from my taste tour included -

The best Portuguese custard tarts this side of Lisbon from the Brixton Pound Shop.....

Jerk chicken or saltfish & callaloo dumplings and patties washed down with a Guinness Punch at First Choice Bakery....

Bohemian sourdough pizza and local craft beer at Agile Rabbit...........

AMAZING tapas at Donostia Social Club in Brixton Boxpark....................

As well as introducing us to places which if we were on your own we would have no doubt walked right past without even noticing, the tour was also great because it really helped us get under the skin of the area. A stop to pay our respects at the David Bowie memorial and to see the mural below which includes a blink and you'd miss it nod to Vincent van Gogh (see if you can spot it) showcased Brixton's famous faces, but even more fascinating was the opportunity to learn about the stories of ordinary people and the rich cultural roots of the area through a visit to the Black Cultural Archives.

We finished up the tour so full we had to roll ourselves home, but also with a much deeper appreciation of Brixton and a determination to make a return visit as soon as possible and try the long list of other eateries that Roo and the Mind the Gap team recommended.

As I headed back to the tube I started thinking about why the tour had made me warm to Brixton so much and I realised that it is essentially because this area is a perfect microcosm of London as a whole - beautifully chaotic, effortless cool, full of incredible food and experiences on every corner, an area in a constant tug of war between those who want to retain the local character and those intent on gentrification and with an utterly fascinating history which jumps right off the page. But most importantly a place where people of every nationality, religion, sexuality and race are welcomed with open arms, co-existing in harmony and making the city their own. In the harsh light of day following the Referendum results and the resulting fallout, a visit to Brixton was a welcome reminder that for all its imperfections, London will always be a place which draws together those who celebrate diversity and inclusiveness and it is surely one of the most interesting capitals in the world as a result.


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