Tag Archives: brixton

On Location: The Lido Cafe (Brockwell Park, London)

“South London” and “Miami Beach” are not terms that you would usually expect to find in the same sentence. However, there are times where you can get the feeling of being in the latter while actually being in the former, and one of those times is when you’re at the Lido Cafe in the lovely Brockwell Park on a warm, sunny day.

No, really! Sitting next to a 1930s-style building next to a bright blue pool, the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, a table laden with healthy brunch items and fresh fruit juices, you can just about imagine you’re lazing somewhere on South Beach. This is how we enjoyed it during the summer when we had a few warm weekends.

Anyway, that was all six months ago…I was there again yesterday, and let’s be honest – when it’s three degrees in London and you’re wrapped up in a thermal jacket, scarf and gloves, that Miami-vibe is not quite as obvious. But fret not – it might not feel like SoBe, but the cafe is thankfully still pretty darned good.

First things first is the building, which alone is worth a mention. At its heart is the lido itself – a large open-air swimming pool, which is great for a dip in summer. The structure is a 1930s construction (I lean towards calling it art deco in my naivety, but I get the feeling I might not be right on this). This all means the cafe is a large, airy space with lots of windows to allow light to flood in. It’s bright during the day and all summer, and as the sun does set, you catch glimpses of the sunset over Brockwell Park. As you can see, the look is quite simple and stylish, and very relaxed.

On previous occasions, we’ve enjoyed breakfast here, and it’s pretty good – delicious pancakes, mushrooms on sourdough toast, exotic fruit juices (and – bonus – they serve Marmite with the toast if you want it!). However, on a chilly January day, following a long and bracing walk in the park (which offers some great views towards central London), we veered towards coffee and cake. We plumped for a slice of the tasty, lightly spicy carrot cake with a generous spread of cream cheese frosting, and a slice of orange, almond and polenta cake.

We hit the place just before it was time to collect toddlers form the local nursery, so it was pretty much kid central for around an hour. If you appear around 3:30, be quite prepared for a series of small child to appear behind you, to tug your clothes and then ask you questions. All part of the charm. And if you’ve got a couple of small folk in tow, this place is a pretty safe bet to make them happy, especially when the pool is open in the summer. You’ve also got the park outside if the energy from all those cakes needs to be burned off.

Finally, I just want to draw your attention to the funky wallpaper that adorns the back of the cafe. Amazing, isn’t it? I have a vague recollection that we had curtains like this at home when I was growing up. Ah, memories…

So…would I go back? For sure. I love this place – the 30s building, the bright, open space and the delicious food. It’s pretty much kid central, but just sit back and enjoy the ride. In summer, it is fantastic sitting outside by the pool, and there aren’t a lot of places in London where you can do that.

The Lido Cafe, Dulwich Road, Brockwell Lido, London SE24 0PA. Tel: 020 7737 8183. Brixton Tube or Herne Hill Rail.

LondonEats locations map here.


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On Location: Franco Manca (Brixton, London)

You might have seen my recent post on Brixton Cornercopia in Brixton Village.

Well, today it’s a hop, skip and a jump across the road to the neighbouring Brixton Market, which contains what is, in my humble view, one of the jewels in the crown of the rapidly changing South London foodie scene. It’s Franco Manca, which most people around this part of town know as the “sourdough pizza place”.

The basics: it’s tucked away in a corner of the market (so seek it out and don’t give up) and is tiny. There is often a queue – which should be taken as a good sign – so don’t be surprised to find yourself up close and personal with other customers at a teeny tiny table.

But we’re here for the great pizza, so everyone seems to be happy to rub along together…and you never know, you might make new friends! At weekends, any idea of just popping in will be greeted with a mighty (if quick-moving) queue, but on a weekday you normally stand a pretty good chance of grabbing a table. Aim for one indoors and enjoy the heat of the pizza oven as the nights get cold and dark. It’s all a bit chaotic, but it just works, as whenever I’ve been, then staff have been super-friendly.

So the star: the pizza. The bases are what makes the place famous, made from sourdough that has been slow-raised for about 20 hours. So just think about this – someone was planning to make my pizza almost a whole day before I even knew that I would be eating it. The resulting base is very tasty, softer than the usual crisp bases that I crave but with a nice chewiness and a puffy edge. The choice of pizzas is kept mercifully short and sweet – there are six standard pizzas, which change with the season, and then two or three specials. And not a bit of pineapple in sight. So yes, you can choose from nine pizzas max. But frankly, that is not an issue – there is a good mixture of veggie, meaty and cheesy, so you won’t be feeling restricted.

The place is all in all a little mad, so just relax and go with the flow. I was famished and luckily my order appeared pretty swiftly (which, in my experience, is usually the case). A piping hot sourdough pizza appeared, flecked with black spots on the puffy crust, and topped with all manner of goodies. On this occasion, I opted for a pizza bianca with buffalo mozzarella, gorgonzola, spinach and caramelised onions, but plumped for a twist with a dash of tomato sauce on the base (so…eh…just a normal pizza really…). It was just heaven. The cheeses were creamy, the sauce was tangy, the onions sweet and juicy, and that base…tasty and just that little bit chewy. I scoffed it in the blink of an eye, but I reckon I could easily have polished off a second. It was that good.

What did strike me about Franco Manca is that this is very much an established joint. People know it and love it. While, no doubt, it really is an exciting time to go down to Brixton and see what is happening, clearly it’s also changing fast – you are basically guaranteed to find something new down there every week – but I do think it will be interesting to see what happens as time goes by. Some places will do well, some might look to move out to other premises, others will vanish as quickly as they came.  But I think one thing is for sure – Franco Manca has been down in Brixton as long as I can remember, and it’s done well for a reason – it’s excellent. And you know what? I reckon it will still be there for a very, very long time.

So…would I go back? Do you really have to ask? If I move down here, we could be having weekly clandestine liaisons. I’d be sneaking in to get take-away too. And all that would be a very good thing indeed.

Franco Manca, Unit 4, Market Row, Brixton Market, London SW9 8LD. Tel: 0207 783 3021. Tube: Brixton.

LondonEats locations map here.


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On Location: Brixton Cornercopia (Brixton, London)

Maybe you’re totally on trend, or maybe it has passed you by, but there is not doubting that the food scene Daaahn Saaaf is kicking off, and Brixton Village is well worth visiting for foodie delights.

The Village is located in Granville Arcade, a series of covered pedestrian streets. A couple of years ago there were just one or two cafés in the middle of shops selling anything and everything, alongside a rather forlorn corner where there were always a few empty lots.

Fast forward a couple of years, and those empty spaces have been transformed into bakers, coffee shops, sweet shops, ice cream parlours and there are places selling great Thai or Italian, alongside the famous Franco Manca sourdough pizza joint.

I was down in this part of town as the London heatwave was peaking and the whole vibe was like being in the winding streets of a smart continental town, as everywhere had tables outside (well outside-inside!) and the night air was still warm. It’s all got a slight retro air (there is a vague sense of a 1950s street party about all this) but is also seems like great fun. People are eating and drinking and really enjoying what is being served up. There is a genuine feeling of something exciting happening here, and it’s great to be a part of it and to see it developing.

I’ve been here quite a few times, but I had been promised “somewhere new” for dinner by friends. In fact, I didn’t want to know – I liked the idea of the surprise. As long as it was veggie, I was willing to take a punt and to try something new. In the end, we were heading to Brixton Cornercopia. It’s a cornucopia of delights, located on a corner. Hence the name!

Now this place is tiny but very charming. And of course, the bijou proportions don’t matter when the charm spills out the door and onto the tables outside and the whole place is bright and fun – vases of flower, gingham tablecloths, pots and jars of local produce and a prancing satyr on the menu. Cornercopia is also big on produce from local growers, and my friends tell me that you can from time to time pass the door to see a sign saying “Sorry we’re closed – making jam today“. If you’re brave, this goes as far as the wine – Cornish white (!) and beer from a local micro-brewery. Aside from that, you can enjoy local fruit and veggies too.

Enough gushing. How was the food?

Well, they do what I think might be my new favourite way of going to a restaurant, where they have three things on the menu for each course, and one of them was veggie (other than desserts, of course!). Takes all the stress out of choosing. But we started off by tucking into great slabs of sourdough bread (I know you shouldn’t fill up on bread but it was so darn tasty!) and got in a bottle of Cornish wine, which was billed as “England’s answer to Sancerre”. And you know what? It was good! Never had it before, but I would go for it again quite happily.

The starter was a very simply heirloom tomato salad with a crisp crumb. One of the tastiest things you can eat – tomatoes plus a little oil, salt and pepper. Beautiful colours and fantastic flavour.

The main was a very substantial platter of roasted beetroot, roasted onions, hazelnuts, watercress and a creamy blue cheese mousse. These are all some of my favourite flavours, and it was just delicious. They’ve managed to product some fantastic vegetarian food that looks good, tastes good and is very, very substantial. I shouldn’t have eaten it all. I should have stopped half way through. But it was so easy just to pick at a little more beet, a dash of mousse, well, maybe a little more of the roasted onion…

With hunger satisfied, the show started.

No, not some strange cabaret that is laid on in some restaurants that can be amazing but often tends to tread the strange line between weird and embarrassing. For one of our group was convinced he knew the hostess. So he asked her. Reaction was muted as they tried to work out where she could be familiar from. A local cafe? The market? The lido? We concluded that they must just have seen each other around….

…then 10 minutes later, our friend was still convinced, so decided to give her another grilling. And yes, before we knew it, we were treating that strange line between weird and embarrassing after all. The thing is, I am quite keen to go back there, so I hope that there isn’t a little black mark next to my name…ah well, we will see!

After all this, it was time for a dessert. Chocolate slab with orange and pistachio, yoghurt panna cotta or a selection of British cheeses? Stuffed as we were, it was only right to try at least one of them, and the chocolate it was to be. Let’s just go for what is clearly the richest, heaviest and most decadent option, shall we?

This was sensational. The chocolate was rich and dark, avoiding being too sweet, and had a pleasant orange flavour and generous number of bright green pistachio nuts. I also appreciated that it was not served straight from the fridge – makes such a difference, as the depth of flavour really comes across so much better.

So…would I go back? it will not be a surprise to hear the answer is a resounding yes. Nice place, great food, good vibe, friendly staff. Ticks all the boxes, and located in a fun area to boot. Highly recommended if you find yourself in this part of town.

Brixton Cornercopia, No. 65, 4th Avenue, Brixton Village Market, Coldharbour Lane, London, SW9 8PS. Tel: 07919 542 233. Tube: Brixton.

LondonEats locations map here.


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On Location: Hive (Brixton, London)

Buzzzzzzzzz…let’s head South of the River. After making honeycomb, let’s go to Hive.

If you don’t live in London, the whole issue about whether something is north or south of the Thames might be a little surprising/irrelevant, but there is still a hard-core of people who are staunchly in favour of one or the other, and those souls will just point blank refuse to cross a bridge unless really, really forced to do so.

Lucky, then, that I am not one of those people. I was in Oxford Street to buy a new camera, and got chatting to a friend who suggested lunch in Brixton. After too much travel between London and Brussels, she was tired and did not want to come into town, so I headed down to her neck of the woods. A bit of umming and aaahing and we headed to Hive for a late brunch/lunch affair. More laziness than anything, as we do have a tendency to go there quite a bit when I’m in Brixton.

I have to say, I quite like it here. The atmosphere is relaxed, testified by the tables of mums with a kid in tow (one kid per mother, both engaged with each other, rather than just wall-to-wall screaming), or people sitting on their own reading the weekend papers over a late brunch. The decor is great too – the bee motif is picked up throughout the venue, and there is a lot of character from the shabby-chic details.

Now, the bad news: if you are a strict vegetarian, there is not a huge amount of choice. Typically one starter and one main, plus some options on the sides(*). However, while the choice can be limited, what I have eaten here has always been tasty.

This time, I had gnocchi with tomato sauce and pesto on a bed of roasted squash and aubergine. Simple, but just perfect. The gnocchi were cooked perfectly, still plump but a little chewy, and fried just enough to provide the merest whisper of a crisp coating, but without been oily or too heavy. The sauces were both good – the tomato was fresh, fruity and juicy, and the pesto was nice and fresh (so easy to get wrong, so extra credit for getting this right!). All of this on top of well-cooked aubergine and squash, which fell apart nicely on the plate. It was a nice, simple combination of flavours and textures which I thought really worked well.

In contrast, if (unlike me) you are a fan of eggs, then there is a decent brunch selection to choose from. My lunch companion chirpily informed me that these dishes were tasty, and I have to admit that they certainly looked and smelled pretty good. I might not eat them, but I can appreciate when they look good on the plate. Fortunately, there is also a nice choice in desserts and cakes – I plumped for a slice of orange and carrot cake, which was moist, soft and beautifully spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon.

So would I go back? In all honesty, I would not come all the way to Brixton just to visit Hive. However, this is nothing really against Hive, and when I am in this part of town, I think it has a sufficiently relaxed atmosphere with reliably good food and friendly staff(**) that it is a great place to potter about, read the papers and while away a lazy Saturday afternoon.

(*) In terms of sides, the chips are pretty darn good – and come in a rather nifty little container with a paper collar, à la the newspaper from the chippy in days gone by.

(**) Really, they are always super-friendly. Chatty when you are in the mood for that, but leave you in peace if that’s what you want too. Keep it up!

Hive, 11-13 Brixton Station Road, London SW9 8PA. Tel: 020 7274 8383. Tube: Brixton

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Brixton Macaron Bake and a temperamental oven

I’ve just come back from a great staycation down in Brixton in South London. My friend K and her baby were on their own for the night, so I went down there, we made macarons, and saw some of the local food highlights. To top off the evening, some guests were coming to dinner, and we decided that they would be tasting the results and giving us their verdict.

K had been determined to at least have a go at making macarons during her maternity leave. In the interests of science, we tried two versions: simple (whisk egg whites, add to icing sugar and ground almonds) while the other was rather more laborious (involving preparing meringue with cooked sugar syrup). We also prepared a range of fillings.

Macarons are a combination of cooking, art and chemistry. You need to have an appreciation of the magic that is at work, everything needs to be measured exactly, and you need to have an oven that works. “Oh, did I mention that there is a problem with the oven?“. Eh, no, you didn’t. “Well, the dials are off, so it’s difficult to know the exact temperature of the oven, or even whether it is the oven or the grill that is on“. It looked like this was to be more of a sporting option than I had first anticipated…

We started with chocolate maracons using the easy method. This all went smoothly. I would have preferred to blitz the almonds in a coffee grinder to get them perfectly powdery as they were a little coarse, but this wasn’t a major issue. I piped out a trayfull, then my co-chef for the day had a go. It turned out it was her first time piping macarons, but after a couple of tries, she got the method down to a tee. The texture was good too – the tops smoothed out perfectly. We left them to dry for 20 minutes, baked them, and they came out of the oven looking perfect. Only one of them saw fit to erupt volcano-style. Nice chewy texture too. Result!

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