Its been a long time since I visited Brixton. Once upon a time, while I was a student in London, it was a regular haunt. My then boyfriend Gary was president of the student Union at Brixton College and he lived not much further up the road, so I often went over to visit and just as often went clubbing at ‘The Fridge’. Oh how I loved being a twenty-something in the 80’s! Back then the eclectic and vibrant market and Electric Avenue were a real revelation to me. I grew up in the suburbs and although we had several shops that sold Indian food, Brixton market with all its Caribbean delights were new, exciting and ready for exploration. The colourful exoticism of the market halls enticed me and kept me enthralled. My Jamaican boyfriend introduced me to patties and bun, curry goat and rice and peas and of course jerk chicken. I still love them to this day.
The recent history of Brixton market is one of degeneration, sell-offs and reprieves, followed by gentrification and trendy food establishments. When the council sold the market off in 2007, locals came together to save it from redevelopment. The Friends of Brixton Market (a voluntary not for profit group) was established by local resident Alex Holland in 2008. Made up of local residents, shoppers and people who just love the Market the aim was to see the market survive, thrive, improve and keep its character, while remaining affordable and culturally diverse.
The first four of these aims have definitely been achieved. The market is pretty much as I remember from my student days. The same riot of sound and colour greeted me and my teen and she was immediately captivated, just as I was twenty odd years ago. She loved it. The noise, diversity, characters and stalls!
The only thing that was noticeably different were the tiny cafe’s tucked in snugly alongside the breadfruit and akee, butchers, wig shops, fish, pattie stalls.
Hip cocktail bars such as Seven (fab mojito’s), kitchen shops selling local produce and shabby chic household goods (Brixton Cornercopia) share space with cafe’s such as Rosie’s deli, purveyor of great cakes.
Our lunch destination was French & Grace; a restaurant owned by Ellie and Rosie of salad club with whom I worked at Harvest last year. Seating only about twelve people inside (plus a few outside), it is small but perfectly formed. Informal and friendly it was like sitting down to dinner in my house. Cutlery brought to the table in a mug and food served on tin plates and dishes gave it an informal, picnic like quality. It reminded me of their festival stall, but with a fixed counter, doors and windows.
It was great to catch up and see how full-time restaurant life suited them, plus the chance to eat their fab Mediterranean inspired street food (the lamb was delicious as was the toffee and ginger pudding with salted caramel sauce) and just sit and chill for a while as we watched the world go by before we headed back into central London for a trip to Tate Modern.
My return visit this Easter (the first time in about 15 years!) filled me with renewed hope for the future of Brixton market. It has survived with its charm intact and mercifully it still resembles the one I remember. The influx of creatives hasn’t taken away from the great stalls, great food and multicultural nature of the place. The one thing I’m not sure about yet is whether it will meet those last two aims; to stay affordable and accessible to the local community. With the influx of trendy cafe’s and middle class chic comes the tourists looking for something new, the media types with plenty of disposable income. Brixton market was always the heart and soul of black Britain and I’d hate to see it become just another expensive fashionable foodie destination.
When it comes to prices though I’m probably not the best judge. I live in Wales where things are half the price of London and it always horrifies me how expensive food and drink is in the city. Still £7.50 for a cocktail; £8.00 for a wrap?….Call me a country bumpkin but I think this is quite expensive (back home no one would pay more than £3.50 for a wrap!)
The market arcades are open:
Monday – Wednesday from 8am – 6pm
Thursday – Saturday from 8am – 10pm
Sundays from 10am – 5pm