by Guest Contributor Kiratiana Freelon
My dream of visiting the black mecca of London in 2009 ended because of the Tube, when the Victoria line was out of service and a London underground employee convinced me it would take two hours to get to Brixton by bus.
So when I arrived in London early 2012, a voice in the back of my head kept saying, “I must get to Brixton. I must go to Brixton. I must get to Brixton.” After tweeting about my desire, Olympian Andrew Steele tweeted the following to me:
Thankfully, the Victoria line was working, and my journey was a straight shot from Oxford Circus.
As I emerged from the Brixton Tube Station, a steel drum band greeted me on the corner. I stayed to listen to the music, but as it was cold, I finally started walking.
The first thing I spotted was the open–air market, which reminded me of a typical African or Caribbean market—lots of starchy tubers, grand pieces of meat, exotic veggies and fruits, and a ton of random stuff, from socks and bedding to key chains?
But where was the covered market?
Before I headed toward where I thought the covered market was, I spotted a stand selling fresh juices and Jamaican snacks, including beef patties. I decided that a patty would be my introduction to food in Brixton.
I would later regret wasting my appetite.
As I entered the covered market, the first eatery that caught my eye was a small cupcake shop. Then I saw a diminutive gourmet brick oven pizza joint. Then, a Caribbean food and goods place, a hamburger restaurant, a tiny shop selling hair weaves, three Colombian restaurants, a braid shop, a vintage clothes shop, and finally a home-style Thai restaurant. And that was just the beginning.
The restaurants weren’t big, either. Most appeared to be between 100 and 200 square feet. But their size didn’t deter the people. I saw dozens of customers eating on benches in the arcade’s breezeway, which was pretty darned cold in early February.
I was confused.
Where was I? In what kind of place can you find intimate, approachable, and clearly very good restaurants alongside weave and ethnic food shops?
Clearly, the Brixton Village Market. And I felt quite comfortable. The hair shops and African/Caribbean goods appealed to my practical need of those things—my blackness. The intimate, affordable and high-quality restaurants featuring food from around the globe appealed to my expanded worldview, my love of others cultures, and my foodie tendencies.
The Brixton Village Market also represented the “new” Brixton, one quite far along on the path of gentrification, but still maintaining its black roots.
Today the Brixton Village market is considered to have the best concentration of high- quality, good-value restaurants in London. It’s a culinary scene that isn’t pressured by London’s typically high rents. So you can get an incredible meal for under £15 (US$24). But, if I had visited Brixton in the summer of 2009, as I had originally intended, I would have encountered the old Granville Arcade.
The Brixton Village, originally evolved from rundown Granville Arcade with just a few tenants, to a real culinary destination in 2009. Due to its historical symbolism, as the center of the Caribbean and African community in Brixton, the arcade thankfully escaped demolition in 2008. Then a new company took over its management in 2009, and offered potential vendors three months of free rent. That’s when “hipsterish” restaurants started coming.
Right now, these small foodie restaurants coexist peacefully with the fishmongers and Caribbean goods vendors of the “old” Granville Market.
At this point, I regretted that Jamaican beef patty, because I was too full to truly enjoy an incredible lunch at one of the Brixton Village Market restaurants. I returned some days later and after hours of deliberation, decided on a light meal at the home-style Thai restaurant. The Thai soup was the best I had ever had in my life—and it was under £10 (US$15.80)
The best days to visit the Brixton Village Market are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, when many restaurants stay open until around midnight. On Thursdays, the arcade typically hosts a block party with music. Several restaurants are open during lunch hours during the week, but most close between 3 pm and 6pm. Weekday lunches (Thursday and Friday) are typically less rushed and cramped.
Below is an exhaustive list of the restaurants at Brixton Village with a brief description. It’s easier, however, to just roam around the arcade looking at the food on other people’s plates, then sit down once something catches your eye. If you can’t find the restaurant you’re looking for, just ask someone. For all the restaurants, expect to pay £25-40 for two people—a steal in London.
Unit 12, Brixton Village Market
Lunch: Tue–Sun noon–4pm; Dinner Thu–Sat 6–11pm
Its burgers are reputed to be the best in London, with aged beef and a firm bun – all sourced from local farms.
Unit 95-96, Brixton Village Market
Lunch: Tue–Sat 12:30––3:30pm–; Sun noon–3:30pm; Dinner Tue–Sat 5:30–10pm; Sun 5:30–9pm
I settled on this home-style Thai restaurant when my stomach just wanted something tasty, filling and light. While the food turned out to be some of the best Thai I had ever had in my life, the dining experience was quite difficult due poor heating in the middle of winter. Read this review by Guardian food writer Jay Rayner.
Unit 39, Brixton Village Market
Lunch: 12.30–3pm Wed; 12.30–3pm; Dinner 6–10pm Thur–Sat; 12.30–4pm Sun
This Japanese café specializes in Osaka-style okonomiyaki, an iconic savory pancake dish usually topped with vegetables and grilled meats or seafood.
Unit 77-78, Brixton Village Market
Hours: Mon–Fri 8am–5pm; Sat 10am–5pm; Sun 9.30am–4pm
The antithesis of Starbucks, serves nude espresso and well-priced baked goods.
Unit 81, Brixton Village Market
Hours: Tue –Wed 12:30pm–2:45pm;; Thur–Fri 12:30pm–2:45pm and 6pm–9.30pm; Sun noon–3:45pm
This Italian restaurant does homemade pasta and expansive meat meals.
French & Grace
Unit 19, Brixton Village Market
Lunch: Wed–Sun noon–4pm; Dinner Thu–Sat 6pm–11pm
Two food bloggers from saladclub.wordpress.com teamed up to start a restaurant serving up fresh sandwiches and wraps.
Unit 88, Brixton Village Market
This café serves homemade bread, and has a toaster at every table.
Unit 18, Brixton Village Market
Lunch: Tuesday–Sun 12:30pm–3:30pm; Dinner Thurs–Sat 6:00pm–11:30pm
Dumplings, street snacks, and noodle soups are on deck at this tiny Chinese restaurant.
Unit 55, Brixton Village Market
Hours: Tue noon–5:30pm, Wed noon–4pm, Thu–Sat noon–4pm, Fri–Sat 6pm–10pm, Sun
With a much smaller menu than a typical London curry house, you’re definitely getting fresh, homemade samosas, curries and vegetable dishes.
Brixton Village Grill
Unit 44, Brixton Village Market
Hours: Tue-Wed 10am–6pm, Thu–Fri 10am–4pm & 7pm–11pm, Sat10am–11pm, Sun 11am–5pm
This expansive Portuguese and English fusion restaurant almost looks out of place in the market, mainly because it’s an actual sit-down restaurant. Go for Potuguese grilled specialties like piri piri chicken and steak, fish and chicken.
Etta’s Seafood Kitchen
Unit 46, Brixton Village Market
Hours: Mon–Wed 11am–6pm, Thur–Sat 11am–10pm
A Caribbean restaurant focusing on seafood dishes like crab fritters, seafood soup and curried fish.
Unit 6, Brixton Village Market
Hours: Tue–Wed 11am–5pm, Thu–Sat 11am–11pm, Sun 11am–5 pm
Italian gelato made in Brixton.
41-42 Brixton Village
Hours: Mon–Wed 10:30am–5pm, Thur–Fri 10:30am–9:30pm, Sat 10am–9:30pm, Sunday 10am–4:30pm
Brick Box is more than a restaurant serving fine crepes, it’s also a collective of people who promote arts and culture in South London markets, including Brixton Village and the Tooting Market.
408 Coldharbour Lane
Hours: Mon–Tues 11am–6pm, Wed–Sat 11am–7pm, Sun 11am–5pm
Vegan cupcakes and cooking classes in Brixton.
El Rancho de Lalo (Unit 95-96)
Judging by the size and quantity of Colombian restaurants, these must have been some of the first restaurants to open in the arcade. They also feel the most authentic; a mix of locals and tourists frequent them. As with most Colombian eateries, you can expect a very large plate full of meat, beans, and rice.
Unit 74, Brixton Village Market
Hours: Tues–Sat 9am–5pm, Sun 9:30am–4pm
Scones and chai tea will warm you up on a cold London day.
Unit 65, Brixton Village Market
Lunch: Wed–Sat noon–3pm, Dinner Thur–Sat 6:30pm–11:30pm
Locally sourced ingredients and gourmet meals are all under £15 (US$24).
Market Row Restaurants
Market Row is not technically part of the Brixton Village Market, but it’s starting to evolve in the same direction—lots of great restaurants at great prices. Look for it across Electric Avenue from the Brixton Village Market. There, you can eat great pizza at Franco Manca, delicious deli sandwiches at Rosie’s Deli, tacos at Casa Morita, or tapas at Seven at Brixton.
- Tours of Brixton, Southall, Brick Lane, Dalston and Chinatown
- Profiles and interviews with a diverse array of people who work to represent London’s diversity
- Listings of the top restaurants across multiple foods
- The most extensive listing of annual multicultural festivals and events in London of any publication.
The digital book will be published on July 15, just in time for the opening of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
This excerpt is from the (hopefully) forthcoming book – however, Kiratiara has until Sunday, June 24th to raise $1,328 to finish the e-book. If you liked this excerpt, please help her meet her goals.