It’s no secret that Tooting is now a foodie’s favourite, with some Londoners crossing town to take a bite of the Tooting cherry. Here’s why we think you should head to SW17 for a bite (or 10) to eat. Words: Vicky Smith
The Tooting food and drink movement may not be a new one, but it’s ever evolving, and the roll-call of restaurants, trendy pop-ups, gastropubs and cocktail bars just keeps on getting longer. Where else can you stand in line at a naan bakery, inhaling irresistible scents before tearing into pillowy, doughy bread so fresh that the bag steams up immediately? Or grab a crispy, chilli-studded dosa, with change from a fiver, for an ice cream at Afters on the way home? Not only are the majority of the places good value, but the selection is eclectic too, making it one of the most exciting foodie destinations in town right now.
The team behind SW17 stalwarts Tota (tota-restaurant.co.uk) were some of the first to recognise that the area and its residents were crying out for somewhere providing good food and good times, and the multi-dimensional neighbourhood favourite is pretty much always busy – call in during the morning for coffee and homemade granola, book ahead for a weeknight dinner, or welcome the weekend with cocktails until 12.30am on a Friday – it’s as flexible as it is fun.
Not ones to miss a trick (particularly when it comes to south London), trendy pub chain Antic were also quick off the mark to open in Tooting, with Tram and Social (tootingtramandsocial.co.uk) keeping livelier residents satisfied with live music and late-night drinks. But that’s not the end of Antic’s Tooting takeover: they now have The Antelope (theantelopepub.com), which serves a way above-average Sunday roast in an eclectic setting, and coffee-cum-cocktail-cum-craft-beer haven Graveney and Meadow (graveneyandmeadow.com).
Moving off the high street and on to Upper Tooting Road, there’s thenewly-renovated Castle (castletooting.com), Young’s flashy interpretation to the fast-paced development of the area’s gastro offerings (and site of a truly impressive garden, complete with hireable huts). Another reliable choice for a good, and family-friendly, Sunday lunch, it also does good sharing platters for sociable dining.
Further up the road towards Tooting Bec, you’ll find Tartine (tartinebread.co.uk), where the counter’s laden with French pastries and cakes, and the wait for a weekend brunch is increasing by the month. But if you’re in town later in the day, head to The Imperial Durbar (theimperialdurbar.com), a rather cool cocktail bar that opened last year, with both drinks and decor influenced by Imperial India. Sit behind an ornately-carved wooden screen with a chilli-infused Rubee Muree or Monsoon Martini cocktail, before tucking into a plate of onion bhajis.
In addition to the bars and restaurants on the main drag, there are new places popping up in Tooting Market all the time, including Unwined (agrapenightin.co.uk) – a wine bar funded by a Kickstarter campagn – a fresh juice bar, and a very cheerful cycle cafe, so get down to Tooting quick, before those queues get even longer.
Although it has an undeniably independent feel, Tooting has welcomed a couple of chains, in the form of Soho House-owned Chicken Shop (chickenshop.com) where, unsurprisingly, chicken and chips are the order of the day (although leave room for the desserts, which are pretty fantastic too), and the much-lauded Honest Burger (honestburgers.co.uk), where eager feasters queue out of the door for prime patties sandwiched between brioche buns with a side of rosemary fries. Instagramming optional (but inevitable).
It would be a huge injustice to talk about Tooting and food without reference to some of the area’s longest-standing (and tastiest) establishments. Lahore Karahi (lahorekarahirestaurant.co.uk), which boasts a door covered in laminated five-star reviews, has been serving mouth-watering, home-style Pakistani food to Tooting residents for years, whilst Harrington’s on Selkirk Road is perennially popular with those in search of a traditional pie, mash and liquor fix. Meanwhile, on Mitcham Road, Rick’s Restaurant (ricks-restaurant.co.uk), known previously as Rick’s Cafe, remains a popular choice for those in the know. Don’t be confused by the unassuming name – there’s a daily-changing menu of popular, modern British and European dishes that means booking is essential.