Brixton Village and Pop Brixton kick started a culinary revolution in SW9, so what’s the secret formula to success? And will Peckham Levels have the same impact on SE15’s already vibrant food scene?
Words: Victoria Smith
In May 2011 Jay Rayner reviewed Kaosarn, the Thai cafe-style restaurant in Brixton Market. He ended his review with the line: ‘On a Friday evening there were free tables before 9pm. It won’t be like that for long.’ Anyone who’s stepped foot in the now much-lauded Brixton Village will know how right the Guardian’s food critic was.
Fast forward five years, and it’s not just on a Friday night you need to wait for a table. In fact, you’ll see a virtually never-ending round of destination diners at most times of day –Instagrammers, food bloggers and, yes, even locals – in search of something new to eat.
Nowadays, Kaosarn is joined by numerous other traders in Brixton Village and Market Row, from Franco Manca and Brixton Village Grill to newer-kids-on the block serving everything from Japanese okominyaki to jerk chicken.
But it’s not just from within the confines of the market that Brixton has secured its spot on London’s culinary map: the swift success has led the way for a raft of new openings, with chains such as Wahaca, Brindisa, Barrio and The Rum Kitchen all opening sizeable sites in SW2 and, perhaps most excitingly, the arrival of Pop Brixton, a unique community project that’s home to some of the tastiest traders in town.
The site just on Brixton Station Road makes as much of a visual statement – it’s created from brightly-painted shipping containers, arranged around a central courtyard, with a covered greenhouse area for chillier days – as it does a culinary one.
Pop Brixton exists to support the local community as well as feed it – traders must be prepared to give something back to Brixton. Pop also offers discounted rates to social enterprises and local start-ups
However, it’s not just about the food – this project exists to support the local community as well as feed it, and all traders must be prepared to give something back to Brixton and its surrounding areas. Pop also offers discounted rates to social enterprises and local start-ups needing to get their businesses off the ground, and houses events spaces, a farm (for plants, not animals) and the relatively new Pop Fields, where you can pitch-up on the Astroturf and watch big sports games and films on a big screen.
The unique combination has been a triumph, apparent not just in the perennially packed space, but from the verdicts of the traders themselves. Bel Shapiro, owner at The Bell and Brisket, opened up on the site three months ago, and as well as supplying visitors with superlative salt beef, is enjoying being part of such a unique scheme.
‘It feels great to be back in a community again,’ she says. ‘We’ve been slightly distanced from the street food scene recently due to pub residencies, which don’t offer that same feeling. So it’s lovely to be able to turn up in the morning and have a whole new set of pals.’
Pop has created a new enticing environment for locals, which has contributed to the positive growth happening in Brixton
Melanie Brown from the New Zealand Cellar wine shop and bar agrees that Pop’s a great scheme to be part of: ‘It’s created a new enticing environment for locals, which has contributed to the positive growth happening in Brixton, and it’s also allowed many local businesses to flourish and created a network of like-minded individuals to collaborate and support each other.’
For some of the businesses that have been at the site since the very start, Pop has been the kick-start they needed to expand even further. Kricket serves contemporary Indian small plates and cocktails – their samphire pakoras are not to be missed – and the killer combo has proved so popular, they’re opening a second site in Soho soon. ‘Being part of Pop has been an amazing journey, better than we could have ever imagined and a great platform to launch our Soho restaurant,’ says owner Rik Campbell.
This autumn, Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park will be transformed into Peckham Levels
Not satisfied with conquering Brixton, the team behind Pop are now looking towards their second site. This autumn, Peckham Multi-Storey Car Park (the space beneath popular rooftop bar Frank’s Cafe) will be transformed into Peckham Levels, a new creative community for local artists and entrepreneurs. Spread over seven floors, it will turn the currently empty structure into 90,000 square feet of workspaces, artists’ studios, public areas and event venues.
When fully occupied, it will house a community of over 600 independent members. Peckham Levels is a temporary project set to run over the next five years, and we can’t wait to see whether it attracts the same kind of creative talent as Pop Brixton.