Last year, Tooting in south London was named one of the top 10 must-see neighbourhoods in the world by Lonely Planet. The Resident asks some of the area’s movers and shakers, including Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, MP for Tooting, what makes this ‘hood so hip…
Words: Chantal Borciani
As well as artsy Vesterbro in Copenhagen, the trendy print district of Seongsu-dong in Seoul, Sunset Park in Brooklyn; Tooting in south London is officially one of the trendiest places to eat, drink and be seen.
Whether it’s the multitude of independent businesses, the scented market stalls or the fact that you can purchase a fuchsia sari, hand-picked blood oranges, authentic Turkish baklava, fish and chips, and a proper south Indian curry, all in a few footsteps of each other, it’s out with Shoreditch and in with Tooting.
Voted by Lonely Planet as one of the coolest urban places to live in the world, the bold London neighbourhood has surged in popularity (the average house now costs around £670,000), but the Tooting community spirit is still clear to see; its colourful, steely heart remains in tact as a light sweeping of avocado-laden brunch spots and such like move in.
Will Jones of the Lonely Planet explained Tooting’s place in the coveted top 10 ranking: ‘Revelling in multiculturalism and originality, its high street, which stretches between two Tube stations, is one of the best “curry corridors” in the country, and contains some superb south Asian restaurants, like Dosa n Chutny and Apollo Banana Leaf.’
The borough is known for far more than an esteemed Lonely Planet rating, though. The birthplace of London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP to step into the Mayor’s vacant Tooting seat was Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, another proud Tooting resident.
Daughter of a Pakistani father and Polish mother, Dr Allin-Khan was born and raised in Tooting, continues to take shifts as an A&E doctor in St George’s hospital when parliament is in recess and is the mother of two young children; enough, perhaps, for her to offer a frontline insight into what makes this neighbourhood so special.
‘Tooting has certainly changed over the years,’ she says. ‘More and more people are moving into the area, drawn in by the huge range of vibrant shops, bars and restaurants. Despite the changes, I think Tooting has kept its uniqueness – it has always had its own identity and its own soul.
More and more people are moving into Tooting, drawn in by the huge range of vibrant shops, bars and restaurants. Despite the changes, I think Tooting has kept its uniqueness – it has always had its own identity and its own soul
’The perfect Sunday afternoon in Tooting? ‘A stroll around Tooting Common with my family,’ says Allin-Khan. ‘Followed by lunch at Dee Light in Tooting Bec, then buying groceries along Upper Tooting Road. By that time, my little ones have run out of patience and any spare time should be spent enjoying a diet coke at the Wheatsheaf,’ she laughs.
Tooting pubs including The Antelope and The Selkirk are also popular among residents, while a flurry of restaurants including The Little Taperia on Tooting High Street and bars such as Ekcovision and Brick & Liquor are buzzing. Then there’s the spoils of India – Spice Village for family-recipe fresh naan, Tooting institution Mirch Masala, and Pooja for some sweet treats.
Chef Gary Doherty owns Tota, a small local gem specialising in comfort food, brunches and wickedly enticing seasonal dinner menus seconds away from Tooting Broadway station. ‘When we opened five years ago we wanted to offer some variety,’ he says. ‘We buy our fruit and veg from the guy with the stall by the Tube and go to the excellent Turkish shop on Mitcham Road for plenty of other finds. Tooting is very much on the map now and independent restaurants are so important.’
Sure enough, Tooting is one of the few places where Starbucks and chains are pushed to the background. The neighbourhood even has its own festivals. Tootsmas Christmas Market in early December and Tootopia – a street festival with food stalls, beer festivals, local businesses offering specials, family activities and entertainment – in summer.
Seconds from Tooting Broadway Tube visitors will find its two covered markets. Fortunately not as labyrinthine as Brixton Market, the stalls sit side by side and offer delicious Vietnamese, Asian and world food knitted together with fabric merchants and excellent grocers. Hit Meza for Lebanese takeaway, Koi Ramen and Hinata for Japanese, or pull up a stool at Unwined wine bar, enjoy coffee at brunch spot Brickwood and don’t miss Graveney Gin – a tiny micro-brewery crafting organic London Dry Gin.
Tooting Bec Lido used to be London’s best-kept secret. Its entrance was so hidden you would hardly believe it was there. In 2002, the new entrance was built and it went from being a secret to being the jewel in Wandsworth’s crown
One of the neighbourhood’s most iconic spots, the 111-year-old Tooting Bec Lido is a village in itself. The lido is a haven for those looking to chill out on balmy summer days and home to the South London Swimming Club.
‘The lido is like its own community,’ explains Margy Sullivan, who joined in 1990. ‘Tooting Bec Lido used to be London’s best-kept secret. Its entrance was so hidden you would hardly believe it was there. In 2002, the new entrance was built and it went from being a secret to being the jewel in Wandsworth’s crown.
’Membership has grown massively as cold water swimming becomes bracingly popular, but should you not fancy taking the plunge quite yet, await the warmer weather when you can set up a towel and a picnic on the grass around the pool and, for now, head for Tooting’s warm, edgy heart to its local shops and butchers, under the arches to its market food stalls, or warm up with one of the best curries in town.