Why East Dulwich is the Place to Be

With new cafes, boutiques and event space, it’s all happening in East Dulwich

WORDS Nikki Spencer

There’s a bit of a buzz around East Dulwich at the moment with many local people setting up independent businesses in the area,’ states caterer and events organiser Suzanne James ( In September, James opened Fifty Seven, a unique events space on North Cross Road, which is home to her popular monthly East Dulwich Supper Club (the next event falls on Friday 10 November), as well as hosting everything from birthday parties and christenings to charity events.

There’s a buzz around Dulwich at the moment

For 14 years, James has run her high-end catering and events company, Suzanne James Ltd, on nearby Barry Road, organising functions everywhere from the Horniman Museum and Dulwich Picture Gallery to the City, and she felt there was a need for something different on her doorstep. ‘We have lots of fabulous large venues and great pubs and cafes in the area, but there was nowhere like this where you can hire the whole space exclusively and make it your own,’ explains James.

The cool white space, which seats up to 30 people, also hosts a variety of regular events, including Takes a Village SE22, a new supportive space for parents every Monday, from 10am-4pm, run by local midwife Rachel Barlow, along with East Dulwich Business Club every Tuesday. There is also a small cookery school. ‘It’s early days, but we already have workshops planned and cookery classes for both adults and children,’ she says. ‘We want this to be a community space and the response locally has been truly wonderful.

’The premises were previously Smith’s Pet Shop and James has kept the original Victorian shop front and layout. ‘I grew up round the corner and used to come in here to buy dog biscuits,’ James recalls with a smile. ‘The owner, Brian, has retired and it has been great to give the building a new lease of life.

’While James was getting plans together for Fifty Seven (a family bereavement meant she had to put things on hold for a while) she gave the space over to pop-up clothes shop, Mac & Miller, which has now moved to a permanent location next door but one, and just launched online (

Clothes shop, Iris

Run by celebrity stylist and costume designer, Katie Greengrass, who has worked with Robbie Williams, Plan B and Alesha Dixon, Mac & Miller tags itself as ‘an East Dulwich version of Zara’, with a carefully chosen selection of men’s and women’s clothing, accessories and beauty products, all at high street prices. ‘We started off as a pop-up with just two rails of clothes and it has grown and grown,’ explains Greengrass, who lives locally. ‘People want to be able to buy a new outfit without trekking into the centre of London and it’s gone down so well we hope to open another shop in south east London next year. The support from other independent businesses in the area has been great,’ she adds.

A few doors up, another new addition to North Cross Road is Luca’s Kitchen and Bakery, named after its two Sicilian owners, Luca Costanza and Gianluca Bastillo, who live in nearby Crystal Palace and took over and refurbished Duck Egg Café. Open seven days a week, with everything from the hummus and sourdough bread to Bakewell tart all freshly made on the premises, Luca’s is already proving to be a firm favourite with locals, especially on Saturdays when North Cross Road Market is in full swing. ‘We have been busy since day one and had such a great response from people,’ says Costanza with a smile.

Luca’s Kitchen

On Lordship Lane, things are happening too, with the arrival of of Mons ( cheesemongers in July, the recent opening of bakery & café, Tart (, and the opening of new independent fashion boutique, Iris, in early November. Award-winning French cheese experts Mons opened in Borough Market in 2007 and also have a stall at Brockley Market. This is their first high street shop in the UK.

Five years ago, Jason Smith and Adam Harrison decided to reinvent the humble tart, starting out with a stall at Herne Hill Farmer’s Market and then opening their first award-winning cafe on Clapham Common. They have taken over what was previously French bistro, Le Chardon, keeping the original tiled interior and revamping the conservatory at the rear. ‘We never thought we’d find somewhere as special as this so we are delighted,’ says Harrison.

Iris ( was launched in Queen’s Park in 2004 by Annie Pollet and Sarah Claassen, who wanted to provide stylish fashion locally. They have recently taken over the Lordship Lane shop, and four other London outlets, from rival boutique Question Air. Iris stocks brands including Isabel Marant, APC and Bella Freud, as well as their own label ‘By Iris’.

It’s certainly all a far cry from when James was growing up in East Dulwich. ‘Back then there wasn’t really much going on around here at all. Everything was closed on Sundays and on Wednesday afternoons too. It’s all very different now.’