Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Within walking distance

Is New Cross the new Camden? The Evening Standard asked the (rather lame) question at the end of last year when New Cross's Amersham Arms was relaunched by the same people as run Camden's The Lock Tavern.

I went there on Saturday night to see whether such claims might have a whiff of truth. The last time I went along it was to see the band Man Like Me literally bring the roof down on the old place as part of a rather shambolic but fun festival.

Anyway, the front bit of the Amersham Arms is now indeed rather like a pub you would find in Camden. Full of quite cool semi-scenesters winding themselves up for the night ahead.

Good place. Works well for a Saturday night. I'll check the back room one day soon, when I see a good gig to go to.

We stayed for a few in the Amersham Arms then moved on to another local pub, the Royal Albert, which has also been on the receiving end of a recent refurb.

It used to be known as the Paradise Bar for those with a longer memory. And the Six String Bar for those with an even longer one.

Now it is a nice place. A little bland but not in a bad way. It had a good range of beers, stayed open until after 12 and it is a 10 minute walk to my home.

The Amersham was more fun and did make me realise how New Cross does maintain a good number of quirky and interesting venues.

There are those that shudder at the memory of the Paradise Bar, while others remember it with fondness for its unusual and experimental nights.

Meanwhile, the Goldsmiths Tavern of old was a fairly crazy place if my addled memory serves me right. (It is the only place where I have seen a man thrown horizontally through a door onto the street, and by a much-pierced barman wearing a suit!)

There's a history to this: a glance at the culture section of the New Cross's Wikipedia entry shows how many alternative scenes have connections to the town, including some of the first house nights, Britpop and new rave. It was also where Vic Reeves first did a show with Bob Mortimer, which almost in itself makes it my spiritual home!

Getting people from outside the area to come for the evening remains a chore but maybe that is part of New Cross's charm. An evening there remains one for either the brave or the local, and that doesn't seem like such a bad thing.

Edited to add:

Coincidentally, fellow (and much more established) blogger Transpontine has written up a similar piece on New Cross on the back of a NME article, "New Cross is Reborn".

Hats off to the chap. And am particularly liking his Walking New Cross series.

Monday, 17 March 2008

I love Brockley

I have a T-shirt that was made for me that reads 'I love Penge', and it is one of the finest articles of clothing I have ever owned.

When wearing it I have been stopped in the street, talked to by random strangers, hugged and photographed.

The truth of the matter, however, is that I have barely stepped foot in Penge. The T-shirt was made for me because I had a plan to take advantage of people's aversion to the name Penge, buy a house there and then lead a campaign to change people's minds about the name. Hence profit.

But if I did ever love a place in London, it would have to be the town where I now live, Brockley.

I'm not so sure that it is really my heart's true desire, but it certainly is getting under my skin.

Some people that do love Brockley are the folk that run the local coffee shop, the Broca. They are organising a I Love Brockley Fun Run on 27 April.

Entry details are here. I'll be running. For Brockley!

Monday, 10 March 2008

Shopping and fetishes

Since I started writing this blog, around two months ago, I have changed my shopping habits. No longer do I rely on the once a fortnight trip to Sainsbury’s, filling the car up with the regular load.

Now I buy what I can, when I can, as long as it is from a shop within walking distance of my home. This is not because I loathe supermarkets, but because I wanted to see what would happen if I made the change. A very mild version of the film
Supersize Me, the story of Morgan Spurlock’s month eating only MacDonalds food.

However, I am in a much better place than Morgan Spurlock because my choice is wider. I live in a large city and am surrounded by lots of shops to choose from.

This blog began because four food shops opened within months of each other, all within walking distance of my home. Given this, I felt it hardly fair that I should get in the car and drive to a hypermarket and spend my money elsewhere.

The four shops range in character: there’s a French place, a general delicatessen, a wholefood shop and a Tesco Express, the smallest of the types of outlets run by the supermarket. These four shops join a number of locally-owned and run convenience stores, with two of the largest under the Costcutter banner.

It is interesting to compare the Tesco Express to the Costcutter shops, as well as the other larger convenience stores. Walking past two to get to the Tesco this evening, they seemed very empty and rather drab. By comparison, there were queues at Tesco, which was new, bright and inviting.

In Andrew Simms’ book Tescopoly, he describes a visit to a Tesco store as an intimidating experience, one that he cannot wait to end. My visits to my local Tesco, on the other hand, compare favourably with those to the similar-sized convenience stores.

The food offering is certainly more predictable, the quality is assured (or at least has a large brand behind it) and the presentation is better. In particular, the meat range is of a much higher quality, the aisles are wider and more logically laid out.

Overall, however, the differences between the experiences are small. The staff are roughly the same in attitude and background, the food is slightly different, but not much; the only clear advantage of Tesco is that its cash machine is free (Brockley’s only one), whereas those in the convenience stores make you pay.

The point that Simms makes repeatedly is that shopping in supermarkets is alienating for all concerned – grower, producer, shop assistant and customer. But I look at the staff and food offering in the local convenience stores and see little difference.

I know this is not Simms’ comparison – his is between supermarkets and specialist food retailers such as farmers’ markets, greengrocers, butcher etc – but often modern people are not so organised as to get all their weekly shopping on a Saturday morning, or at the farmers’ market on alternate Sunday mornings, so the convenience store is the better comparison.

Simms not only makes a false comparison – between time-consuming specialist stores and time-saving convenience-orientated supermarkets – but also implies that food shopping should become a larger part of people’s lives.

But while eating properly and healthily is important, sometimes the focus on the ‘authentic shopping experience’ seems built upon such people’s (understandable) need for identity support. They wish to buy into – literally – an identity, one of caring about food, or environmental awareness, or French rusticity, and shops emerge to cater to them, at a cost.

Basic supermarkets like Tesco’s, on the other hand, are focused on convenience. Fast and efficient shopping, for the products you want, or think you want. Identity support takes a second place.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Two local restaurants

Brockley is lucky enough to have two very fine restaurants.

One of them is called Meze Mangal, on Lewisham Way.

It is an Turkish restaurant, serving a range of mezes and kebabs in warm, large, wood-panelled space. It also does take away (to collect).

With the take-away you would miss the atmosphere, which is buzzy but not excessively loud. However, you would have a less smoky atmosphere, the only negative I could find with the place.

It is certainly popular. I went along on a Monday night, which would usually be a very quiet night for a local restaurant. However, it was full and people began to queue at around 8.30, on a Monday night!

One reason for this is surely the quality of the food. The mixed meze for two (£11) was superb, and enormous.

Not knowing the size of the starter, we also had mains. Lamb shish kebabs of different varieties, both were fine. Mains cost around £9-11. We went with the house red to drink, and that was perfectly adequate, and £2.50 a glass, £10 a bottle.

Given the size of the portions, it would be easy to fill up on mezes and another starter. Or just the kebabs. You see? I'm already planning my next visit ...

I'd better get there early!

Oh, and the other local restaurant? I'll get onto that shortly!

(More reviews of Meze Mangal here on the Brockley Central site. Posters there say the restaurant plans to open a patisserie next door.)