Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Aftermath (Or, Why I Love This City)

true dat.
This past weekend, the Mister and I spent some of both Saturday and Sunday in Brixton. We don't live that much closer now than when we were in Streatham Hill, but somehow the bus journey or walk there seems easier, and it's our favourite place for many things: the amazing cinema; eating out in one of Brixton Village's many treasures; meeting friends; going to Morleys department store. I bloody love Morleys.

On Saturday evening we went to the Ritzy and saw Super 8 (if you want a review, I've not got time here - but this about sums it up). It was a lovely evening with a semi-sunset and we sat at the bar after the film and marvelled at how brilliant Brixton was.  Each time we come here since the redevelopment of Windrush square we always comment on what a good idea it was to just turn those benches t'other way around, so that no more shady deals go on, out of view from the road. Now the whole area is teeming with life; the area in front of the Ritzy is a social space, with nice plants and funky lights and people sitting on the grass playing games. It warms the cockles.

image credit:

On Sunday we came back for a trip to the shops and to have a look at Brixton Splash. It had rained that morning and so it seemed like things got going a bit later than expected, but by the time we were out of Morleys around 5pm it was all going off. The sun had come out and there was a large crowd on Coldharbour Lane, dancing to a badass remix of Amy Winehouse's Rehab. There were even dancing Elvises. Elvises, I tell you!

The Kings, dancing in front of The Prince - cheers @voicefromspace

Standing in the sunshine that afternoon, swaying with the crowd, and knowing that Tottenham had suffered riots the night before, I felt lucky to live in such a peaceful, awesome, multicultural melting pot of cool. I tweeted as much, feeling safe enough to joke that riots in Brixton were 'so last century'.

Then the next morning I woke up to see this.

I felt utterly devastated.  As events unfolded throughout Monday and intensified that night, a wave of sadness came over me. Had we been completely wrong about the feeling in Brixton that day? Was the community really so quickly and easily on its knees, to be ripped apart by mindless thuggery?

The feeling that day was one of ever-increasing tension as reports of violence spreading to other areas multiplied. It was desperately scary across London on Monday with mass riots taking place in seemingly every corner of the city, twitter going crazy with chinese whispers of where the next mob would target, friends checking on one another via various mediums, everyone listening out for sirens, shouts, or the sounds of smashing glass. It was a dark night for London.

But here's the good news. In the days since then I am extremely pleased to report that the fantastic spirit I love about London and its people has been has been brought to the fore. In many cases, acts of mass care and kindness have been carried out with renewed fervour, matching any destruction and terror with peace and love, man. Especially in Brixton.

Some examples of this (and they are numerous) which have really warmed my heart:

  • The @riotcleanup movement, started by people bound by a need to do something good to counter all of the destruction
  • The Do Something Nice for Ashraf blog, which aims to help the Malaysian student who was filmed being mugged by youths who had initially helped him up from the ground after he was hit by a piece of debris thrown by rioters.
  • The free cupcakes offered by a shop in Brixton, the free tea, coffee and sandwiches offered by the Battersea Arts Centre, the free storage offered to flailing businesses by a secure storage company - and there are many other examples - all show a human kindness that goes beyond 'good PR' or 'effective marketing' to just plain, simple, old fashioned community spirit and loveliness.
  • Some MPs are out on the streets, doing their bit to reassure and comfort their communities. Some, like Chuka Umunna, do it even when there's no news camera rolling, because they're genuinely good people.
  • This photo. Says it all, really. God bless this town. May she recover quickly.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Polpetto, 49 Dean Street, London W1D 5BG 

The Bitter: Very small tables; seating for 28 in a space the size of a large living room; no bookings taken in the evenings; probable queues

The Sweet: Lovely small plates of cicchetti; friendly staff; fantastic people-watching opportunities; wine by the carafe; no bookings taken in the evenings

This is probably the thousandth review of one of either Polpo, Spuntino, da Polpo or Polpetto to be found on someone's blog, so I'll try to keep it short.

Polpetto is the first of these restaurants I have been to, and it came highly recommended by many. It's certainly a trendy place to say you're going - usually met with an appreciative 'Ooooh!' quickly followed by, 'you'd better get going, they don't take bookings in the evenings'. It's tiny, seating only 28 diners, although it felt like maybe they'd managed to cram in more than that last night. We walked in at five to seven and luckily nabbed the last table, sandwiched between beautiful Soho couples on the banquettes at the back.

Our waitresses were friendly punk rockers, some sporting a pierced septum, one with Ramones t-shirt, all with tattoos. There was none of this 'cooler than you' rubbish that you get at many a trendy London nightspot. The service was fast and unfussy, and we were left to pour our own water and wine. I enjoyed that. Wine, by the way, comes in carafes - brilliant - of either 25, 50, or 75cl. A 25cl small carafe (about 2 glasses) of house white was £5.50, which is unheard of in this part of town.

The menu is concise,with four main areas : breads, fish, meat and vegetables/salad. The Mister and I ordered one plate from each area, starting with brown shrimp w/braised baby gem and Devon crab with trofie (Ligurian pasta twirls, I now know). Both were tasty but the pasta dish won out, with a red chilli and parsley garnish, it was just the right side of too salty and managed to be decadent in a really simple way. Next up was our bread: baked ricotta bruschetta & grelot onions. Two pieces of toast arrived with a beautiful caramelised whole baby onion on top. They were oily and sweet and cheesy and soft and crunchy all at the same time. I used mine to mop up the remains of the sauce from the brown shrimp. Dee-lish.

We also ordered the chargrilled zucchini, pecorino and honey and a bistecca served with rocket and fennel. The steak was a very upmarket minute steak, soft and perfectly beaten out, free of any fat and entirely delicious, but a little small for the price of £9. The zucchini, by comparison, was a huge overflowing plate which was well worth £4.50.

Small plates do fill you up, it seems, and we were sated by the time we were asked about desserts, but I'd heard they were excellent here, and it seemed churlish to share a pudding (in Soho?! Never!), so we ordered both the tiramisu pot and the pannacotta with blackberries. Boy, was I glad we did. The tiramisu was about as authentic as they come, with a heavenly dark cocoa dusting and very alcoholic sponge at the bottom. It was gone in about four spoonfuls. The pannacotta was light and sinful at the same time, with the most amazing red topping from the fruit. Espresso served in a small glass was thick, rich and moreish, finishing off everything perfectly.

We enjoyed the the small plates, and the ambience, and couldn't fault the service. Still, it struck me that if you could get here by 6pm with a big group of friends and take over the entire place, it could be one of the best nights ever. As it was, crammed in next to Soho's beautiful people, it was still pretty good... even if those tables did make my arse feel positively enormous.