You might recognize the name of this notorious South London neighborhood from the Clash song, “The Guns of Brixton,” which captured a particularly rough period in Brixton a few decades ago. But, things are looking up these days. The predominantly Afro-Caribbean community is welcoming both new residents and crowds of Londoners formerly unwilling to visit, now eager to explore. Apart from an intriguing history, pulsating street culture and the storied music venue Brixton Academy, there’s one main thing drawing Londoners to Brixton right now — it’s become one of British capital’s most exciting places to eat and drink.
A lot of this has to do with the regeneration of Market Row and transformation of Brixton Village, two separate but adjacent covered markets often referred to collectively as Brixton Market. These two food paradises offer some of London’s most affordable and interesting dining options, as well as produce stalls, butchers, fishmongers and craft shops to peruse. On many summer weekends, smoky barrel grills line the streets, and the smells of grilling chicken, thyme and allspice perfume the neighborhood. In this case, head to the stall of your choosing for an order of exemplary jerk chicken before delving into the following list:
Rosie’s, a cozy café at the mouth of Market Row, kicked off Brixton’s food revolution when owner Rosie Lovell opened in 2004, at a time when many Londoners were still wary of venturing to the then-troubled neighborhood. Today, Rosie’s is one of the area’s go-to choices for coffee and tea, a rotating selection of homemade baked goods and simple yet classy sandwiches, including one heck of a Marmite grilled cheese, which has the power to convert even the most stubborn food-spread naysayers. The rest of the menu is approachable and appealing, with items like mackerel pâté on toast and buttery scrambled eggs with chili jam.
14e Market Row, +44 7807 505397
Duck Egg Café
As the name implies, each of this casual spot’s breakfast items is available with either a hen egg or duck egg. But, as it turns out, the whole schtick is unnecessary. Here, hearty English breakfasts — too often greasy afterthoughts elsewhere — are treated with unexpected care and respect, no matter which egg you choose. The full English is the best in the neighborhood, but the menu goes much deeper, with items like tomato sauce-braised white beans with sausage, bacon, a poached egg and toast, or the Mediterranean breakfast, which comes with griddled halloumi and focaccia.
424 Coldharbour Lane, +44 20 7274 8972
Las Americas Cafeteria
Though this South American outpost has a butcher, a small bakery counter, a smattering of regional groceries and cheap street food like empanadas, tamales and fried morcilla, the thing to eat is located just outside the door. Every day, a man behind a flattop at the entrance of Las Americas dutifully griddles heavenly Colombian-style arepas, filled with cheese and spread with a thin layer of butter, for £1.20 ($2) each. The masa is sweet and full-flavored, and the hot, melty cheese is salty and addictive. It’s a good breakfast or snack, and a great way to get rid of six 20p coins, which you’ll have amassed in no time.
26 Pope’s Road, +44 20 7274 5533
One Stop Jerk Out Every Week & Pattie E.T.C
In spite of this business’s unique name, One Stop Jerk Out Every Week & Pattie E.T.C is fully un-Googleable. And, you’re not likely to find many non-Brixtonians who know about it, either. Located on Station Road, the site of a wonderful Sunday farmers’ market, this definitive hole-in-the-wall specializes in patties, the golden empanada-like pastries of Jamaica. Try the patty stuffed with lamb curry — it’s crispy, salty, spicy, delicious and, best of all, cheap. As the name (sort of) suggests, a mysterious barrel grill materializes outside every week, ostensibly filled with jerk chicken. Whether or not (and when) the shack actually serves this chicken is unclear.
Brixton Station Road, across from Brixton Recreation Centre
Fish, Wings & Tings
Brian Danclair’s pan-Caribbean spot is one of the most consistently packed places in Brixton Village, and with good reason. The colorful restaurant serves up killer jerk chicken with the Trinidad-born chef’s own tamarind barbecue sauce, as well as tasty salt cod fritters, tender curry goat and a selection of rotis. Wash it all down with a rum and Ting (Jamaican grapefruit soda) or a Carib beer. And, if he’s not too busy, Danclair may even join you for a toast. Of all the stalls in Brixton Village, this one seems to best capture the lively spirit of the neighborhood.
3 Granville Arcade (Brixton Village)
After tasting Franco Manca’s outstanding sourdough pizza, other pies might taste like they’re missing something — most likely the perfect twang of Franco Manca’s expertly blistered dough. The menu includes six constants (numbered one through six), and rotating vegetarian and meat specials, which are often worth getting, after first trying the exemplary Margherita (No. 2). Though the highly popular pizzeria has expanded to nine other locations around London, the original spot in Brixton remains constantly packed. Many believe this to be the best pizza in the city, and all agree on the amazing value, with pies starting at £4.50 ($7) and rarely exceeding £7 ($11).
Unit 4, Market Row, +44 20 7738 3021
Located about a 15-minute walk from the bustle of central Brixton, Negril serves some of the area’s juiciest and most subtly seasoned (free-range!) jerk chicken, in addition to other Jamaican staples like ackee and saltfish with fried dumplings, and ital stew — the coconut milk curry offering enjoyed by Rastafarians who practice the vegan “ital” diet. On weekends, Negril is open for brunch, and serves a special jerk chicken sausage custom made by nearby butcher M. Moen & Sons. In the summer, go early to grab a seat outside. In the winter (10 months of the year), curl up inside with a few BYOB Red Stripe tallboys.
132 Brixton Hill, +44 20 8674 8798
While it may seem counterintuitive to seek out American-style barbecue in London, the hordes of people outside this place don’t lie, and even Americans agree that The Joint is worth a visit. The pulled pork and pulled chicken sandwiches arrive on gorgeous golden buns so delicious-looking, it’s tough to imagine that they taste half as good as they look. They do. Baked off-site by Bad Boys’ Bakery — an initiative at nearby Brixton Prison aimed at teaching culinary skills to inmates — these sourdough wonders are infused with fig and vanilla, which lend a complex sweetness. The chicken wings, ribs and onion rings all deserve a mention. But, you can’t go here without trying something on a bun, and they won’t just give you one on its own. We’ve asked.
87 Brixton Village, +44 7717 642812, the-joint.co
A spot at one of the tables outside this hip café is ideal for watching the characters of Brixton Village go by. And the coffee, which Federation roasts nearby, is not just good by Brixton standards; it’s some of the best in London. It should come as no surprise that two affable guys from New Zealand are behind this operation. Consequently, the superior “flat white,” an espresso drink which originated in Antipodean coffeehouses, shouldn’t be missed here. For breakfast, the homemade muesli with yogurt and seasonal fruit compote is always on point, and goes well with coffee.
Unit 77-78 Brixton Village
Effra Hall Tavern
Located on a quiet side street, this true neighborhood pub is a microcosm of Brixton itself: diverse, friendly, unpretentious and fun as hell. Red Stripe is often the drink of choice, along with a couple of cask ales and reliably poured Guinness. But, notable beers aren’t the draw here — it’s all about the atmosphere. On Thursday nights, a live band complete with upright bass, a singer and a horn section, plays classic reggae tunes and jazz standards. On Sunday nights, there is a communal jazz jam session. The small back garden, home to an enormous palm tree, is open year-round, and is one of the most pleasant places to drink in Brixton.
38 Kellett Road, +44 20 7274 4180
Opened in 2013 in a building that looks sort of like a frat house, Effra Social comprises a bar/private room upstairs (with deftly garish textured wallpaper) and a full pub downstairs with the vague feeling of a gymnasium decked out for a school dance. Local brews from Brixton Brewery are on tap, as are a wide selection of good British ales. The Scotch eggs — one of the UK’s brilliant culinary inventions — are a fantastic bar snack, and the adjoining restaurant serves updated pub food and popular Sunday roasts. The lively pub often hosts live bands as well as DJs playing funk, soul and dance tunes. But as happening as it is on the weekends, it’s a relaxed place for a pint the rest of the week.
89 Effra Road, +44 20 7737 6800
The Duke of Edinburgh
This sprawling complex on a mostly residential stretch between Brixton and the neighboring communities of Stockwell and Clapham is a favorite among many locals. The Duke of Edinburgh, which has a wide selection of cask ales and bottled beers, is home to what has to be Brixton’s largest outdoor beer garden, an unbeatable place to drink and hang out in the summer. For the rest of the year, the classic interior has the right ingredients for a proper night at the pub: plush armchairs and sofas, a fireplace, board games and, once again, lots of beer.
204 Ferndale Road, +44 20 7326 0301
Formerly a cheese and charcuterie shop called Cannon & Cannon hiding a seasonal British restaurant called Salon upstairs, Salon now encompasses both businesses. While the downstairs still offers an impeccably curated selection of British cheeses, charcuterie, specialty foods and craft beers, the place now has a selection of simple salads at lunchtime, as well as prepared foods like Cornish pasties and chorizo Scotch eggs. The restaurant upstairs showcases of-the-moment ingredients in changing set menus — the food is often delicious (don’t miss the ‘nduja croquettes!), but be forewarned that portions can be a little dainty.
18 Market Row, +44 20 7501 9152
Made up of a restaurant, home shop and larder, Brixton Cornercopia appropriately dominates one corner of Brixton Village. While the restaurant shutters for the winter, the home shop and larder sell year-round. In the larder, British preserves, craft beers and locally made ginger beer line the shelves or fill the popular Christmas hampers. The home shop offers little knick-knacks for the home cook, including the simple, stylish enamelware used by most restaurants in Brixton Village/Market Row and many around London. When the restaurant opens, people pack in for unfussy British dishes like breaded lamb shoulder with coastal vegetables and smoked anchovy aioli.
65 Brixton Village, +44 7919 542233
This funky shop in Market Row is the place to pick up your copy of this year’s Recipes from Brixton Village, an attractively designed cookbook with contributions from traders around the Village and Market Row. It has a well-stocked cookbook section generally, including selections from other London restaurants and British cookbook authors. You can also pick up an “I ♥ Brixton” T-shirt and other neighborhood-themed ephemera.
Market Row (across from Franco Manca), +44 7939 956712
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