Spotlight on Brixton

Brixton often gets a bad rap – a legacy of the riots that occurred in the 80s – but don’t be scared by its sinister reputation. True it isn’t the safest neighbourhood in town –  the sound of police sirens is never too far away – but it is the most enticing and there are scores of scintillating sights if you know where to go. Kaye Holland is smitten by the south London neighbourhood

Let’s face it: if we’re talking about which London boroughs to visit, we probably wouldn’t put Lambeth at the top of the list. But we’d be wrong. For while Kensington and Chelsea has a certain picturesque charm and East London – in the aftermath of the Olympic Games – isn’t without its appeal, when all is said and done they are… well London lite. A little bit vanilla, if you like. If you want to see the real London – the capital in all its magical multicultural glory – you need to look to Lambeth. And the acme of Lambeth is Brixton.

“Brixton is such an exciting and special place to live” attests 37-year old accountant and Brixton resident, Patrick Kwok, who found himself moving to the area five and a half years ago. “I wanted to live south of the river,” reveals Kwok “and couldn’t afford Clapham but Brixton was within my price bracket. So I made an offer on a property in a quiet street in the heart of Brixton – and have been here ever since!”

Kwok and other locals confess that they love the “diversity.” David Bowie was born in Brixton, former Prime Minister John Major grew up here and singer La Roux still lives in the area where West Indian food stalls sit beside chi chi bars. And despite the fact that Foxtons (the estate agent we all all love to loathe) has opened a branch in Brixton and there’s a Waitrose on its way, the area’s strong sense of community remains intact.

If you’re planning on paying Brixton a visit, be warned: the south London neighbourhood isn’t about sightseeing. You won’t find blockbuster sights such as Buckingham Palace and Big Ben here, and people who see the point of the National Trust should turn back now. Rather it’s about exploring, wandering the backstreets, stopping for a cappuccino, eating a long, late lunch and staying out drinking and dancing until 3am (the residents of Brixton are a lively lot).

Bottom line? Brixton is never beige. Go now – before everyone else wises up.

What to see and do

Culture vulture
Cultural and entertainment options abound – it’s simply a matter of choosing your pleasure among the slew of restaurants, live music venues andtrendy bars. Boredom is not an option. We recommend theRitzy cinema – arguably one of the best cinemas south of the river. In addition to five screens, the cinema boasts a bar and upstairs cafe which always has something interesting going on from live music to exhibitions. The Windmill is also worth a look. This small (capacity is a mere 150) venue located in a back street off Brixton Hill near Brixton’s actual windmill – the only one in south London – was voted the third best live music venue in London by Time Out magazine in 2012. If jazz is more your bag, The Effra is where it’s at. The venue may look like a tired, tatty boozer from the outside but inside you’ll find Brixton’s Caribbean contingent and white middle class professionals coming together to enjoy live jazz, seven nights a week.

Best bites
Food has been part of Brixton’s pleasures for the past four years, when empty market stalls were leased for free in Brixton Village to encourage new restaurateurs. The result? The original Caribbean cookware stalls (Brixton has always been theplace to get your plantain fix) have been joined by boutiques and bakeries, delightful delis (Rosie’s), artisan coffee shops (Federation Coffee), Mexican (Casa Morita) and Thai (KaoSarn, 020 7095 8922) joints and half the fun is taking a chance on any place you like the look of. Our pick? The Courtesan. A five minute walk from the village, this hidden gem serves up to die for dim sum.

Top shops
Brixton market is a shopper’s paradise, brimming with fun to browse boutiques. Brixi (07919 162428) – the brainchild of Brixton local, Emy, is home to funky furnishings while Leftover (07748 717978) is full of French vintage finds. Other standouts include Saloon (07889 120940) – specialising in catwalk style for a fraction of the prices – and Sweet Tooth. The latter, as the name suggests, sells a sumptuous array of sweet treats if you’re in need of a sugar hit between browsing.

After dark
Wine is fine but bubbles are  better! Brixton has recently acquired its first champagne bar: take a bowChampagne + Fromage. Owned by Stefano Frigerio and his wife Maud Fierobe, the bar, bistro and deli opened on October 15 to mixed reaction. Critics claim it’s not in keeping with Brixton’s gritty character (“bubbly doesn’t belong in Brixton”, they bleat), but fans counter that Champagne+ Fromage is at least an independent outlet and not another All Bar One. Plus it’s opening has created a few (much needed) jobs. After a couple of drinks, make a beeline for the Brixton Academy which alternates between hosting global superstars and hedonistic club nights into the wee small hours (the Academy has a 6am licence). Other options include the always buzzing Plan B.