Tag Archives: Herne Hill

Ain’t it a chain? Pizza Express comes to Herne Hill

One of the great things about Herne Hill is that unlike many parts of London, it has managed to avoid contamination from chain stores, bars and restaurants. We have independent chemists, delis, bakers, florists, a greengrocer, DIY store, bookshop, butcher, restaurants, cafes, clothes and furniture shops. I doubt there is any area of London with as flourishing an independent economy.

It gives the place a distinctive character. You can gossip with the shop owners, get advice in the DIY shop without relinquishing your masculinity, receive and suggest personal recommendations in the bookshop, even get credit in some of the food shops if you’ve been using them long enough. You may pay for these privileges, but it’s worth it.

The only chains are Oxfam and the World’s Worst Sainsbury’s, which is best used as a short-cut between the station and the bus stop and left at that.

Until today that is.

This afternoon, Pizza Express open a branch in Herne Hill.

The site they’ve taken is incredibly awkward. It’s a large wedge, part of which is unusable because it is taken up by a bridge that goes over the top of a large – and hard to fill – lower-ground floor. It’s a space most restaurants would struggle with – indeed two Indian restaurants have failed to make it work – but which Pizza Express can make a virtue of – think of their odd-shaped branches at Charing Cross or Kennington.

The arrival of the Pizza Express behemoth has had a mixed reception in Herne Hill. Some retailers hope it will bring increased footfall into the area, parents are pleased because Pizza Express is excellent for children, but many restaurants and bars are worried it will draw away much-needed custom.

As they should be, because many of the restaurants and bars in Herne Hill – with the honourable exceptions of Number 22 and The Lido Cafe – are shit, serving mediocre food at over-inflated prices and reliant on the fact Herne Hillers have nowhere else to take their custom.

I like independent venues, but I like good shops and restaurants more. If Pizza Express’s decent food, excellent service and good value improves competition, it is doubly welcome.

But there is a fear. Where one chain opens, others follow, chasing the money, extinguishing singularity and turning streets into Clone Towns.  A redevelopment is taking place under the arches by the station. The artist’s impressions says  it will look like this.

But what’s the betting it ends up like this?

Richmond

Herne Hill could easily go the way of Richmond and other indentikit middle-class outer-urbarn high streets. Be vigilant people, and support what’s best about our local economy.

Holes

If there’s one thing I can’t resist it’s a hole in the ground.

Whenever I see one – which is often in London – I have to peek inside. What do I hope to see find? Roman coins, a secret pavement, a Victorian sewer, an uncovered river, clay pipes, Tudor jewellery, treasure, booty, anything strange, fascinating and previously buried.

I never have.

The Lambeth Country Show: vegetable sculptures and celebrity scarecrows

My eager anticipation of the annual Lambeth Country Show in  Brockwell Park is frankly ridiculous. But there is something about this festival, combining sheep shearing and donkey rides with jerk chicken and reggae, that really works for me. It is great fun and slightly surreal.

Where else this weekend, for instance, could you have seen the Mayor of Lambeth stroking a duck?

For many people, the best thing about the festival appears to be the lethal Chucklehead Cider, which comes in four pint jugs and, judging by Twitter, will be responsible for several thousand hangovers in South London this weekend.

But I disagree. For me, the annual highlight is the vegetable sculpting competition in which some of the region’s finest artists demonstrate considerable imagination and skill by carving cauliflowers and potatoes so they look like animals.

This competition is fiercely fought. This year’s winner was a pineapple owl, and as ever, its suitability was hotly contested.

Work of art, or waste of a pineapple? Opinion was divided. Others prefered the baby sweetcorn and butternut squash lion.

Then there was this simple yet gorgeous art deco courgette crocodile.

While the carrot and potato python drew some admiring glances.

Congratulation to all who took part. The real winner, I’m sure we will agree, is art itself.

But could the reign of the vegetable sculpture be coming to a close? Many onlookers seemed more impressed with the celebrity scarecrows this year, and who can blame them? Check out these beauties and see what you think.

There’s honest, and there’s too honest

Spotted in Herne Hill. I’m not sure this is the best name for a reputable business.

The invasion begins!

Le Garage: an art gallery comes to Herne Hill

Plonked on a prominent corner site on Dulwich Road, just opposite Brockwell Lido, is La Garage. You can’t miss it. It’s the one with huge floor-to-ceiling windows through which you’ll see an antique bath filled with blue water.

Le Garage is Herne Hill’s newest art gallery. It’s the creation of Alice Bailey, a Canadian who bought the building in auction about three years ago (the name tells you what is used to be) and then started to think about what she was going to do with it. A friend suggested she turn the downstairs space into a gallery, so that’s what she did as soon as she’d finished rebuilding the upstairs and refurbishing it with things she found in junk shops (‘it’s kind of random,’ she says).

‘It was a total accident, I just thought they were great windows and I should put something in them,’ she says, so she did. Currently on display (until March 28) are paintings, photographs and the paint-filled bath by pseudonymous artist Mei Ziqian, and Alice already has three more shows lined up including a photographer, a shadow puppet play and an artist who does embroidered portraits of characters from ‘Coronation Street’. After that, she wants some street art, but is open to any ideas. Drop by if you have something to offer.

‘I want it to be organised but free and organic,’ she says. ‘There are a lot of artists who can’t get shows in London, although I know I’m a bit out of the way here in Herne Hill. A lot of people have already contacted me after seeing this and so far the work I’ve seen has been great. The photographer showing  next is quite well-known, but she wants to do something different from what she usually does, and she doesn’t want to do it under her own name.’

The space is still not fully developed, and Alice is wondering how to use the back room and pondering about turning the garden into a cafe – inspired partly by Scootercaffe on Lower Marsh, where she lived previously. ‘It’s so nice living above your business,’ she says. ‘I really want it to be fun, because it’s a fun space, informal and  friendly.’

Le Garage, 115 Dulwich Road, SE24 ONG.