In 2009 the Brixton Village Market (originally Granville Arcade) almost became a 10-story condominium tower. The arcade, a fixture in London’s Brixton neighborhood since 1937, had seen better days.
During its heyday in the ’70s, entrepreneurs filled its small stalls, selling Caribbean and African foodstuffs, household goods and clothes. But by 2008, many of the stalls stood empty. The arcade had become a victim of the worldwide recession.
But the Brixton community railed against the possible razing of the arcade, and management responded. It offered a period of free rent to anyone willing to fill its stalls with community-orientated programming and interesting food.
That three-month free rent period ended, but rents at the market remained cheap. At the time Brixton wasn’t a food destination, and culinary risk-takers jumped at the opportunity to set up shop at lower costs.
A deli with locally sourced meats, Brixton Cornercopia, was among the first to open. A small store began offering what many people consider to be London’s best coffee —Federation Coffee. Another restaurant began offering Pakistani street food.
Word spread among Londoners about a market in Brixton with restaurants selling high-quality food at good prices — meals averaging less than 15 pounds ($20) — almost unheard of in the pricey metropolis.
Brixton Village catapulted Brixton onto the map for foodies. People started to trek to the neighborhood for its myriad options. Now nearby spaces like the Market Row arcade, Reliance Arcade and Pop Brixton have sprung up and also feature high-quality and high-value restaurants.
Pro tip: The best times to visit these markets are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, when many of the restaurants stay open until midnight. On Thursdays, Brixton Village hosts a block party with music.
Below is a sampling of favorites.
This Japanese café specializes in Osaka-style okonomiyaki, an iconic savory pancake dish usually topped with vegetables and grilled meats or seafood.
With a much smaller menu than a typical London curry house, this Pakistani restaurant serves fresh homemade samosas, curries and vegetable dishes. The meals are served in a traditional segmented stainless steel dish. The cozy restaurant is BYOB, making it even more of a deal.
This isn’t your typical Chinese takeout on High Street. Mamalan serves Chinese street food full of homemade noodles and fried dumplings. Owner Ning Ma opened the small restaurant after she couldn’t quell her pangs for Northern Chinese food. Now the restaurant has two more locations in London.
Honest Burgers is London’s homegrown burger chain, and it started with a 215-square-foot shop in Brixton Village. Now more than 20 Honest Burgers outposts dot London. The original burger features bacon, an onion relish, cheese and a prime beef patty with just enough fat to hold the flavor in.
The smell of jerk chicken blankets the corner of Brixton Market where this shop lies. While the jerk chicken is always a winner, you’ll also want to try the codfish fritters or shrimp, followed by a roti, a Trinidadian flatbread served with a goat, shrimp or vegetarian curry.
The shop’s name belies its specialty — Jamaican beef patties, a kind of pastry filled with a spicy beef mixture. They are made fresh in the back of the shop; don’t pass up an opportunity to buy one, or several (chicken and veggie are also available).
Head behind Brixton Village to Pop Brixton market, where you’ll find Zoe’s Kitchen. Owner Zoe Adjonyoh modeled her restaurant on West African roadside cafés and serves up her version of Ghanaian food. Try the Jollof fried chicken with rice and plantains or okra marinated in garlic and chili, battered in tempura and then deep fried.