When I set off to travel the world, I confessed to everyone who asked that I had no real ties to London, aside from my family.
“The weather sucks here,” I’d bemoan, images of Thai islands flashing through my mind. “Everyone’s miserable. They’re always complaining. I hate the rain. The Tube is the worst. Everything’s so expensive. If my family didn’t live here, I’d never return. There’s nothing left for me here.”
I wanted to travel forever.
I travelled for nine months and returned to London a changed person. I hadn’t had a panic attack in well over half a year, I was all about trying new foods, I was unbearably optimistic about everything that was going on in my life, and I was eager to share my craziest misadventures with everyone.
I landed in the UK and it was raining. Everything was grey. Nothing looked like Southeast Asia. Listening to Bob Marley felt weird. People stared at my hippie pants. Everyone I spoke to was complaining about the weather and work and a hundred other things, and all I could think was, get me out of here.
I left more convinced than ever that there was little left for me in London.
How wrong I was.
I can blame many things for leading me to hate the UK that first time I returned. I was on a strong course of antibiotics, which always gives me this weird kind of aggressive rage that makes me impossible to be around, plus I don’t think I’d been away for long enough to start yearning for the place I once called home.
The longer I travelled, though, the more I craved London.
I missed my family, and when I returned a year later, I found other things I missed, too. Cathedral City cheese and prawn cocktail-flavoured crisps and not having to put on a fake American drawl and talk about candy and sidewalks and fries and pants and restrooms and drapes and parking lots and jelly so that people could understand what I was talking about.
Returning to London with a traveller’s mindset helped me see the city through new eyes. After spending so long in cities with crap public transport options, the Tube was a dream to use. The rain wasn’t a problem when I didn’t have a job or lecture to go to — I could just stay inside. The cooler temperatures were a relief after several years spent living in humidity. I understood the culture and why people did these weirdass things, because I did them, too. I felt like I fit in.
I was hit by the sudden realisation that I adored my home.
There was just one problem: Dave despised London.
He’d lived there for three years around 15 years ago and left swearing never to return. He couldn’t stand the place, for many of the same reasons I gave when I first left.
And it was kind of heart-wrenching to have the person you love tell you they hate where you come from, especially when you’ve just discovered how much of a wonderful city it is.
So I made it my mission to change his mind.
I managed to convince Dave to spend a month in London over Christmas, and I knew I needed to pick an area with a thriving food scene. For many people, the name Brixton brings up memories of the civil unrest and race riots in the 1980s, but those times are long gone and after reading about Brixton Village Market online, I knew it was my best shot at prodding Dave into the box that said, I love London.
The market is all about the food, with articles aplenty claiming Brixton Village to be the most vibrant area in which to stuff your face in London. The sheer amount of cuisines you can find in such a small area was astounding: Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Eritrean, Trinidadian, Jamaican, Pakistani, Portuguese, Ghanian, Colombian, Mediterranean, Algerian, Indonesian, Spanish, Guyanese — I wanted to eat it all.
There’s even a currency, the Brixton pound, in circulation, with the aim of encouraging locals to spend their money in the area, helping to contribute to the local economy.
The more I read, the more excited I became. Brixton sounded like the ideal place for us.
Then, when I stumbled upon the most amazing looking Airbnb apartment, I felt even more that everything had slipped into place. ‘Cause, I mean, when I say it was an apartment, it was actually a house. A house with three floors! We had stairs!
Now that I’d found the perfect area to base ourselves, I just had to get Dave to fall in love. First step: filling his days with some of my favourite London activities.
We hit up The Big Game: a rugby match held every year in Twickenham Stadium on the 27th December, where 70,000 fans gather to drink beer, sing, and watch the local team, the Harlequins… lose.
We went to the top of the Shard to check out the pretty views on a surprisingly bright and sunny morning.
We paid a visit to the West End and the Shaftesbury Theatre to watch Memphis.
We went for a mad hatters-themed afternoon tea at the Sanderson Hotel, where we sipped on pink champagne and drank rhubarb and custard flavoured tea. We marvelled at the salmon and cream cheese sandwiches on lime-flavoured bread, and finished it off with an edible chocolate cup filled with passion fruit mousse and a mango cheesecake and… we didn’t eat for 24 hours after this.
We checked out Borough market and left with jars of flavoured mustards (Dave went with gherkin and capers (yuck), and I opted for mint and gooseberry) and a huge block of wine-infused cheese.
We had a day of eating in Shoreditch, full of bagels and Vietnamese food and wandering around markets, snapping photos of the street art.
I couldn’t believe the weather we were having, either. A month in London over January and we had two days of rain. The rest of the time, it was cool, crisp, bright, and full of gorgeous blue skies.
And Dave began to drop into conversation how much fun he was having. About how when you don’t have a 9-5 job, London can actually be an amazing city.
As the tides were starting to turn, I pulled the final punch.
We ate everything in Brixton.
Franco Manca is probably the best-known spot in Brixton and for good reason. Their pizzas are incredible, and so are their organic wines (£3.75 a glass). The cured chorizo pizza (£6.95) was by far my favourite. And we may have eaten there half a dozen times over our month-long stay.
The honest burger (£10) from Honest Burgers was amazing. Filled with mature cheddar, smoked bacon, pickled cucumber, and red onion relish, along with a side of rosemary salted chips, it almost brought me to tears. The fresh mint lemonade (£2.50) was perfect for washing it all down.
I had the best pulled pork sandwich of my life at The Joint. Sixteen-hour slow cooked pork, along with candied apple bacon, and coleslaw for £8.50 was my go-to option. Dave often went for the Asian version: spring onion, chilli, and coleslaw with slow cooked shredded chicken. The burgers were massive and messy and you’ll likely have worked your way through 300 napkins by the end of the meal.
Elephant serves up Pakistani street food, and I opted for the minced lamb thali (£6.50) so I could try as much of it as possible. So good.
Okan specialises in Osakan street food, and are known for their okonomiyaki — a savoury pancake filled with anything from prawns to kimchi to squid to pork belly to tofu to beef. Impossible to photograph looking delicious, but trust me: it was. I went for the king prawn one at £7.50.
Mama Lan is all about Beijing street food, and we spent a lunchtime meal stuffing our faces with Beijing dumplings: king prawn and Chinese water chestnut (£6.50) was my go-to, while Dave opted for the equally tasty pork and Chinese leaf dumpling (£5.50).
And a special shout out to the insanely spicy goat curry stew packed inside a crumbly roti from the Trinidadian restaurant Fish, Wings and Tings — I devoured it before I got a chance to take a photo, and it was by far the hottest thing I’ve ever eaten.
“I really could live in Brixton,” I confessed to Dave on our final evening in London. “I love our house with our incredible view over the rooftops. I love that we have all of these coffee shops and restaurants and bars close-by that are starting to feel like our locals. The food is so cheap for London! I love the street art and the vinyl record stores and the amazing variety of cuisines you can get here. Hell, I’m even enjoying the weather.”
Dave looked up from behind his laptop and grinned.
“You know what?” he said. “I think I could live here, too.”