Wednesday, 25 November 2015

No.4 Gipsy Hill & No.75 Anerley Road

It's an omission which I aim to put right eventually, that I've still not featured the Upper Norwood Library on this blog, although the campaign to save it has been mentioned, as have some of those who have championed its cause. One of the library's supporters is local developer, Neville de Souza. His connection with the library began as a schoolboy, for although he grew up in SW19, as opposed to SE19, he often spent afternoons doing his homework in the library at the end of trips to Crystal Palace to take part in sporting fixtures at the NSC. 
When the ground floor space of one of Neville's local developments, No.75 Anerley Hill, formerly known as the Thicket Tavern, housed a gallery, a percentage of all sales was donated to the library in lieu of paying rent to the gallery space, which was provided entirely free by Neville's company, Lightbox. The company also gets involved with other local initiatives such as West Norwood food bank, and the Dog Kennel Hill Adventure Playground, where they are helping to replace a rundown building with new facilities.
The company's latest project is an early Victorian terraced house, a couple of doors down from Willie Smarts the hairdresser. No.4 Gipsy Hill had been in a pretty poor state, consisting of several bedsits, while the ground floor and basement were used as commercial premises. Initially they thought they'd convert it into 2 apartments, but in the end it was felt that the best way to do justice to such an elegant period building, was to turn it back into a single dwelling. With every project, Lightbox tries to avoid being formulaic, so each one is unique, and considered within its context, whether that be a converted pub or shop, a new build or a traditional terraced house. So at No.4, you won't find endless magnolia walls, but something a little more imaginative. Here's a peek behind the grey front door.

The strikingly dark walls are painted in Farrow & Ball's Stiffkey Blue.

Much of the distinctive midcentury furnishings were sourced locally through the many vintage shops, and the large canvasses were lent by local artist Michael Burles, and are for sale.

Across the Triangle, and a distance down the hill towards Anerley, is the handsome building which was once the Thicket Tavern. Earlier this year I was commissioned by Lightbox to photograph the recent transformation of the ground floor and basement into a stunning apartment. Now, I know it's sad that so many pubs have closed and/or been converted to other uses, but when it was put up for sale in 2009 or thereabouts, there were apparently no offers. I understand the pub had a bit of a reputation which may have dampened any interest. There was a real danger that a developer might have chosen to demolish it entirely and start again. After all it's often cheaper to do this as there is 0% VAT on new build, unlike refurbishment. However, Neville's passion for architecture, and desire to listen to the locals, meant that on buying the building, he was determined to restore and adapt it, and to include a commercial element at ground level. Removing layers of paint from the exterior, revealed not only the fine London brickwork, but also some beautiful Victorian tiling panels. The restored building has made a big difference to the street. The upper floors and rear of the ground floor were all converted into apartments, and for a while the ground floor and basement served as a temporary gallery, as mentioned earlier. Sadly commercial tenants were not forthcoming, and eventually it was decided to seek change of use to residential. It has to be said the resulting duplex apartment is breathtaking, and takes full advantage of the grand scale of the former pub.

Neville de Souza

Friday, 30 October 2015

Four Hundred Rabbits

Not so long ago I featured Lorenzo, one of the oldest local restaurants, and today it's the turn of the very newest, Four Hundred Rabbits. Both establishments have pizza in common, but there the similarity ends.  With so much competition these days, a new restaurant has to stand out from the crowd, and with this latest addition to the Triangle, it starts with the name. Aztec folklore was the source, and perhaps the sauce, when the goddess of alcohol got it together with the god who discovered fermentation, and between them produced numerous offspring, known as the 400 rabbit gods, or Centzon Totochtin, who were said to be fond of partying and alcohol. Fermentation is the relevant bit, since the restaurant specialises in craft beers, and pizzas made with a sourdough base. The team behind the venture, are the same who run the hugely popular Lido Cafe in Brockwell Park. Owner, Daniel Edwards, who grew up in Croydon, and now lives in Tulse Hill, had always wanted to work in the restaurant business, and got his work experience at Carluccios, followed by a stint at The Palmerston on Lordship Lane. While the Lido Cafe is somewhat seasonal and weather dependent, set in a park, Daniel wanted the next venue to be somewhere on the high street, open all day, every day, come rain or shine, and where you could just walk in without booking.
You may be relieved to hear that rabbit doesn't appear anywhere on the menu, but plenty of other unusual ingredients do. Daniel and his partners decided that there was no point in simply doing the standard range of Italian pizzas which are available everywhere, so you are likely to find unusual toppings such as smoked pig's cheek, minced lamb, and cavolo nero. Much is supplied by British producers, and the aim is to be seasonal, and therefore, regularly changing. Alongside the pizza, craft beer is one of the restaurant's USPs, as is the gelato, from Gelupo in Soho, apparently the best anywhere! Like the beers, all the soft drinks are supplied by small companies rather than global brands. However, I was more interested in their wonderful Negroni cocktails, especially at the bargain price of £3.50.
After only a couple of months, there's already an incredible buzz about the place, and the excitement of those running it is matched by the fun, and bright interior, designed by Brixton based Studio Richardson, which has a simple hand-made aesthetic. I once overheard a passer-by dismissing it as looking like a student canteen, but I rather think that is the point.
So good luck to Daniel and his team, lead by restaurant manager, Rose Helliwell, and who knows, judging by how busy the place is, perhaps those rabbits will start breeding, with outposts appearing elsewhere.


The £3.50 Negroni

No soggy bottoms here!

Chef, Antonio

Owner, Daniel Edwards

Manager, Rose Helliwell

30-32 Westow Street
020 8771 6249