Saturday, 26 July 2014

Urban Orient

It feels like another storm's brewing, and, as seems to have become the norm in recent years, summer rain increasingly resembles the monsoons of Southeast Asia. So, with that in mind, the spicy cuisine of Vietnam is calling. Huong Nguyen opened Urban Orient on the site of an existing restaurant in September 2012. The food is a mix of traditional and contemporary Vietnamese, with the addition of that Hong Kong favourite, Dim Sum. The restaurant interior is a similar mix of influences, but dominating it is the stunning carved wooden screen, which comes from Thailand. Despite being a full time accountant, Huong managed to find time to set up the business, and put together the interior, and now spends her evenings and weekends working in the restaurant too. Having spent many years living in North London, she decided against opening a restaurant in the Vietnamese enclaves of Dalston and Hoxton, preferring instead the comparatively peaceful surroundings of SE19. Although coincidentally she was to discover that this corner of the Triangle has its own Vienamese community, with the dry cleaners and off license opposite being Vietnamese owned. Huong also feels a strong sense of camaraderie between her restaurant and some of her neighbours, such as the White Hart, taking deliveries on behalf of each other, or borrowing that proverbial 'cup of sugar' in emergency.
Well the possibility of a storm seems to have abated for now, so I may have to wander up the hill for some noodle soup and crispy wontons. See you there!










Huong Nguyen

Urban Orient
74 Westow Street

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The National Sports Centre, Crystal Palace

Assuming you were alive, where were you on 13th July 1964? Sir Alec Douglas-Home was in No.10, and Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House. The House of the Rising Sun, by The Animals was number one (to be followed the next day by the Rolling Stones / It's all over now), The Vietnam War was in full swing, Malawi gained its independence, the film of A Hard Day's Night was just premiering, and the Post Office Tower had just been completed. Meanwhile, the Duke of Edinburgh was visiting SE19 to open a brand new building, The National Sports Centre.
I first went inside, on joining the gym shortly after moving here 8 years ago, and was blown away by the scale and structure. 60s concrete isn't to everyone's taste, but you can't fail to be impressed by the ambition of the building. With its great nave of angled columns, it's a veritable cathedral of sport. And there can't be many better places to swim in Britain than the 50 metre pool with it's dramatic tower of diving boards. In my view, no less impressive than Zaha's aquatic temple in Stratford.
Designed by London County Council's Architecture Department, the building is admittedly showing its age, but the costs of running such a huge and intensively used building must be vast. It has however, over recent years had much invested in it by its custodians, GLL; new changing rooms, gym facilities, a climbing wall, and even some beach volleyball courts. Being Grade II* listed, it's future, once uncertain, now seems secure, and I'm told further developments are in the pipeline. Watch this space!
Meanwhile there are plans to celebrate its half centenary over the weekend of July 12/13th, with all leisure facilities being free on those dates. Diving board 'taster' sessions will be held on Saturday, along with drop in social tennis sessions.
On sunday the real fun starts with a Big Dance event in the stadium, followed by an open air screening of Mamma Mia, BBQ and catering.
So a very happy birthday to this wonderful piece of our local heritage!














































Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Boyce da Roca

So much has changed in and around the Triangle since I started this blog in 2011. Not least the thriving saturday market, the opening of countless new shops and restaurants, and the restoration of Crystal Palace's wonderful Victorian station. And thankfully the carnage on the nation's high streets over the last few years, has, except for the loss of Woolworths, had remarkably little impact on our thriving local, independent retail scene. Among the places that I've featured, the very first, Good Taste, goes from strength to strength, with the shop having recently been refurbished. Casa Cuba has doubled in size, while the Brown & Green empire now stretches as far as Sydenham.
I last featured Bambinos back in October 2012, when Andy Stem's curiosity shop had been given an injection of caffeine, by Ant, the self-styled Anarchista Barista. His no-nonsense approach to coffee certainly added a buzz to Church Road, but his tenure was brief, before setting off for pastures new. However, such was the success of this experiment, that Andy determined to find a more permanent operator.
Meanwhile, Mark Boyce, a former interior designer, and ceramicist, had opened a very cool cafe in Streatham. His first choice had actually been Crystal Palace, but his plans had been hindered by a lack of available space, and what's more, his friend Ant had just opened a cafe in a certain shop on Church Road! So naturally Mark didn't want to tread on his toes, and opted for SW16. After Ant's departure, the opportunity at Bambinos presented itself, and this time the plan for a cafe was to take over an entire side of the shop, finally making use of Andy's treasured old Victorian shop fittings. And what a fabulous backdrop they make to this great new hangout on Church Road. Mark confesses that it was all done on a shoestring, but that's part of its charm, alongside the locally roasted Volcano coffee, bread from a Brixton bakery and divine cakes from an ex Ottolenghi baker.
I sat outside the cafe at the weekend in glorious sunshine, and thought there's one more change needed on the Triangle, as I stared across the road at the brooding bulk of the hardly used building opposite. A cinema.




















Mark Boyce








Wed-Sat 10am-5pm
Sun 11am-5pm



PS. I hear the opening of a Costa Coffee on Westow Street is now definite and imminent. Please vote with your feet, and keep using our wonderful local establishments.