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

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Central Hill Estate

Just facing the northwest corner of the Triangle, lies the Central Hill Estate, an award winning development of social housing, built between 1966-73, by Lambeth's architecture department lead by Ted Hollamby, and designed by Rosemary Stjernstedt, which is now, sadly under threat of possible demolition. Some of you may think that fate is no bad thing. Architecture of that period is not widely loved, but then 50 years ago nor was Victorian architecture. Amazing to think now that a building as magnificent and loved as St. Pancras railway station and its adjoining hotel, came close to demolition. And while of course that building is in a different league, there is a deep attachment to the endless streets of ordinary 19th century terraced homes up and down the country, plenty of which are in pretty shoddy condition. We wouldn't think for one moment of demolishing them though.
But this isn't just about architectural tastes, it's about a community and people. A couple of months ago, I went to meet Nicola Curtis, a council tenant on the estate, who earlier this year started a campaign to save it. Part of what motivated her was the complete lack of transparency on the part of Lambeth Borough Council. In fact the role of the council in the history of this estate has been poor from the very start. Decades of neglect have resulted in the situation the estate now finds itself, and having neglected things so long, the council now can't afford to address all the problems that the buildings face, and are therefore seeking to effectively sell off the estate to developers with deeper pockets. Initially residents were lead to believe that this involved refurbishment with some rebuilding, but the likelihood is that actually wholesale demolition will be proposed, forcing people, some of whom have lived there since the estate was built, to move away. The stress and frustration of many on the estate is understandable. Nicola herself is recovering from a stroke earlier in the year, so the upheaval is the last thing she needs. Not far away, the Cressingham Estate has undergone a similar exercise, and its fate has already been sealed.
On my tours around the neighbourhood, I discovered a collection of buildings which make the most of their landscape, topography, and views towards the city. Blocks stepping down the green hillside with generous balconies and terraces, and the rustic brick paths, the human scale, and the absence of cars from all but the periphery. I saw the pride residents have taken in their gardens, and the vision of the architects who created the estate. Yes, all is not perfect of course, but much of the trouble often associated with estates such as this, are mostly a thing of the past. People are seeing the positives of these well designed homes, and their perfect location on the doorstep of the Triangle. Slowly but surely it's becoming an increasingly desirable place to live. Why then can't it follow the example of the not dissimilar Alexandra Estate in Camden, which is now a listed structure, and with it's future assured, is thriving.

Nicola Curtis with her granddaughter

A view from the estate

One of the rather whimsical fort-like refuse points, taken during an Open House London tour lead by Senaka Weeraman.

Enclosed courtyard gardens with green roofs above the bin stores.

Through my research, I was fortunate enough to meet David Taylor, who moved onto the estate only a year or so ago. His home was in a pretty poor state when he bought it, but he has transformed it into cool and relaxed apartment, furnished sparingly with some suitably midcentury pieces. He kindly gave me permission to have a look around.

David on his balcony
London's skyline from the balcony

I would like to thank Nicola Curtis for talking to me, and for her tireless campaigning, David Taylor for allowing me to photograph his lovely apartment, and Senaka Weeraman who was a knowledgeable tour guide during London's Open House weekend.