Everything changed today: at a little after seven this morning, a new London Overground train left Brockley station for the first time.
There are few round these parts who haven't been getting slightly giddy about the transformation of the old East London Line from a little-used anomaly - I've been going to Shoreditch nearly every day for the past ten years and I've still never located the station that used to serve as the northern terminus - into a genuinely useful artery that provides north and south Londoners - and even the good burghers of Croydon - with direct access to docklands, the City (ish) and funky East London. It means Brockley now appears on the London tube map. Most of all, though, it means I can get to and from Tayyabs in no time.
I realise, though, that there will be some out there whose life isn't ruled by lamb chops and seekh kebabs (poor fools), and for them, the appearance of Brockley on the tube map will trigger idle curiosity rather than fevered anticipation. For their benefit, then, I offer the following round-up of the culinary highlights in this unsung corner of London.
Around the station
Descend from the shabby portakabin that is Brockley station (no gleaming new architecture on this stretch of the line I'm afraid) onto Coulgate Street, home of the often life-saving Speedicars and two neighbouring coffee options: Broca and Browns of Brockley, the first, a hippyish worthy kind of place (they have a brilliant organic food hall over on the over side of the tracks), the second a bit more of a funky deli (although they've recently moved squarely towards the coffee-shop and dropped most of the produce lines). Both do really good coffee if you need reviving after the journey.
Bear right at Browns and you'll bump into The Brockley Barge. It's a Weatherspoons. That's probably all you need to know. But assuming you can tear yourself from the siren temptation of cheap lager and house doubles, it's worth looking in at Degustation, an excellent little French outlet over the road. Lots of charcuterie, good fresh bread, a lot of jars and cans familiar from French supermarkets and a great selection of carefully sourced French wine. This stretch of Coulgate Street is also home to a jerk chicken place I confess I haven't tried yet and a well-regarded Vietnamese take-away.
Step onto the main drag of Brockley Road and you're confronted with the first of a seemingly endless number of fried chicken establishments. I can't comment on the quality - I'm not sure what I'd be comparing it with - but the kebab shop a couple of doors down is pretty good and the Essence of India is a reliable if unshowy take-away option. There's more to Brockley than take-aways, though, and round the corner into Harefield Road you'll find The Orchard, a relative newcomer that's somewhere between a neighbourhood restaurant serving decent gastropub fare and the kind of wine bar/cum cafe where yummy mummies hang out during the day (more on them shortly). It's a welcome addition to the area and one hopes it fares better than a number of other failed ventures that have occupied the same spot over the past few years.
At this point things appear to dry up, but it's worth pressing on towards Crofton Park. In fact this is a recurring theme: Brockley Road is a long, drawn out affair with a few random points of interest along the way. It's the American football of thoroughfares.
The next flurry of commercial establishments includes what appears to be a popular local Thai restaurant, almost certainly some more fried chicken, at least one bookmaker and Brockley Mess, another newish establishment and certainly another welcome addition to the local scene. Part gallery and part upmarket cafe it does a good breakfast and looks after the rest of those yummy mummies very well indeed.
Purists will argue that this is falling out of the Brockley brief slightly - Crofton Park has its own station after all - but for the purposes of this post I'm going to treat anything on Brockley Road as fair game. So in the knot of businesses around Crofton Park station (17 minutes from Victoria, apparently, but not on the tube map so will probably destined to remain invisible to most Londoners) you'll find the famous Rivoli Ballroom, a couple of local supermarkets and two decent eating options. Jam Circus is a popular pub/bar in the same mould as The Orchard but with much more heritage. Decent steaks and other gastropub grub feature on the menu and it's a regular live music venue.
And over the road is Mr Lawrence, one of the treasures of the area. It's actually a pair of businesses, an independent wine merchant on one side and an unreconstructed wine bar on the other. Don't be put off by the anti-shoplifter gate in the shop: once you're past that you'll find a fantastic selection of spirits, beers and wines. The emphasis is on France: Mr Lawrence, who you'll usually find behind the bar next door, sources much of it himself. The bar does tapas-style bar snacks and a few more substantial dishes but the emphasis is on helping him reduce his stock levels by emptying bottles into tiny glasses that probably haven't been replaced since the seventies. A perfect spot to finish an evening.
Also in this neck of the woods, if you can find it, is Peter James, a very good, old-fashioned family butchers.
Honor Oak Park
If you have the stamina (and can escape Mr Lawrence's gravitational pull), it's definitely worth pushing on down to the far end of Brockley Road. Or, of course, you can stay on the shiny new train for an extra stop and go to Honor Oak Park station. There's a couple of decent places to eat and drink around the station apparently but I haven't had the pleasure: by the time I've made it down this far I'm only really interested in either Italian or Indian. The first takes the form of Le Querce, home of excellent ice cream, a bewildering number of daily specials, home-cured bresaola and dangerous grappa. And at the same latitude you'll find Babur, possibly the only genuine culinary reason for visiting this neck of the woods. Named London's best inexpensive restaurant by Harden's last year, Babur does refined, well-flavoured dishes from all around India and regularly has regional or seasonal themes. Definitely worth a trip. One day I may even get round to reviewing it properly. I've only been here eight and half years...
Your final port of call on this tour of Brockley (verging on Forest Hill by now) is The Honor Oak, a decent modern pub right at the end of the main drag. A good looking menu meets the needs of a youngish clientele and there's often food stalls out front.
So that's it. I'm acutely aware this has been a very selective journey, focusing only on the options along Brockley Road but these are the places most obviously made accessible by the new tube stations. Other local highlights include a shiny new gastropub (The Talbot) and the perennially popular Meze Mangal, but these are both marginally better served by St Johns station.
But even this brief round-up reinforces the fact that there's more variety and quality to be found in SE4 than first impressions might suggest. You won't find a Starbucks (thank god), and you will be distracted by more chicken shacks than is strictly necessary, but there is plenty out there, much of which has opened relatively recently. Here's hoping the influx of new visitors brought by the new trains will cause this trend to continue.