After Heygate – The Artworks Street Food and More.
I moved to Walworth after the Heygate Estate was demolished. A controversial decision by Southwark Council to clear the large housing estate with a marmite-like reputation. Selling the estate off to LandLease, a private developer, has resulted in many local people being forced out of their homes. Although I came late to the party, it is obvious that feelings about Heygate are still running deep. Whatever temporary use is made of the land while Elephant Park is developed is likely to face challenges. I was curious to find out more about The Artworks – ‘a new creative enterprise community’ that has been set up in a temporary village of shipping containers. So, an invitation to visit and review some of the street-food outlets was more than welcome.
I started in the Long Wave Bar and Cafe, run by the director of the Elefest. The Long Wave prides itself on building links to local traders and sells a cocktail made from Bourbon and Baldwin’s Sarsparilla in a tribute to the original G Baldwin herbalist store, located where the Long Wave Bar is now. I have to admit, I picked the Spring Punch instead – a gin, applejuice and elderflower concoction that I thought might be a little easier on the liver! You can also buy Walworth’s craft beer here, from the Orbit Brewery.
The idea was to try a little of everything, so we moved on quickly to Elephant Shack. Actually I would happily have stayed here all night. Our spicy lamb wrap was made with salt marsh organic lamb and freshly griddled flatbreads. Washed down with a glass of red this was an excellent mouthful of food.
I guess part of the appeal for me was watching the flatbreads being made from scratch outside on a special curved metal pan over charcoal.
But the menu looked excellent, with wraps from £4 to £7, burgers at £7 or a comforting sounding toastie at £4. What makes Elephant Shack special is the very careful use of ingredients. Poshed-up street food made from rare breed steak and salt marsh lamb it may be; the result is food a million miles from supermarket dishes. Food that, for me, tastes like the stuff of my childhood.
On to Marcel and Sons where I started to regret not liking eggs. Comfort food from Mauritius, the two brothers who run this place have a menu of dishes which include the rather wonderfully named ‘Bol Renverse’ (upside down bowl), Bao pao (steamed dumplings with crispy beef or sea bream) and Jai (cellophane noodles with a host of vegetables, fragrant with fresh coriander and served on a bed of steamed rice.
We popped into Black Acorn where I think I had one of the best ‘burgers’ I’ve ever tried. Made from Chorizo Iberico and Iberico ham, mixed with organic beef and served in a toasted brioche bun with a choice of cheese, this was a wonderful melting mixture. Black Acorn were in the process of setting up but I’m rather hoping that I’ll be able to buy some of their own Portuguese Pata Negra and chorizo to take home. If not I might just have to take up residence.
By now I was beginning to fade. Or, to be more accurate, I was beginning to feel as if eating anything else might not be physically possible.
But who could refuse Caribbean food from Chris at Tasty Jerk? His is a classic menu of jerk, rice, soups and fried patties and plantain. The rice is quite special, flavoured with fresh coconut I could have just eaten a big bowlful.
I have to admit, even the quarter of a duck confit burger that I tried at the Frenchie Bistro was too much by this stage. And that despite the melted cheese and truffle honey topping. And, by the time we reached Love.Fresh.Vietnamese. I couldn’t do more than take a few photos. My friends carried on, working their way around the food stalls, but I headed off home, safe in the knowledge that I can get to The Artworks on foot in around 10 minutes to continue my tasting session.
Liking the set-up at Artworks is not without a tinge of compunction on my part. I struggle with the idea that many local people have lost their homes. The lucky ones have have been displaced, forced to move to other parts of Southwark or further afield. But, there are real tragedies on my doorstep here in Walworth, including one woman in her fifties who has been homeless for months and relies on couch surfing with friends. I believe her eviction notices were served while she was in hospital. No matter how good the food, that’s a sauce I don’t like the taste of.
The counter argument is that as many of the traders at Artworks are local people, eating there is helping them build their lives. Chris, who runs Tasty Jerk used to work at Jerk Centre at the Elephant and Castle market. Now, he’s started his own business cooking wonderful Carribbean food for the local community.
Will Elephant be the ‘New Shoreditch’? – somehow I doubt that. Reinventing hip never works.
Will Artworks help to heal a bleeding community? – possibly. There was a real buzz when we visited and a positive energy about the place
Will it succeed as a venture? – it’s hard to see how it can fail in an area where local pubs like the Beehive are few and far between and where there’s a real lack of places to eat and relax.
The Artworks Elephant is open 7 days a week from 8am to 11pm with late night bar opening at the weekend. Check their website for details of special events including live music and art exhibitions
London SE17 1AY