A Saturday stroll along Evelina Road and Nunhead Lane is quite literally a walk down Memory Lane for me. My family has been shopping in Nunhead for as long as any of us can remember.
Growing up in Rye Hill Park my dad would rush into Ayres the Baker’s after school to buy a ha’penny bun and later – after he was married and patiently waiting whilst my mother shopped for dress fabric in Peckham’s posh department store Jones and Higgins – my Gran and sister and I would buy crumpets for tea and our Grandfather’s Sunday morning brown bread and cockles & whelks from F. C. Soper.
Whilst many London urban areas identify as villages Nunhead really is one, complete with village green and all the traditional, independent and glorious shops one would expect and hope for. Lawrence Roullier White shares this rare treat.
In these times of torte and tramezzino there is no greater joy than having a traditional family baker’s right on your doorstep and Ayres the Baker’s is one of those; indeed it is a six generation family business. I have had a food writer from Rome drooling over Ayre’s cream cakes, New Yorkers addicted to their apple doughnuts and perhaps the greatest accolade of all; a French visitor wondering if I could courier their white tin-loaves to him in the South of France. Besides the bread, Ayres has cakes and pastries of which dreams are made – try their bread pudding. Commission celebratory cakes for any occasion or walk out with a cream packed gateau. I buy their spelt bread and love the lavender shortbread.
F. C. Soper is as much a visitor attraction as a shop. It is the only store in the world where any short time spent queuing (and it is never long) is a complete joy as you marvel at the myriad of marine merchandise. The staff are so friendly and ready to dispense expert advice on preparation and cooking times that I look forward to every inspiring visit. Fish can be filleted how you want it and if you give them enough time they will take special orders. Well done Nunhead for once again impressing a guest who wanted to make South Indian Pomfret Curry and who led with the unwise opening gambit ‘of course you won’t be able to get it here……’ A day later he was eating his words. He was even able to find all the spices he needed opposite in Nunhead Express, which if you look closely is housed in what was once a stylish art deco parade, in fact back in the ‘olden days’ – as my God daughter refers to my youth – I remember there being a Co-op Dairy there. But back to the fish, Soper’s also has some great chef’s cheats, including pre-made Coquilles Saint Jacques (just £2.80!) and Cullen Skink – but to mind what could be nicer than grilled skate with a knob of butter and plenty of lemon juice?
F. Rudd & Son the greengrocers is an absolute treasure, seasonal fruit and vegetables are served up with a smile and buying what you need is a much more environmentally friendly and economic way to shop than filling your supermarket trolley with bags of salad that will inevitably get thrown away. I can bring in a two-day vegetable casserole for around a fiver! More of that later.
At H. A. Smith you will be greeted with a friendly welcome and all the advice you would expect from master butchers who will fillet and trim as required. This is of great relief, I know, to the supermarket generation that can be prone to panic when a recipe requires a butterflied leg of lamb or some other such peculiarity. H. A. Smith also sells hot French style rotisserie chickens, a no brainer if you don’t feel like cooking.
Bambuni has everything you would expect from a boutique speciality food store and so much more. I love browsing around the deli delights and always find inspiration and ingredients for a gorgeous lunch or supper as well as coffees and speciality teas, which can also be enjoyed along with tasty treats in situ. Bambuni is also where you need to head for your accompanying wine, with their carefully sourced selection. Cleverly Bambuni also has a refilling scheme so you can buy a bottle of red or white for £8.00 and fill up the empty bottle later for £5.50. This brilliant initiative also applies to olive oil.
You may want something on which to serve all this flavoursome fayre, recently opened Papa Bear is a fantastic resource of mid-century furniture perfectly suited for the modern urban pad. Timeless design classics such as Ercol and G Plan dining tables and chairs, Ladderax shelving and other minimal delights are well priced and carefully chosen assuring you of the finest quality and authenticity. What is more charming owner, Aniko Pall, will chat with you through your needs and can even be consulted about art for your walls, the shop has a continuously changing collection of contemporary art.
Complete your table with a vase of flowers from lovely florist, A G Flowers.
You can finish off your afternoon with a time-warp wander through the gothic Victorian splendour of Nunhead Cemetery. When I was a child this graveyard was strictly off limits as it was rumoured to be home to a coven of those practicing the dark arts, gossip which was endorsed by a slot on the BBC’s 1970’s current affairs show Nationwide. As kids we would creep up the pathway that we used to call ‘Brockley Jack’ - after the eponymous highway man of yore (its correct name is Brockley Footpath) – and squeeze through the wrought iron railings in search of witches. Ironically if my mother had known she would have killed us! Things are much more sedate these days in what is one of London’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries thanks to careful management and the Heritage Lottery Fund this historic and woodland site is now also a glorious nature reserve.
Walk all the way through and loop back down along Cheltenham Road and you will be able to take in the absolutely lovely café The Dish and the Spoon, where you can tuck into some hearty food and delicious cakes and pastries. If after all that food shopping you are too tired to cook you can take home a delicious home-cooked meal to heat through later. Or just stop for a coffee, which is locally roasted by award-winning roaster Dark Fluid or a tea which is sourced from Tregothnan, the only tea grown in the UK on a tea plantation near Truro, the same tea is sold in Harvey Nicols but why would one leave this comfort zone for Knightsbridge, when we have this gem on our doorstep? All the Dish and Spoon’s food is made on the premises except the bread and pastries from local Boulangerie Jade of Blackheath. Shona Chamber’s ethos is quality first and her support of other local companies is admirable; she buys all her sausages and bacon from Flock and Herd in Peckham, her hams from Moons Green Charcuterie of Tenterden in Kent and cheese from Moo Town cheeses. Dish and Spoon really is the model of modern retailing. We are so lucky.
So next time you are standing in a queue at the supermarket or staring blankly at a self-service checkout that refuses to take your tenner, imagine what a nice time you could be having shopping in Nunhead!