Friday, 24 February 2012

Mike & Ollie's supper club

A supper club? In Deptford? A whole meal cooked by Mike & Ollie?

When Mike announced a month or so ago that he was going to try a supper club, I decided that this was one not to miss, and booked myself in for the very first night.

The venue was the Deptford Project (otherwise known as the train carriage) and for the night's supper club, the tables were in one long row along the middle of the carriage, just like it used to be when it first opened.

The carriage had been liberally decorated with tendrils of ivy, and we were entertained throughout the evening by smooth and mellow guitar sounds - real, live music!

About 16 guests were present, and although the seating arrangements meant I didn't get chance to talk to many of them, most of those that I did seemed to have come from Brockley and further afield. For some it was their first visit to Deptford! We were welcomed with a pear and elderflower martini, and little slices of toasted bread topped by roast beetroot with homemade curd cheese, and belly pork with manchego cheese. In typical Mike & Ollie fashion, these snacks were decorated with tasty slivers of pickled lemon (or was it quince, I can't remember) and fresh herb leaves.

We were treated to multiple courses, all of which were delicious, and which included seared pigeon breast, slow-braised ox cheek, mackerel, as well as the roast bone marrow which was served with whole heads of roast garlic and little heaps of finely sliced onions, parsley and capers, and which prompted by far the most discussion! I wasn't too sure about the marrow - gloopy and quite tasty but I  probably wouldn't choose it again from a menu. In between we had apple sorbet which was served in hollowed-out (foraged) apples.

Throughout the dinner we were told which items in each dish had been foraged but I'm afraid those details were lost in the mists of time (and red wine).

It being the first night there were one or two inevitable glitches - the cooking of the mackerel demonstrated the lack of suitable extraction equipment in the carriage, and had us scrabbling at the windows trying to open them for a few minutes. The nibbles were all served on what looked like old scaffolding boards that Mike assured us had been cleaned and sealed, but the process of placing each board with its foody cargo and decorations (generally spherical objects such as quinces and apples which had a habit of rolling around) on to the tables was a delicate operation which required practice, but by the end of the night Mike and his team seemed to have got the hang of it.

Apparently we also missed out on one course, which was still in the freezer at the Vietnamese restaurant a few doors along, and which had closed by the time Mike was ready to serve it. But it's fair to say that to eat another course on top of the huge amount we'd already eaten would have been sheer gluttony...although that wouldn't have stopped me had it been put down in front of me.

At £25 a head it might be more than you would expect to pay for dinner in Deptford, but in terms of the quality and quantity of food I would consider it an absolute bargain. Last time I went out for a 'posh' meal it was at the Guildford Arms in Greenwich where you get two courses for £25 - Mike & Ollie's food was as good, if not better quality, and there was much more of it. I had fun meeting new people and didn't have far to go home!

All dates for March are currently booked up; if you want to be notified of future dates (and I thoroughly recommend it if you like food and have the cash) you can join the mailing list at the website.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Allotment, New Cross

This deli and greengrocer in the heart of New Cross has been open for several months now, but I've only just got around to sampling its wares.

To be honest it's a bit out of my way for food shopping, since there's the whole of Deptford High Street between me and it, which is probably why it's taken me so long to get there. Luckily the Particular is also between me and it, so it's worth timing a visit specially so that I can take advantage of both these food highs in one trip.

I was also a little sceptical about what the Allotment could offer me apart from maybe some nice cheese and a few things I can't get in Deptford. It's fair to say that the shop far exceeded my expectations, and it's quite likely I may be making regular visits - heck by only a slight stretch of the imagination it's almost on my way home, and with the shop open till 7.30 every weekday night, it could be the place to drop into on the way home when my fridge is bare.

They have a good range of fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices (all looking very fresh and tasty and you can pick your own which is important to me), several fridges at the back full of a selection of cheeses, cold meats, smoked salmon, big dishes of olives that you can mix and match (sold by weight) yoghurts and creams, as well as things like homemade hummus and baba ganoush.

They sell bread from Flour Power City Bakery which is made just down the road at Juno Way in Surrey Quays, cakes and brownies sold singly, and a massive range of groceries which are high quality and also reasonably priced, including big bags of fancy crisps for dipping or wolfing down with beers. And it took me some time to properly browse the full range of chutneys and jams, there were so many!

From the front you would think that the shop is quite small, but it goes back a long way and they have used the space very effectively so there's plenty of variety and range. I liked the fact that I was able to browse unmolested, and when I did require help it was friendly but not overbearing.

If you live nearby, lucky you! As for me, it will make a great place to head for on occasion when I want a bit of variety and don't mind the walk.

The Allotment

318 New Cross Road, SE14 6AF London, United Kingdom
Mon-Fri: 9:00am - 7:30pm
Sat: 10:00am - 5:30pm
Tel: 0203 583 5953

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Open-air Deptford Station

If, like me, you don't use Deptford Station regularly, you may be surprised to find that demolition of the canopy is now complete, and the platforms are a lot lighter and airier as a result. Probably not so good when it's raining but in the sunshine it makes a very pleasant change.

It's difficult to see the progress that has been made until you actually go inside the station, but I believe the station is due to open 1 April, or that was what I was told when work started last year. Full demolition of the existing entrance will then take place.

Upcoming events at New Cross Library

 Just a note about a few events coming up at the New Cross People's Library on New Cross Road.

This week South East London Zines is holding a zine workshop for under 12s: 

Aside from being just plain fun, zine-making can be a wicked creative, emotional and intellectual outlet for anyone at any age, which is why we're inviting under 12s far and wide to pop by the library between 11am and 3pm to have a go at making zines with some of the South East London Zines team. 

We’ll be on hand to help, armed with plenty of examples (from perzines to odes to our favourite things) and all the drawing and collage materials needed for kids to put together their own zines. We're really excited about the workshop and hope kids will be motivated to continue to share and swap and self publish their own work, as well as attract more potential readers to the New Cross People's Library!

For more information about us, check out the South East London Zines blog or follow @selondonzines on Twitter.

The library is also holding two events in the first week of March to celebrate World Book Day. The press release has more information:

There will be a Big Book Swap to celebrate World Book Day at New Cross Library on Thursday 1 March, (6pm-8pm).

This will be followed by a Big Book Sale on Sunday 4 March (2-5pm) with second-hand books selling for bargain prices - most paperbacks will be priced 5 for £1 and hardbacks or large paperbacks £1 each.

Chair Gillian Hart said: "New Cross is a very creative area and it's full of book lovers - from Goldsmiths University students, to school children, to celebrated writers like Commonwealth prize winner Aminatta Forna. We thought it would be a lovely idea to celebrate World Book Day by doing a book swap."

"I love sharing books I feel passionate about. And getting a personal introduction to a book, is really special. You might even discover a writer who changes your life.'

People from all over London are invited to come along with at least one book they would like to swap with others.

"Our visitors will also be invited to take part in our first book group and to form a writing group". Writing events have proved very popular in the community-run library, with local children taking part
in a weekly poetry writing group on Thursdays.

And on the Sunday following World Book Day, book lovers from all over London are expected to descend on New Cross Library for the book sale in aid of keeping the library open. Could there be a better way for bibliophiles to celebrate reading?

"We believe you won't get cheaper books in London - and we have many recently published books as well as cult classics. We've got some great Ian Rankin novels, for example, and a superb collection of children's books. And there will be tea, coffee and cake to buy too, so you can make an afternoon of it," says Hart. "They are cheaper than our usual second hand books - we have a second hand bookshop which is open when the library is open, so you can grab yourself a bargain"

Monday, 6 February 2012

National petition for a reclassification of betting shops

The charity Gambling Reform & Society Perception (GRASP) and Southwark councillor Rowenna Davis have set up a petition asking Eric Pickles to propose a new planning class for betting shops.

Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with the arguments about planning classification, and how this is exacerbating the proliferation of betting shops, in particular on high streets where banks and pubs are closing or vulnerable.

The online petition, which you can find here, has a brief explanation - or you can read my previous posts which are tagged 'betting shops' for more background.

Ultimately a change in the law is the key to giving local people and councils more say in what happens to their high streets. Without this, we will find ourselves fighting more and more such cases, with nothing but the vagaries and historical quirks of the planning system for help.

Deadly dames at the Deptford Lounge

'Ten twisted tales of heroines hell-bent on vengeance, reanimated corpses, post-apocalyptic sex and much, much more'. Ooer, sounds a bit racy doesn't it?

Despite the moniker it's nothing to do with me - it's the launch of a new collection of pulp fiction by women which is being held at the Deptford Lounge on International Women's Day.

Last summer publisher For Books' Sake teamed up with Pulp Press to find the best new pulp fiction written by women. The resulting collection, Short Stack, features the ten twisted tales mentioned above.

The launch of the book will take place at The Deadly Dames Rewrite on Thursday 8th March 2012 from 7.30pm.

Join Short Stack authors Bernadette Russell and Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg, For Books’ Sake founding editor Jane Bradley and Pulp Press publishers Danny Bowman for selected readings from the anthology and a Q&A.

Tickets are free but need to be reserved by ringing the box office at The Albany on 020 8692 4446.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Winter picnic on proposed Thames Tunnel site

A combined protest and celebration took place on the site of the proposed Deptford community garden/Thames Tunnel site today.

Campaigners from the group Don't dump on Deptford's heart gathered at midday for a winter picnic - homemade soup and mulled wine, cake and quiche - and a photocall as a reminder that the consultation period for the Thames Tunnel sites ends this Friday 10 February. If you haven't yet sent a letter of objection, now is the time to do it - or you can comment online here. Lewisham Council has also formally stated its objection to the use of this site for an access shaft for the tunnel construction.

Alongside the campaign against the Thames Tunnel shaft, the Deptford High Street Community Garden Association is planning to set up a community garden on the site, and has recently received written notification from the council that it will grant a lease on the site initially for up to three years. As soon as the details have been finalised, and the weather has improved, work on the garden can start - possibly by the end of the month!

If you want to get involved in the community garden you can join the mailing list by sending an email to

Given that the weather was not particularly appropriate to seed planting, the campaigners settled for building a snowman and having a game or two of badminton.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The future of the high street?

I've been meaning to write about this development for some time now, ever since the front of the former Jobcentre was torn down and the builders began the painstaking task of slotting a whole lot of new steel girders into the shell of the structure.

Unfortunately the original planning documents, which go back to 2003, are no longer available online, so it's a case of piecing together information from a number of sources.

The original application was for:
The change of use, alteration and conversion of 124 Deptford High Street SE8, together with the construction of a two storey extension to the front of the building and two additional storeys, incorporating roof terrace/balconies to provide 2 commercial units for the sale of hot food and drink on the ground floor and 10 live/work units, 4 two bedroom self-contained flats and 10 two bedroom self-contained maisonettes with associated landscaping.

Planning permission came with a large number of conditions, which you can read here if you are interested. At least two of them related to the proposed use of the ground floor units, for example:
2) The premises shall not be used as a public house and shall only be used as a restaurant, restaurant/bar and/or cafe purposes and for no other purpose (including any other purpose in Class A3 of the Schedule to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, or in any provision equivalent to that Class in any statutory instrument revoking and re-enacting that Order).

This rendering was published by the architects, and in my opinion looks quite acceptable with its neutral colouring, inoffensive proportions and unfussy detailing. I don't like the fact that it closes in on the High Street by bringing its raised roofline right up against the pavement, but it's difficult to argue against considering its two neighbours are in conflict over this. And again I'm unhappy with the stealthy increase in building height that the additional storeys confer onto the High Street.

As highlighted above, the two ground floor units were intended to be 'for the sale of hot food and drink' and the conditions were very clear that these should be for consumption on the premises, not as takeaway, so we were looking forward to some nice cafe or restaurant premises.

However last year developer MacDonald Egan pushed through an application for 'Lawful Development Certificate (Proposed) in respect of the creation of a single commercial unit at 124 Deptford High Street SE8 and change of use from Cafe (Use Class A3) to Use Classes A1 /A3 Shop/Cafe' which basically meant that the two ground floor units could be combined into a single retail unit specifically for Poundland, which was interested in opening a store in Deptford. As a 'Lawful Development Certificate' this change of use does not require planning permission and is dealt with by the planning department without any need to consult.

Planning applications for the shopfront have now been submitted; the documents from which the rendering above has been extracted are available online.

Why are cafe units being dumped in preference for a larger retail unit? According to MacDonald Egan its attempts to find cafe tenants had not been successful when it applied to change the usage class this time last year. With construction work having barely started at that time, and completion still being some time away it's unsurprising that no independent operators were able to commit at that time.

It's also worth noting how much has changed in Deptford since that time - work on the station redevelopment only started last April, the Deptford Lounge and Giffin Square were one unholy construction site with completion dates slipping, and the refurbishment of Douglas Way had not begun. With all these changes afoot it might have been possible to attract cafe tenants if the units had been marketed now.

MacDonald Egan argued that the conditions that were placed on usage at the time permission was granted were only intended to prevent a change to other class 3 uses, such as pubs or takeaways, and that change to a retail unit should be allowed. The planning department agreed.

Developer Cathedral Group has also included several restaurant units in its proposals for the redevelopment of St Paul's House and the carriage ramp/Octavius St site - will we perhaps see these changed to other usage classes once planning permission has been obtained?

This process of getting permission for a mixed use development of a certain type, and then submitting a future application to change the use of the buildings carries a strong whiff of deja vu from a similar, very recent local case in which a proposed office block is now going to be a four-star hotel, and an art gallery is being shunted from a spacious unit in a high-profile location to a pokey space on a side road.

It once again raises questions about how the planning system works, and whom such flexibilities favour. Developers may submit a proposal for a particular type of commercial use, only to apply to change it at some future time, claiming that no-one was interested in what they proposed (which would perhaps cast doubt on the adequacy of their initial research).

It's worth remembering that initial submissions for developments of this size would almost always have to come before a planning committee for consideration, where councillors would consider whether the number and mix of residential units and sizes was appropriate, and in the case of a high street site, what the proposed commercial use could offer in terms of improving vibrancy and sustainability of the shopping area.

However it's very unlikely - except in the case of a number of objections - that any subsequent application for change of use would be examined by a committee. This surely offers a nice little back-door route for developers to get what they want without actually having to undergo full scrutiny?

My question here is not the desirability or otherwise of Poundland as a tenant for the site - although I do suspect it will impact on the business of the numerous 'pound shops' we already have. On the other hand, if tenants could be found for the two cafe units they presumably might have competed with each other and with the area's existing cafes, some of which do struggle to survive.

I'm more interested in the ongoing implications of this type of flexibility, and in particular how this is supposed to tie in with the government's plans to revitalise our high streets and give local communities more say. In my opinion it can only lead to conflict and will undermine confidence in the planning process; local groups may be eager to get involved at the beginning, but once they come across this kind of anomaly they will understandably wonder whether they really have a role in defining the future of the high street.