Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Tooting Bec.
Cool Spots Around Tooting Bec, London.
Following my individual articles on Tooting Bec Common, Dee Light Bakery and Richard’s Kitchen, here’s a roundup of my favourite spots from across Tooting Bec, South London.
In terms of tourist attractions there’s little, if anything, to draw overseas visitors to the London neighbourhood of Tooting Bec. Moreover, it’s a pocket of the capital that many domestic tourists know little about. This is surprising in some respects, as Tooting Bec is actually home to South London’s premier indoor market.
Dating back to 1930, Tooting Market is an exceptionally diverse shopping complex that shows why Tooting Bec is one of London’s most multicultural neighbourhoods. Head down any of the aisles and it feels like taking a stroll through several continents. A Punjabi man measures a customer’s shirt in his store while an African lady welcomes a client through the doors of her nail salon.
Elsewhere, a cockney butcher slices up some prime beef as a Moroccan craft vendor blows on his cup of mint tea from behind a row of rugs. There’s also a Chinese noodle joint, an authentic Japanese sushi stall and a place offering excellent Italian sourdough pizza.
Cool Spots Around Tooting Bec.
In the clothing stores, you can find t-shirts referencing one of Tooting’s main claims to fame. This Straight Outta Tooting shirt includes an animated image of the English actor Robert Lindsay from the 1970s British TV sitcom Citizen Smith.
In the show Lindsay stars as Wolfie, an unemployed slacker with strong Marxist beliefs. As self proclaimed leader of the revolutionary Tooting Popular Front (himself and a bunch of loser friends), he sets off on a quest to emulate the achievements of his hero Che Guevara by securing “power to the people!” and “freedom for Tooting!”
My friend Henry and I love a bit of British comedy, hence we were really keen to download this lost sitcom. But alas we didn’t think much of it at all, the so-called comedy falling very flat indeed. Nevertheless, it was cool to see parts of 1970s Tooting pop up in a few episodes. Such as the wonderfully unchanged Tooting Broadway Underground Station in the opening credits.
The market was also home to one of Tooting’s last standing record shops, Dr. Vinyl. A somewhat cramped and ramshackle place, it very much appealed to the former record collector in me. The kind of place you can have a thorough rummage around before unearthing that missing Stooges album you’d always wanted.
I recall the woman who worked there being very warm and chatty on the afternoon of my visit. In fact, according to a sign by the register, I’d been fortunate to meet her and not her colleague. Unfortunately, Mr. Google tells me that Dr. Vinyl is now permanently closed. How very sad, as these kinds of places are fast becoming an endangered species. I can only presume the pandemic finished them off.
Complimenting Tooting Market, the neighbourhood virtually bursts at the seams with independent stores, hole-in-the-wall mobile phone booths and charity shops. Yes, we’re a long way from Notting Hill, Toto! My favourite second hand joint is the charming Wandsworth Oasis Charity Shop on Trinity Road.
This place is fantastic for a bargain hunt, with second hand furniture, clothes, toys, paintings, bags, jewellery, posters and… just about anything really. Yes, they’ve even got a generous supply of Princess Leah piggy banks. You know you want one.
This is actually just one of nine stores in and around Wandsworth which raises money for Londoners living with HIV. Wandsworth Oasis has been active since 1989, raising over a million pounds for a range of HIV charities.
Cool Spots Around Tooting Bec.
The Trinity Road branch is one of Tooting’s biggest second hand book stores. Paperbacks range from just 50p each, or 5 for a trifling £2. This is where I picked up the excellent Chocolat by Joanne Harris as a gift for Sladja.
And where, much to my amusement, I came across Margaret Thatcher: The Downing Street Years. This was the book my eccentric Uncle Doug bought for my sister Natalie’s 10th birthday back in the day. Oh how I recall the bemused looks on everyone’s faces that afternoon. “Um… thanks Uncle Doug!” she exclaimed. Brilliant.
Moreover, Wandsworth Oasis is where I bought my faithful teaching companion, Elmo the puppet. He was a bit raggedy even back then, but hey, he only cost me £2. 1492 teaching hours later and Elmo is still going strong as I write this blog in the seaside town of Tivat in Montenegro.
Besides shopping, Tooting Bec is a fantastic neighbourhood when it comes to cafes and bakeries. My top pick goes to the excellent Dee Light Bakery, already reviewed on these pages. But I’d also like to give a shout out to their next door neighbour, Foxcroft and Ginger.
If Dee Light was too busy for my liking, or indeed I just wanted to mix it up, I’d simply park myself next door. Part bakery, part bistro, part craft beer bar, there’s something for everyone here. Though for me I would invariably come for a vanilla latte and one of their deliciously dense chocolate chip cookies.
Foxcroft and Ginger.
As I worked, usually on a blog post, I’d see local families come and go for brunch. And believe me, Foxcroft and Ginger is no greasy fry up cafe. Their Bacon Butty, for example, comes in a brioche bun with Korean Ketchup. Furthermore, you can choose from a variety of sides such as smoked salmon, chorizo, avocado and golden hash browns to go with your eggs on sourdough toast.
I can also give a wholehearted thumbs up to Tartine Artisanal on Tooting High Street. This place is definitely more bustling, but I always liked the friendly Algerian owners and their multicultural team of waiters and waitresses.
It’s a big old place, so even when it’s busy you can usually squeeze yourself in somewhere. Their coffee is reasonably priced (about £2.30 for a latte), while you can also grab a loyalty card that offers a free coffee for every nine consumed.
I loved the Algerian influence on the menu and indeed often submitted to a plate of hummus and pitta bread for lunch. Or maybe a pot of mint tea instead of yet another coffee. I recently read that the cafe has new owners, so I’ll be curious to see how the place has changed when I get back to London in 2022.
Cool Spots Around Tooting Bec.
Despite the fact that I rarely go there anymore, I couldn’t leave the Walker Wyatt Coffee shop out of this piece. This was the first cafe Henry introduced me to during my maiden spell living in Tooting Bec.
Walker Wyatt Coffee is the brainchild of Walker Wyatt Estate Agents. They used to have a large office on Tooting Bec Road before launching the cafe sometime in 2009. After a while the estate agents closed and they set up a small office space right in the cafe itself, discreetly tucked away in the corner.
Most days you’ll see a suited Walker Wyatt worker clicking away behind a big desk. Which is kind of weird, as he sits working surrounded by the morning coffee crowd. At least he doesn’t have to get up from his desk for a cuppa.
Walker Wyatt is an excellent cafe in many ways. The coffee is top notch, the service is excellent and their baked goods are wonderful, especially the flapjacks. When the weather is fine, it’s cool to sit outside and sip on your latte as people hurry in and out of Tooting Bec Station, just across the road.
Ultimately though, the tiny interior and often hectic foot traffic make Walker Wyatt far from ideal as a regular working base. Which is why I eventually began seeking greener coffee shop pastures. Still, I will almost certainly pop in for a drink and a bite next time I visit. For old times sake. And so Sladja can experience the Walker Wyatt vibe I’ve told her so much about.
Walker Wyatt Coffee Shop.
Enough about coffee. Tooting Bec also has an awesome selection of eateries that cater to all budgets. If you haven’t already, please do check out my report from the excellent Richard’s Kitchen. Elsewhere, there’s a delightfully no-nonsense, old school pie and mash restaurant called Harrington’s on Selkirk Road.
The restaurant opened in 1908 under the stewardship of a local couple, Bertie and Clara Harrington. Back when I last visited in 2015, the old joint looked as if it hadn’t been decorated since 1908. Not everyone’s cup of tea I would imagine, but for me the place oozed character and charm.
With its wooden benches, tiled tables, lime green walls and giant wooden boat carving, one can almost imagine Bill Sykes and Nancy coming here and considering themselves “at ‘ome!” All the while an ancient clock on the wall ticks on, presumably witness to all manner of characters and stories over the years.
“Awright lav, what can a getcha?” asked the woman behind the counter. Dressed in a greasy apron and tatty hairnet, all that was missing was a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, Dot Cotton style.
Cool Spots Around Tooting Bec.
Both Henry and I kept it simple. Indeed we both wanted the same thing: a large crispy lamb pie with buttery mash drowned in liquor, a salty, non-alcoholic parsley sauce. Simple eats but my god, British Pie and Mash, you can’t beat it.
In the years that have since passed I see that Harrington’s has had a flashy makeover. It was sorely needed of course and yet part of me feels the restaurant has lost something. Thus I feel glad, dear readers, to have brought you the old joint as it was.
For an authentically greasy cooked English breakfast, look no further than Costas Cafe. From the moment you walk in the door you could be in an episode of Eastenders. I suppose it’s this kind of food that gives British cuisine a bad name. Yes, it’s a heart attack on a plate, but I don’t care. I consume roughly 2-4 fry ups every 2 years, so it’s a case of indulging with a clear conscience.
At Costas I really go for it, dousing my sausage, beans, mushroom, egg and hash browns in salt, pepper, vinegar, tomato sauce and even brown sauce for good measure. Divine.
And yet Tooting Bec’s culinary highlight, in my book at least, is its amazing array of Indian restaurants. Most of which lie across Tooting High Street. A handful are perfect for a sit down dinner and special occasions, though my regular haunt is Chatkhara, where a more informal vibe prevails.
Chatkhara Indian and Pakistani Restaurant.
It’s also perfect for a takeaway. In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come for a Butter Chicken or a Lamb Bhuna to run back to Henry’s place on Elmbourne Road.
Last but not least, I’ll leave you with Tooting Bec Tube Station, my local underground stop. Opened in 1926 and built by the legendary London Underground architect Charles Holden, it sits on the northern line between Balham and Tooting Broadway.
No matter where I’m going in central London, I only ever seem to need half an hour on The Tube. Unlike most Londoners, I’m guessing, I adore The Underground. Almost certainly because I don’t have to use it to commute every day during rush hour. Part of the charm for me is my routine of stopping to read the station’s Thought of the Day.
For the most part, I don’t have much tolerance for fridge magnet wisdom. But at Tooting Bec Station you never know what you’re going to get. An extract of a poem by Keats, some song lyrics by The Smiths, a bit of Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl.
Cool Spots Around Tooting Bec.
I don’t know who is responsible for the board, but I love the idea of this being part of someone’s daily duties. Whoever it is obviously has a sense of humour, as there are plenty of funny quotes, stories and anecdotes throughout the week. Even more amusing is when he or she is clearly too busy to think of something clever for the board. God bless Tooting Bec!
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Thanks for the tour Leighton. Tooting Bec is a great neighborhood with wonderful, independent mom and pop stores, restaurants and businesses. There may not be many of the typical tourist attractions but that’s a good thing as far as preserving the character of the place.
Hey John, glad you enjoyed this stroll around non-touristy London. I really miss the place and can’t wait to take Sladja there next year. Hope you have a good week going forward. We are about to head off exploring around the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. Happy days…
I would most likely head straight to one of Tooting’s biggest second-hand book stores as I am a big reader and can never pass by a second-hand shop selling books. Not only is buying used much better for the environment, but it is also far better for your wallet too! Plus, there’s that extra excitement of not knowing what you’ll be able to find. Thanks for the tour and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva
Absolutely Aiva, I also love the smell of a second hand book. A kind of low must. Thanks for following me through my Tooting Bec adventures.
Great read. I could smell the coffee and taste the pie and mash accompanied by the parsley liquor. You have done an excellent job and I hope the Tooting board of commerce duly recognise the free marketing. Up the Revolution.
Up the revolution! Thanks for strolling through my Cool Spots Around Tooting Bec. Maybe I’ll send the Tooting Board of Commerce a link…
Yes, Im definitely going to need to plan a trip to this corner of London. I love the vintage, warm, and charming look and feel of this whole area. I think I could happily be lost here wandering through the market and thift store and eating my way through many good meals. 🙂
Meg, if I had the finances and COVID wasn’t a thing, I’d invite you guys over and walk you through the spots in these articles. When I finally make that million…
Thats very kind Leighton and would be amazing to have such a guide through such a cool place. 🙂 heres hoping for your big break into the million!
A good deep dive into the neighbourhood Leighton. I love exploring local markets. They give a real feel for the area and this one looks like a good one. Certainly a good selection of restaurants and you are not kidding on the flaky sausage roll. I love the sausage rolls and meat pies in Britain. Thanks for taking us along to Tooting. Cheers. Allan
Thanks Allan, it’s been fun blogging up a largely ignored area of South London. At least when it comes to online articles. Appreciate your thoughts as always!
A cool spots post usually means you’re about to move on. I’ll truly miss the name Tooting Bec. It’s definitely on my list of places to visit. Always love a good food roundup. I wan’t one of each but especially the full English breakfast. And I’d be the envy of my neighborhood in a Straight Outta Tooting t-shirt. Free Elmo!
Hey Memo, you’re right that my Tooting Bec coverage is over. For now at least. Also delighted that you like the look of The English Breakfast. I’ll have one for you next time I’m in town. Elmo is a very naughty puppet and has to earn his freedom mwah ha haaaa.
I would love to wander the multi-cultural Tooting Market and browse in the used bookstore in the charming neighborhood. And I’m missing a good curry dish these days, there’s nothing of the sort locally – your photo looks delicious.
We’ve also been deprived of Indian food over the last year in Serbia and Montenegro. I’m guessing it’s going to have to wait to London/Scotland when we eventually make it to The UK.
Interesting to delve deeper into life around Tooting Bec, there’s certainly plenty of cafes and other eateries to keep everyone going. I’m also fascinated by tube stations Leighton and thought some time I’d try and tick off them all and see what lies above ground but it will take me awhile as I’m not London based.
What a worthwhile (and lengthy!) project that would be Marion. Just keep plugging away at it I guess over time. Thanks for your readership as always, and for your consistent contributions.
It is a good slice of time in the history of this district. Did you ever find out who the academic was who got the doll box instead of Natalie?
Ha ha ha! Brilliant. Whoever she was, I’m guessing she was equally displeased. Sometimes life just doesn’t deliver.
Love the EastEnders references!
Ha, thanks Marla! It really is ‘that’ kind of neighbourhood.
For us, one of the absolute delights of living within easy reach of London is the ability to enjoy the “London villages”, those enclaves which are neighbourhoods rather than the (also brilliant) tourist areas. Still love everything about London even after all these years! (Almost everything).
I’m with you on London. Though I concede that I’m only ever in town with loads of free time and no commitments. Hope your Greece trip continues to delight!
Wow, you’ve certainly found some really cool spots at Tooting Bec. You will lose me in that second hand book store (but I won’t be buying the Margaret Thatcher book 😉). And those “thoughts of the day” at the station – that’s pretty cool as well (liked the one that says ‘nothing happened here in 1508’ 😅.
Glad you enjoyed your virtual trip to Tooting Bec! That Margaret Thatcher book might still be there in case you change your mind;)
😂 … thank you, but no thank you!
Interesting, but unlike you I’ve never crossed south of the river to the dark side 🙈
Ha ha, live a little…
Very cool spots, I’d love to try out all of the coffee shops 🙂
A great read! I have to confess that although I’ve lived in London all my life I’m not sure I’ve ever been to Tooting! Yet I’m confident that you’ve captured it perfectly because it comes to life in your writing – and because it has all the ingredients of a typical inner London suburb with its multicultural mix, blend of traditional and modern eating places, second-hand charity shops and quirky independents. The market sounds wonderful and has me thinking that maybe I should rectify that ‘never been to Tooting’ issue?
That’s very kind of you to say Sarah. Glad you enjoyed this mini tour and hope you do make it to Tooting, if only for a stroll in the common.
Although I’d never heard of it before reading this series, Tooting Bec is quickly becoming my favorite neighborhood in London– which is weird, because I’ve never been there before! You really know how to evoke the eclectic atmosphere of this place, most-notably for being so multicultural! One could easily spend weeks just exploring this corner of London, from shopping around the international Tooting Market to trying the dozens of cafes (although it’s good you mentioned Moroccan mint tea, as I LOVE that stuff) in the area. And I certainly need to try that British pie and mash, which sounds like greasy, filling goodness. One day, I hope to return to London to check out Tooting Bec!
So glad you like the look of this neighbourhood Rebecca, which is definitely off the beaten track in terms of London tourism.