For years Tooting has only been known for its slightly rough reputation, oh, and for being home to ‘Wolfie’ from ‘70s British sitcom, Citizen Smith. But more recently, it seems this little lively South London town is creeping up the popularity chart thanks to an influx of new business and invested community spirit. In fact, there have been some major changes, in what seems like overnight – and every time you have a good look at Tooting, there is something brand new and wonderful to enjoy.
That ‘rough around the edges’ feel is now a part of its charm, and although gentrification (a buzz word I don’t particularly enjoy using) is now well and truly in motion here, the best thing about Tooting is its not getting swallowed up by posh cafés and up-market stores. Instead, it doesn’t even recognise its becoming a London hit – and it’s this humble-yet-proud attitude of the community that makes it so special.
From famous curry houses to fish and chip shops; from galleries to wine bars, Tooting’s appeal is most certainly spreading – and it’s fast becoming a place to experience in London, whether you’re a fellow ‘saaf’ Londoner or a visitor to the capital.
Whoever you are, here are 10 reasons to see Tooting:
1. Tooting Market
It may not be as huge as Spitalfields, as varied as Greenwich or as busy as Brixton, but it’s exciting times for Tooting because they have not one – but two markets – and both are already rich with the dynamic local culture. Wander through and join residents chowing down on home-made patties at the Mauritian Cafe, while around the corner you’ll find gloriously colourful saris, gowns and cloth at ridiculously cheap prices. The butchers never fail to say a friendly ‘hello’, and then there’s the wonderful Bindlesticks (but more on that later). The Secret Bar is a cute stop off for thirsty shoppers.
2. The Tram and Social
Go back to old school on Saturday nights as The Tram pulls out its finest 90s and 00s tunes into the early hours – much to the delight of the garage/pop-loving clients. Of course, you’ll have to find it first – by heading up Mitcham Road from Tooting Broadway station and looking for the canopy of fairy lights to guide you in. It gets busy, very busy – but it’s a lot of fun.
3. Gallery Midnight
Whether it’s browsing local art, buying stand-out paintings, joining a life-drawing class or keeping the kids occupied with art class, Gallery Midnight on Ritherdon Road is the place to be. Run by SW17 fella, Johny Midnight, this is a gallery with a personal touch – in fact, the paintings you’ll see were created by Johny himself. His inspiration? Life experience – from his days living in the French Alps, the Caribbean and Tooting Bec. Look out for the Lido piece.
4. Tooting Bec Lido
And speaking of the Lido… It’s nearly time for Tooting’s most fun summer spot to come into its own once again. It is the largest fresh water, open air swimming pool in England (fact fans) and at 90 metres long, is a favourite with residents and visitors alike. It opens for 2014 on 24 May at 6am until 30 September.
5. Chicken Shop
Bringing with it a touch of West End (well, it’s the brainchild of Soho House) and a whole load of delectable food, the Tooting branch of Chicken Shop certainly seems to be going down a treat. With grilled chicken served up as whole, halves and quarters and sides of buttered corn on the cob, freshly cut chips, creamy coleslaw and more – it’s a feast of tastiness that has to be tried to be believed. The atmosphere is relaxed, popular and cool, the service first class – and you’ll never crave another Nandos.
Located in Tooting Market, local favourite Bindlesticks Wine Bar has welcomed a lovely daytime team to the fold – and now, under the name of Get Juiced – healthy smoothies, salads and snacks are also on offer. Drop by for some travel talk (there are plenty of Nat Geos and Lonely Planets lying around for inspiration), or just a takeaway juice – but make sure to return on a Thursday night, from 6.30, for some fabulous live music and an amazing community feel.
7. Cinnamon Garden
Newly opened near Amen Corner – and named after a famous Colombo hotel – this cute (and brightly decorated) Sri Lankan eatery is now serving traditional dishes like chicken kothu and spicy prawns. It’s a change to the stream of local Karahi restaurants, and the fact that it also does takeaways goes down very well. Alcohol isn’t served – but with deliciousness like this, you won’t miss it.
8. The Little Bar
This place is exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a simple little bar – but once you’re inside on a Saturday night, there’s something pretty special about Tooting’s latest watering hole. Beers and wines dominate the menu, and there’s an outside seating area in the back yard for those (hopefully) up-coming summer evenings. Inside, the lights are dim, the tables cosy and everyone has a friendly smile. Big thumbs up for this neighbourhood addition.
9. Tartine Bakery
Gorgeous Tartine in Tooting Bec is a new shop run by owners Najib and Madj. They already have a spot down near Broadway and in Balham. Deceptively large, the bakery has plenty of room for those wanting to settle in with a laptop during the week, or plan a girlie lunch on a Saturday – and the awesome quiches, rolls, sandwiches, pies and pastries are all divine. Fresh bread is baked on site and you can wash all that yummy boulangerie goodness with teas and coffees – all freshly brewed.
10. The Castle
A few months ago and the Castle was that pub in desperate need of a makeover, but with stellar ales on tap and a few old sofas to enjoy the footie. Now it’s been revamped and, boy, is it sparkling. The new beer garden is decking heaven with plenty of space for lazy Saturday parties, while the spacious layout indoors is already attracting masses. If you’re there early, we recommend grabbing the outdoor hut with protected log fire.
And there’s more… But I won’t go on forever. Special mentions do go out to The Selkirk (a gorgeous, laid-back gastro-pub on the Broadway backstreets), The Wheatsheaf (a buzzy ale-serving venue right by Tooting Bec station, which has survived many a local council closure attempt thanks to loyal petitioning residents) and the Mirch Masala – which is, in my opinion, Tooting’s best BYOB curry house. Try the Kerala Gosht and you’ll see what I mean.
Tooting Bec and Broadway tube stations can be found on the southern strip of the Northern Line, just south of Balham. Tooting Junction and Amen Corner can easily be reached by either Tooting Broadway underground or mainline overground services to Tooting.