Streatham High Road is the longest high street in Europe. Having grown up just off it, I knew this long before flags were erected on lampposts, proclaiming this unlikely feat to all who passed through this endless drag between civilisation and Croydon. Whilst intended to provide a bit of civic pride, the flags also seemed to acknowledge that Streatham High Road, and the very concept of a high street, had gone from being a place where people shop, eat and drink to a Wikipedia page, a pub quiz answer, a factoid.
I have lived in Streatham my entire life, but rather than having an engendered sense of romance about it, I’ve always looked on it as a strange nonentity. Despite its South London credentials, its an area with an incredible pedestrianism about it – punctured annually by Streatham Common’s Kite Day, where small children with Peppa Pig mini-kites reenact the Battle Of Britain with infuriated hobbyists. Other than that, there’s a hipster brewery that does one nice beer and ten gross ones. This year saw ‘KISSTORY on The Common’ come to town. That’s really the long and short of it.
The high road, Streatham’s spinal cord, is a bleak crystallisation of the town’s greyness. My brother once said it is the only place he has ever seen a branch of McDonald’s shut down. It would be easier to keep a business open in ISIS-occupied Damascus. It’s as if a blind witch has hexed it, and salted the soil.
Streatham High Road remains distinct from Streatham Hill, the chute that delivers you to the urbanity of Brixton and beyond. The Hill has ‘Hood’, a seasonal modern British type place reminiscent of Clapham’s ‘The Dairy’. It has Bar 61, which bizarrely topped some kind of TripAdvisor ‘best restaurant in the universe’ list a couple of years ago, and Adommé, a decent sourdough pizza place. Streatham High Road has no such luck. It is the land of restaurants without websites, menus as long as your arm and Deliveroo no-go policies. There are no glowing Giles Coren notices here, just three-year-old Facebook reviews that look as if they were probably written by the owner’s extended family.
And that’s why I’m doing this. On Streatham High Road alone there are 60 restaurants, give or take. I’m going to eat in and review all of them. There are a few reasons for this; one is that, on a selfish level, I’d like to ‘get into’ writing about food. I have a Prader-Willi-esque desire for constant eating and it’s just about the only thing I can bring myself to care about anymore. But, to me, it’s something that has to be earned. I don’t want to just jump in the inbox of someone at a publication and ask to review the new Sichuan place that’s popped up. I don’t think I deserve that, yet. One thing I’ve always liked about food writing, and why it’s some of the only ‘content’ I still consume, is that, for the most part, the writers seem to have paid their dues. They’ve seen some shit, they’ve eaten some bollocks, their palate is war torn, burnt like a plumber’s palm from fresh Hirata buns. I want, for once in my life, to do something the hard way.
It’s also about familiarising myself with somewhere that has only ever been eye-filler on bus rides. There are so many places I ashamedly discovered existed on my little recce up the road; takeaways, family restaurants, eateries that do belly dancing on Saturdays – a whole world I just ignored for something glitizer. It isn’t fair, and I know I’m part of the problem. Despite its anonymity, Streatham High Road, the Babylon of the British high street, tells us a lot about this country right now; revealing interesting truths about cuisine, culture, economy and leisure. It’s the modern British experience, one pitta bread side at a time.
Lastly, I’m sick of TripAdvisor. I’m sick of being told whether a place is good or not by people who are either being unimaginably cruel, petty, tastelessly sycophantic or worse, Americans. I hope to provide a place for my neighbours to make more informed decisions, and, fingers crossed, stick their money in the pockets of someone who deserves it but isn’t getting it.
Thank you for reading.