Pop-ups have long been a popular way for a food business to operate. Traditionally based in London’s markets, the casual catering business was simply earning a living feeding the market traders and customers. The short hours, easy access to supplies, predictable production costs and sales made for a straightforward job, if you could secure a pitch — still the hardest part of pop-ups and street trading today.
London’s main produce markets included Borough, Covent Garden, Billingsgate, Spitalfields, and Smithfield. In addition, there were numerous smaller markets for the general public. Still very much alive and well in French and Italian cities, many of London’s neighbourhood street markets have greatly reduced in size or sometimes disappeared altogether. One exception is Brixton in southwest London, where a traditional market not only thrives but is one of the biggest in London, sprawling through a network of streets, centred around Brixton railway station and its Victorian arches. Pop Brixton is a market within a market, reviewed here:
Pop Brixton, Brixton Station Road, London SW9
An enlightened approach to market trading and new ventures
Pop Brixton is a “container city.” Nothing new in the concept as such; shipping container communities have been around for many years in London. Recent precedents include BOXPARK in Shoreditch. The USP with Pop Brixton, however, is the community-focused venture, commissioned by Lambeth Council and operated by The Collective. The aim is to offer affordable space for local businesses and startups. The part two-storey jumble of containers houses 20 food and drinks traders along with shops, studios, and offices. A venue for hire and locally focused activities complete the positive, community atmosphere. Being sited right by the street market and laid out in an enclosed, walk-around format enables a steady flow of customers and a real community feeling along with a sense of safety and security — something open-street markets often lack, especially in grittier, urban parts of London.
Uni mates’ startup wows London with fresh Indian food
University friends Rik and Will decided to leave their jobs as chef and ex-Deloitte city worker, respectively, to set up their Indian food pop-up. Rik had worked in Bombay (Mumbai), albeit cooking European cuisine, where he gained his love of the local street food, using fresh ingredients. He then worked at London’s Indian fine dining restaurant, Cinnamon Club. Will takes care of the admin and finance, already looking for expansion after just six months trading, due to the huge success of their first outlet. According to Will, Pop Brixton has provided the “perfect platform” for them, and the Brixton area has huge potential for high-quality casual food offers. The big league food critics and trend-hungry Londoners have already come from afar, not just locally, appreciating the innovation in Kricket’s take on Indian street food. “Daily, fresh deliveries due to space constraints in the tiny kitchen” create a short, inexpensive menu of small plates and cocktails. Just 28 covers at communal tables appeal to London’s love of simple, real “fast food” in a homely, relaxed atmosphere.
Trendy, sustainable fish & chip restaurant’s second outlet
Whilst most pop-up food ventures seek to expand into a stand-alone site, for others, it can also work the other way. Hook started life as a market stall in Dublin, creating “new school” fish and chips using sustainable, day boat produce not usually found in standard “chippies,” — for example, mackerel. The fish is coated in panko breadcrumbs and a light tempura batter. Hook’s take on chips (fries in the U.S.) moves one step on from the usual skinny or chunky and becomes homey, rustic chunks of fried potato. Hook’s first high street branch opened in northwest London’s busy Parkway, close to tourist destination Camden Market. Hook was looking for a second outlet, and when Pop Brixton was established, it was a good way for them to try a new location. The upgrading of simple food is long established now in London: burgers, pizzas, and sandwiches have all had the makeover from hipster operators. Hook has pushed the fish and chips concept into the affordable gourmet bracket, too.
London’s pop-ups have become more formalised and commercialised in recent years. This is a good thing as it creates a structure that is lacking for most traders when they start. Having premises and good trading locations provided at affordable rents allows startups to focus on what they do best — provide innovative food and drink to a receptive, focused audience. Enlightened property landlords with altruism woven into their objectives — not just self-interested profit — are the way forward for this booming London casual dining sector.