Indoor markets, hand-distilled gin, and global cuisine: This south-west London neighborhood is brimming with creativity but it hasn’t forgotten its multicultural roots.
Tooting is a once-gritty neighborhood in southwest London that is unlikely to be on many London visitors’ must-see lists–but it should be. For the longest time, this multicultural area was famous for having one of the best “curry corridors” in the UK serving cheap and delicious South Indian food–and that was about it. But over the past few years, an explosion of bars, restaurants, and independent shops has given the area a new uber-cool buzz that hasn’t overwhelmed its history and cosmopolitan charm. Outsiders are now turning on to the edgy mix (the area has been called “the new Shoreditch” by some) that locals and aficionados love. If you want to hang out in a hipper and more authentic side of London, Tooting is the place.
A True Taste of Multicultural London
London is famous for being one of the most global cities in the world, but when you’re just visiting, it’s not always easy to get a real sense of the myriad nationalities that call the city home. Not so in Tooting. The high street, despite a growing number of cocktail bars and fancy restaurants, still remains loyal to its Asian heritage and local stall holders. You’ll find sari shops and greengrocers cheek by jowl with artisanal ale shops and third-wave coffee shops.
Not One But Two Fantastic Indoor Markets Crammed With Stalls
Just down the road from the Tube station and only about a minute’s walk from one another are two of the area’s gems: Tooting Market and Broadway Market. Both boast an incredible mix of traditional local stalls, hip new brunch spots, restaurants, and independent shops. Start your day with an espresso and mouthwatering snack at Brickwood Coffee & Bread in Tooting Market and then nose around vintage clothes and taste some beers at We Bought Beer. Head to Broadway Market later in the day for a Darjeeling Iced Tea at Himalayan-mountain-hut-themed cocktail bar The Hill Station and great Basque-inspired small plates at The Tapas Room.
Take a Dip in One of Europe’s Largest Outdoor Pools
Tooting Bec Lido is the UK’s largest freshwater outdoor pool by surface area and at over a century old, it’s well worth making a detour for a paddle. The pool is open to the public from around the beginning of May to the end of September each year (check the website for exact dates), which makes sense as outdoor swimming during a British winter is only for the hardy. If staying dry is more your style, sit in the Art Deco building’s cafe and admire the primary-colored changing room doors that line the side of the pool.
Some of the Best (and Cheapest!) South Asian Dishes in London
This colorful neighborhood may have moved past its South Asian roots, but it hasn’t forgotten about them. Tooting’s “curry corridor” is still one of the best strips in London to get cheap, delicious, and authentic South Asian and Sri Lankan cuisine. We’re not just talking chicken tikka masala here: Try delicious lentil donuts called vada, or “kothu, a spicy street-food dish made with rice and flatbreads. Two of the best-loved restaurants are Dosa n Chutny and Apollo Banana Leaf. These eateries let the food do the talking. Even better, they are BYOB so you can bring along your favorite beer or bottle of wine.
Guzzle a Mean Negroni at The Little Bar
And many other incredibly fine cocktails. The booze is first class and there’s a vibe to match at this tiny but brilliant corner bar, which was started by the former food and drink editor of a well-known London daily newspaper a few years back. Specially sourced crisps, nuts and Manzanilla olives are available at the bar and Salami and Manchego plates if you’re peckish.
Cuisines From All Corners of the World
Ever tried Guyanese cuisine? How about Mauritian food? At Pepi’s Guyanese Cuisine, you can sample South American fare, a melting pot of influences similar to Caribbean: Ccurry, salt fish, and a kind of chow mein. Mauritian food is also a multicultural affair: Chinese, European, and Indian influences showcased in dishes like dim sum and fish vindaye, a sort of pickled curry, both of which you can sample at Mangé Des Iles. Graze on these as well as Lebanese, Japanese, and Portuguese food can all to be found in cosmopolitan, buzzy Tooting Market.
Check out London Mayor Sadiq Khan's Roots
Londoners cheered last year when Sadiq Khan was elected to the city’s top job. He is the first Muslim mayor of any major Western capital city who grew up in Tooting and still lives here. Sink a pint at The Wheatsheaf a gorgeous traditional pub Khan campaigned to save from being turned into a supermarket in 2014 and try incredible Asian sweets and savory snacks at Ambala, which he also rates.
Drink Deliciously Handcrafted Gin
A couple of years ago, while still working at her day job in banking, Victoria Christie launched Graveney Gin out of her house with just over 100 bottles and was blown away by the interest. She’s since opened a tiny bar in Tooting Market where you can sample the botanical punch of her delicious spirit.
Get Fried Chicken to Die for
Step aside KFC. You’ll find the largest branch of South London fried chicken institution Chicken Cottage on Upper Tooting Road. If you like your post-boozer chicken a little more upmarket, try Soho House’s answer to the humble takeaway, Chicken Shop, and gorge on marinated rotisserie chicken in shabby-chic surroundings.
Merrymake at the Festival That Celebrates Tooting
If you happen to be in London in the autumn, don’t miss the Tootopia festival. There are bunting, comedy, music , food, and drink to introduce people to all Tooting has to offer at this celebration of the end of summer. It’s a great day out if you’ve got kids too: Check out “Bring Your Own Baby Comedy,” the Children’s Cinema Weekend, and many other workshops for the young humans in your life.
Escape the Urban Buzz at Tooting Common
Take a breath while you tootle around this glorious stretch of parkland filled with large oak trees and historic avenues. Don’t forget to look for the lake as you wander through the wooded loveliness. If all the outdoor activity leaves you in need of refreshment, Tooting Bec Common Cafe, a charming mock-Tudor cottage that dates from Victorian times, has you covered. In the summer, there are outdoor cinema screenings courtesy of Luna Cinema.
Dine out on Future-Forward British Cuisine
Don’t leave Tooting without dropping in to Plot in Broadway Market, where you sit on tall stools at a marble bar and eat small plates of modern British food like asparagus, ham, and chicken terrine or monkfish. It’s part of a growing nighttime scene that includes taxidermy-filled gastropub Antelope and vintage-y Tota restaurant, which home smokes and cures its produce.