I love my street. I love it so much it’s difficult to keep this list to three things. But my street, though lovely, is also rather little (part of its charm), so to list many more than three things would bring me close to listing everything about it.
My tapas bar
We discovered our local tapas bar even before we moved into our part of my street. It was after viewing what is now our house for the first time that we decided we needed a drink and to acquire a sense of the neighbourhood, and fate or luck or the smell of chorizo al vino brought us to Azim’s.
Azim and his bar are about as authentically Spanish as you’d care to experience outside of Spain. The signs on the door say Welcome and Open/Closed, but that’s about where the English language ends.
For example, I’ve never heard an English word spoken in song at Azim’s. The playlist is exclusively Espanyol, and it’s more than once we’ve found ourselves up and dancing between the tables, for better or worse.
The ever-changing chalkboards on the wall list the wines that Azim is stocking on any given day, misty with regular erasing and rewriting. Except in the bottom corner where he presumably wrote Sangria the day he bought the board, and he’s not seen fit to ever run out of that. Despite our efforts.
On that very first visit, we joked that it would take us a year to get through Azim’s tapas menu, even without ever having the same thing twice. That’s not completely true, but it’s also not the biggest lie I’ve told today. I would marry Azim’s camembert frito if only they’d change the laws in this country, and I’d cheat on it with his patatas bravas.
If there’s a better reason than pork sausages to get out of bed on a Saturday morning, then nobody ever told me about it.
If those sausages are handed to me by a jovial man in a green and white striped apron and paper hat; if he can tell me exactly where they came from and what went into making them; and if every now and then the house throws in a little taster of something special for the price of a smile, then I don’t know how to finish this sentence because that sort of goodness is better than any words I know.
Charlie is awake before most of us go to sleep. I don’t know why that’s important, but there’s something reassuring about the cliché of a man selling meat before the sun comes up. And if you’re buying meat you’d best be early yourself, because this Charlie is even more popular than the one that bit his brother’s finger.
Like Azim’s wine list, he’ll sell what he has on the day, and I’ve yet to be disappointed to find him out of anything I might like. For one thing, you literally could have a different type of sausage every Saturday for a season, and the bacon is the best I’ve had in Britain.
If you’re after something more substantial, Chaz (as he doesnt like to be called) will gladly talk you through whichever cut of whatever he has, and by the time he’s done and you’ve dried your eyes you’ll almost feel bad about eating it. He loves his meat, there’s no question, but the only thing he loves more is that he can share it with you week after week. After week.
My street is a street like when streets were streets. You can keep your hold-all supermarket chains: if you want meat on my street you go to Charlie, and if you want bread you go to Louise. She runs the bakery next door to the meat shop, and she’s possibly the only person in SW London to start the day earlier than her neighbour.
There’s a good chance, if you’re younger than I am, that you don’t actually know what bread tastes like. Here’s how you can tell: if the bread you bought today looks exactly like the bread you bought last week, and came pre-wrapped in plastic with a little strip of tape binding it, you don’t.
If your loaf was freshly baked this morning by Louise, if she picks it out and pops it in brown paper for you, and if you can actually taste it for what it is and not just whatever you spread on your toast, then you know where I’m coming from, and why I keep going back.
As well as the best bread in town, Louise also does cakes and treats and the only pain au chocolat that I bother buying. She knows her stuff, and she’s good enough to share it with us.
And that’s my street, or at least the three best things about it. There are other things – other good things – but these three (and the people that make them what they are) make my street worth calling mine.