Londoner’s eye: you can’t beat a bit of Battersea

The Albert Bridge
The Albert Bridge, which is now strong enough to support an army going over it. (Image | Chris King)

For many people, the mention of Battersea, the suburb of South West London, conjures up two things: the cats and dogs’ home and Clapham Junction, which proudly describes itself as Britain’s busiest railway station.

Beyond this, some might add, there is little of note, especially when compared to the exciting, vibrant and diverse areas to the north, such as Hackney, Islington and Camden. They would be wrong.

Battersea is in many ways quite a strange area, divided as it is by Clapham Junction and the railway lines that run through it, between the farmers’ market and ‘come along Hugo, put that sourdough down’ types of Northcote Road, and the rather less genteel surroundings of the Winstanley Estate, formerly home to the briefly popular 2000s group So Solid Crew.

On one side lies comparative privilege, and people actually shopping at Waitrose rather than popping in for a free coffee, and on the other a mishmash of private and council housing, with a high street that has no chain stores whatsoever on it, and reflects the multicultural, classless nature of London that is being eroded elsewhere.

I am referring to Battersea High Street, where a Saturday market offers everything from fresh fruit and veg, which actually is a bargain, unlike Borough and others I could mention, to Italian espresso and charcuterie, and strangely cheap supermarket-type wares.

Raynsford's the grocer on Battersea High Street. (Image | Chris King)
Raynsford’s the grocer on Battersea High Street. (Image | Chris King)

Walk a little further on and you come to Battersea Square, unlike few others of the same description in the capital, which offers a Gordon Ramsey restaurant, London House (7-9 Battersea Square), a cocktail bar, cafe and a deli, Melanzana (140 Westbridge Road), and really does feel like a Spanish plaza in summer.

So far, so good, but continue north and the great River Thames opens out before you, with a path running in either direction down to Putney in the west and, well, Bermondsey and beyond in the east, if you are feeling energetic.

Sure, it is expensive, but so is that elderflower and Aperol cocktail you’re drinking in a reclaimed warehouse in Clapton

That said, those wishing to follow the water all the way into the city centre do have to endure the painfully industrial landscape of Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms, both of which are currently being redeveloped according to the whims of London’s moneyed elite, before returning to the riverside near Vauxhall.

Fine, you might say, but North Londoners have the Regent’s Canal to amble along and look cool beside. That is true, but as much as I enjoy said walking route, it doesn’t come close to the Thames and the views it affords. Furthermore, dodging cyclists, beard-wearers and runners is not particularly relaxing.

Which brings me neatly on to Battersea Park, arguably one of the prettiest in London. It is a runners’ paradise, and the perfect place for a Sunday stroll, with plenty of paths and foliage to get lost in with a coffee in your hand. Not only that, but there are very few places so near to central London which feel this close to nature. Even if you can see the 44 bus going over the bridge.

The park is flanked on either side by the Chelsea Bridge and the Albert Bridge, the latter perhaps the most stunning in London besides Tower Bridge, and lit up at night to make for idyllic Instagram fodder. If you have ever watched Made in Chelsea, you will have seen two rich people breaking up or making up underneath its twinkling lights.

Riverside Walk Battersea
The Riverside Walk takes you from Battersea to the City, and as far as Putney in the west. (Image | Chris King)

At this point it would be fair to acknowledge that, as far as nightlife goes, Battersea does not offer a great deal. It has few clubs, if any, and locals are forced to schlep to neighbouring Clapham, Brixton or Peckham if they want to go out-out. Given that these journeys take between 20 and 30 minutes, it is hardly an ordeal.

What is does have, however, is pubs. Loads of them, most of which are brilliant. Sure, it is expensive, but so is that elderflower and Aperol cocktail you’re drinking in a reclaimed warehouse in Clapton. Battersea does beer particularly well, being about a mile down the road from the former Young’s brewery in Wandsworth, and boasting its own independent brewery in the form of Sambrook’s (Unit 1 & 2, Yelverton Road), based in, you guessed it, a reclaimed warehouse.

There are also two outposts of the Draft House, a slowly growing chain that offers everything from real ales to pilsners and strong Belgians. Meanwhile, the Roundhouse, which borders on to the pretty dog walkers’ paradise of Wandsworth Common, has a competitive pub quiz every Monday, and a similarly strong range of drinks.

Battersea’s top six pubs
  1. The Northcote, 2 Northcote Road
  2. The Roundhouse, 2 North Side Wandsworth Common
  3. The Prince Albert, 85 Albert Bridge Road
  4. The Draft House, 74-76 Battersea Bridge Rd
  5. The Merchant of Battersea, 23-25 Battersea Rise
  6. The Latchmere, 503 Battersea Park Road
The Latchmere is one of Battersea's best pubs. (Image | Chris King)
The Latchmere is one of Battersea’s best pubs, and comes with a theatre next door. (Image | Chris King)

Now is perhaps the time to tackle the elephant in the station: Clapham Junction itself. Yes, the underpass is a potential deathtrap. Yes, it is like stepping into the circle of hell at rush hour, where no amount of trains seems enough to cope with the demand. Yes, there are no Tubes and you are at the whims of awful private rail operators (which shall remain nameless).

However, do millions of us not use similarly dreadful transport hubs such as Waterloo, Victoria, London Bridge, Oxford Circus, Paddington, Baker Street, Stratford and King’s Cross every day? Not only that, but having more than 120 trains per hour stopping (35 to Waterloo, 22 to Victoria) does make it fairly easy to get around.

On a lighter note, while not exactly being known as a culinary hotspot, Battersea has a few good restaurants that are worth making the very short trip from central London for. A personal favourite is Buonasera (22-26 Northcote Road), which offers pappardelle pasta with a duck ragù that I have not forgotten and will never be able to replicate.

There is also an outpost of fast-growing pizza chain Franco Manca (76 Northcote Road), which remains brilliant despite not being a one-off, while Battersea Tandoori (515 Battersea Park Road) is everything your local Indian restaurant should be: it has brilliant food, wine for £9, really friendly staff, and free digestifs and chocolates once you’ve stuffed your face for about £15 a head. Should all this gluttony get too much, Source Battersea (35-37 Parkgate Road) is a somewhat healthier and more wholesome option.

For those still unconvinced, Clapham Junction’s train links mean you can get to Brighton in 50 minutes, Gatwick airport in 25 minutes, and almost anywhere on the South Coast without having to change trains. It is also on the same line as Box Hill, one of the best walks just outside London, while Richmond Park, Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common are about 10-15 minutes away. Other day trips include Windsor, for the royalists, and Exeter. It is also worth mentioning that avoiding Waterloo and Victoria, and starting your journey at Clapham Junction, can save you a fair bit of money on tickets.

Shopping is another of Battersea’s trump cards, with a huge Debenhams just outside the station, which opens on to a shopping centre, about eight supermarkets within walking distance of platform 10, and many boutiques lining the well-heeled pavements of Northcote Road. You can buy a £15 jar of honey in one, if that’s your thing, while Aux Merveilleux de Fred (55 Northcote Road), a Parisian bakery (of course), is among the other delights south of Battersea Rise.

While few would consider a supermarket to be a highlight, the presence of a 24-hour Asda is extremely useful, especially if you work odd hours, or just like popping out at 2am for a pint of milk. Just be warned: it is a strange world you will be entering.

Next to it is a gigantic Boots and branch of Lidl, where former Waitrose shoppers can pick up the essentials, such as scallops, tiramisu and prosecco, so cheaply they tweet about it and give the German-owned store free PR. At least, that’s assuming they don’t just make up the horribly staged-sounding Twitter posts splashed across the windows.

La Moka Battersea High Street
La Moka opened up last year, some time after work began to kit out the interior. (Image | Chris King)

Coffee shops are, admittedly, thinner on the ground than in North London, where they actually outnumber residents three to one. Among the good ones, however, are Birdhouse (123 St John’s Hill), Brew (45 Northcote Road) and Caffettino (232 Battersea Park Road), not to mention La Moka (141 Battersea High Street).

A newcomer to the brunch scene is Flour to the People (573 Battersea Park Road), which I have not yet tried at the time of writing, but looks to be a great addition. Outstanding offerings in this regard are furthest south incarnation of The Breakfast Club (5-9 Battersea Rise), and Jack’s at the Junction (252 Lavender Hill), which has saved me from a deadly hangover more than once.

So there you have it, a comprehensive and honest guide to an area that, since moving here in December 2013, I have fallen in love with. To me, it is one of the nicest parts of London, and people are always surprised when they visit and realise I was right about it all along. Exploring the capital is, or should be, a never-ending source of joy. So go on, give Battersea a try: you might even like it.

Wow, it sounds so great, I want to move there? Or blimey, what a hellhole, no thanks. Tweet me your views @chriskking.

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