Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Today I am ... in a continental village square

Unless it was all a dream, I'm pretty sure the relentless rain momentarily paused this weekend, just in time for Battersea Square's annual summer party.

'The Square' as it's lovingly dubbed by Batterseans is almost like a cross between a rural village square and a buzzing Mediterranean piazza, a stone's throw from the river and cunningly concealed by the surrounding council estates. 

On a summer's day, the riverside enclave represents everything I love about this little corner of Battersea; vibrant and chilled, diverse yet villagey, unassuming and special. The square's even got its own neighbourhood dog, a mind-bendingly huge Great Dane called Francis, who we used to occasionally dogsit.

In a month, I'll be moving out of the area to pastures new, but last weekend I was able to enjoy the Battersea Square community spirit in all its glory. I awoke to the lilting sound of a steel drum band from outside my bedroom window so we investigated and discovered a super-cute dog show, Pimms and mojito stalls, donkey rides, cupcakes, and even a homegrown rapper from Battersea entertaining the crowds.

Every Christmas, locals crowd into a fairy-lit Battersea Square for its annual carol singing festivities, when the fragrant mulled wine and mince pie stalls do a roaring trade. But it's in the summer that it really comes into its own.

I've spent many a balmy evening here sipping cocktails alfresco, the scent of apple and mint shisha in the air, watching the world go by - from couples and groups, to dogs and occasional buskers who turn up from Le Quecumbar (the Parisian gypsy jazz bar around the corner). Just grab an outdoor table, set up a tab at any of the bars and let the good times roll.

Over the last year and a half, my housemates and I have been regulars at Barrio (a tiny Mexican bar serving its famed mojitos to your table outside) and for food, Melanzana (a rustic Italian delicatessen and trattoria); I'm going to need to learn to perfect their signature dish aubergine parmigiana myself before I move.

There are plenty more tempting places to choose from in the square, including the upmarket Bennett's Oyster Bar and Brasserie, and the Lebanese restaurant on the corner, which provides the shisha pipes - however do beware of ordering any food from there, unless you particularly like your salad to taste of cigarettes. 

On a Saturday, you can also wander up the road to Battersea High Street Market, where you can try free samples from the artisans and stallholders and then buy a tasty lunch from the famous Well Kneaded Wagon, which serves sourdough firebreads cooked in a woodfire oven and topped with gourmet toppings such as buffalo mozzarella, leeks and ham.

Yes, for most Londoners, Battersea Square is a remote backwater without a tube station, but that's why it still feels special, like a well-kept secret that the locals have guarded protectively. Then again I've never been very good at keeping happy secrets, so now it is my pleasure to pass the baton.

Just jump on the 170 from Victoria which takes you straight through the square itself, otherwise the (N)19, 49, 345 and 344 will all get you very close. 

And if you do make it here one warm Friday evening, do keep an eye out for my soon-to-be-former housemate, the self-proclaimed godfather of Battersea, who seems to know absolutely everyone on the square at any given time.

If you see him, give him a wave from me.

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