London, Here We Come Again !


There’s a local dialect expression, “Pak See Boh Chow “, which translates roughly to “Even if you beat me to death, I will not flee.” Which pretty much sums up the sentiments of my wife and me, about visiting London again. Despite the recent spate of terrorist incidents.

In my post (April 25, 2017) “A Trail of Two Cities, Part Two“, I made mention of two London neighbourhoods, Borough Market in the South East, and Finsbury Park in the north. That post had been written as a response to the terrorist attack at Westminster on March 22nd this year. Little did I know then that both locations would become targets of  subsequent separate terrorist attacks. Call it prescience, or mere happenstance, but it makes me wary about naming any other London neighbouthoods in this or any future posts. But I am by no means deterred from visiting London again. As a matter of fact, CP and I are booked on a flight to London shortly, and won’t be heading back home to Singapore until end of the British summer.

Borough Market, located just south of the Thames, near the London Bridge transportation hub, is London’s oldest and most renowned food market. There has been trading on the spot for over 1000 years, and the location is a star of the city’s food scene today. It’s open 52 weeks a year, 6 days a week. It is visited by millions each year, both  locals and tourists. And these include CP and me, and our son and daughter-in-law, if they happen to be in town with us. And, of course, our London-based daughter and son-in-law, even when we are not in town.

The draw of Borough Market is the vast spread of local produce, meat and seafood, both fresh and cooked, and other foodstuff.  Over the years, we had wandered around the stalls, savouring whatever that caught our fancy. I had always been attracted to the varieties of cured meat, ice cream, and artisan coffee and wines on offer. CP had been drawn more to pastries, cheeses and oysters; last summer she discovered giant oysters, which she regretted not being able to down not more three of at one sitting.

Brandisa Tapas is our favourite sit-down place for savouring jamon and chorizos and the occasional gambas, washed down with riojas. After dining there, we would sneak around the corner to its retail outlet in the market itself, to load up on slices of jamon to bring back for the family in London and in Singapore. And also packets of marcona almonds for our daughter-in-law.

Being partial to Spanish food in general and jamon in particular, we are also drawn to a few other dining spots in the vicinity. Jose and Pizzaro, one a tapas bar, and the other a full-menu restarant, are delightful and dependable. Close by, at Bermondsey Street, they are owned and operated by one and the same Jose Pizzaro. And then, if we still don’t have our fill of jamon, and if it happens to be a weekend,  there’s always Tozinos at Maltby Street. One doesn’t have to go all the way to Spain to spend a fortune on jamon.

Elliot’s Cafe, which is just around the corner from Brandisa, is another one of our favourite haunts. We love it for its quality plates of simple British food, with ingredients sourced mainly from the market. It could easily have been the two of us among the diners turned victims that fatefall evening!

From Borough Market to Finsbury Park is about a half-hour subway ride from London Bridge station, or a similar duration ride by bus, which can be taken at the bus-stop along London Bridge itself. Again, we could have been on that bridge that evening !

Finsbury Park’s claim to fame had long been the Arsenal Football Club. The Arsenal name permeates and dominates the whole area. Right at the exit and entrance to Finsbury Park Station is the Arsenal store which hawks Arsenal merchandise, and loudly calls attention to it with its huge bill-boards featuring larger-than-life images of their star footballers, such as Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. Who among these will remain in the line-up in the new season when we revisit, I wonder.

Emirates Stadium, the home of Arsenal FC, is actually some walking distance away, at Highbury. On match days, you could be forgiven for thinking that all roads lead to Emirates Stadium, by the sights of fans donned in the Arsenal colours, snaking their ways there from all directions, starting long before actual match time. The previously sleepy-looking pubs and fish-and-chips joints and chain food stalls will burst into life for the day, before and after, and some even during the match. Roars and thunderous applause could be heard emanating from the stadium, and the pubs and other food and drinks establishments marking an Arsenal goal. Or a collective sigh announcing a missed opportunity, or worse, a goal, by the opposing team of the day. And after the match has ended, streams of fans, in various state of elation, or dejection, as the case may be, pouring out from the stadium, ambulating through the many streets.

In recent weeks, Finsbury Park has gained a new found prominence with the lone wolf attack on Muslim devotees at the Finsbury Park Mosque. This attack came exactly two weeks after the London Bridge/Burough Market attack, in the early hours of June 17th, marking the end of Ramadan on the Muslim calendar.

The attack was actually carried out near the Muslim Welfare House, at the junction of Whadcoat Street and Seven Sisters Road, about 100 yards from the Finsbury Park Mosque. CP and I must have walked past both the Mosque and the Welfare House  hundreds of times the past two summers. At no time did it feel any different from walking past any of the places of worship in Singapore, or others parts of the Finsbury Park area.  It was always pleasant, and uneventful.

Except for one morning during Eid-al-Fitr last summer. Many Muslims in their ceremonial attires were milling around on the side-walk outside the mosque, which was apparently filled to the brim with devotees who managed to gain entry earlier to perform their prayers. We greeted those we edged past with “Eid Mubarak”, and were greeted with “Thank you” or “Eid Mubarak” in return. It was all very warm, pleasant and friendly. It was totally unimaginable that any sane person would even think of trying to mow anyone down with a vehicle!

Although there is a big Muslim population, the community at Finsbury Park is ethnically and socially diverse. This is evidenced not only in the people of many different colours and shades that one encounters, but also the many different seemingly unintelligble (to us) languages that one hears spoken in the streets on a typical day. Perhaps what underscores the diversity most is the wide variety of ethnic cuisines that can be found all over Finsbury Park.

Take just Seven Sisters Road, one main thoroughfare, without wandering into the countless side-roads. The cuisine options along just this short stretch are amazing and enticing. There include : Moroccan (Le Rif), Ethiopian (Addis Ababa), Aghan (Yum), Carribean (Tropics), Turkish (Hayat), Chinese (Round Square),  Pakistani (Koyla) and Japanese (Hana). And I haven’t even begun to mention any along any of the many side-streets that branch out from Seven Sisters.

Of those mentioned, and of those not mentioned, we have eaten in many, and can vouch for practically all of them. Even the ubiquitious fish-and-chips shop (called Quality Fish and Chips, along Seven Sisters) truly measures up to its name. Singaporeans are spoilt for food choices at home; they will be spoilt rotten in Finsbury Park.

There’s one other attraction in Finsbury Park. In my earlier post, I mentioned that some  people were predicting that the next Bristish prime minister could hail from Islington borough, of which Finsbury Park is a part. Well, it almost came to pass in the recent UK general election. Now, it seems bets are going on that a new government may be installed some time soon, and the very same opposition MP from Islington may indeed become the new PM of UK. There’s a very good chance that I may to be able to bump into him in Finsbury Park, since he seems to like to move around in his constituency, and prefers walking to driving. Then I can claim truly that I “knew him when.”