Arts & Giving | Diary of a Somebody

Stephen Bayley

Consumer variety is alive and living in the centre of the big city

Stephen Bayley

October 22 2011
Stephen Bayley

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

The faceless, pitiless hand of corporatism has strangled variety out of daily life. Consumers are faced with repetitive routines and limited choices. Actually, no. It is encouragingly easy for me to spend a Saturday without being a supplicant to Starbucks.

The day starts at Italo, the idiosyncratic alimentari run by the idiosyncratic Charlie Boxer. This is in Vauxhall’s Bonnington Square, a hippie squat of the 1970s which has now become a magical secret garden with exotic planting and a pleasingly insular feel. Grubby matte squatters have long since been replaced by clean, shiny Audis. Charlie Boxer is the son of editor Mark (who became Marc when he was a cartoonist) and his first wife, Arabella, a 1960s food explorer. Her First Slice Your Cookbook of 1964 (designed by Mark) is as good a guide to 1960s ambition as you will find and a prototype of all the high-concept, mostly inferior, kitchen cicerones that have followed.

Anyway, Italo is a place of great charm. Charlie Boxer makes his own pizza and pasta and specialises in hard-to-find Italian produce. Mostarda di Cremona and some bottarga? Certo! Italo also sells superb sourdough bread sourced from Wild Caper, a stand-out baker in nearby Brixton’s startlingly vigorous food culture. And then I need to get my hair cut so I go to Schumi. This is the unusual establishment run by Heinz and Gregor Schumi who for nearly 40 years have brought a little bit of Carinthia to Chelsea. Their premises is a listed building in a residential street. It doubles as an artist’s studio: Heinz (who always has binoculars around his neck) is taking the Hundertwasser proposition in unexpected directions in between trims. Planners are mystified, but neighbours love it.

You can make appointments, but I find it’s best to improvise. In any case, the Schumis are a bit patchy when it comes to timekeeping. Still, you can bring in drinks from the Builder’s Arms across the street and there are always mountains of proper newspapers to read. A Schumi haircut always costs the same and invariably involves electric shears: Gregor once confided in me that he does not actually know how to use scissors.

On to the Farmers’ Market on Pimlico Green. Here we buy an entire week’s food: the sole need we have of a supermarket is orange juice as coffee is delivered by Nespresso and Carole Bamford’s Daylesford Organic, just opposite the market, sells half-litres of superb organic milk for 50p. I hope I don’t ruin it for everyone if I say this is one of the unusual bargains of the day.

Entertainment? Off to L’Antico for Franco d’Anessio’s linguine alla frutta di mare: no credit cards, tough-guy Calabrian talk and, on a good day, the chance to buy a repossessed Porsche with Naples plates. Perhaps a stroll around Brunswick House to browse the architectural salvage. This, with a Negroni, served by Charlie Boxer’s son, Jackson, who runs the slightly mad, but wonderful, Brunswick Café. Or maybe a film at Clapham Picturehouse, the enterprising independent which originated, so far as I am aware, the happy institution of letting drinks into the auditorium. We will watch Contagion with a glass of bracing vernaccia to hand.

Goodness me, drink seems to be a recurrent motif here. But I have been for a five-mile run. Of course, I realise I am lucky to live in the centre of a big city. I doubt you could so readily avoid the faceless, pitiless hand of corporatism in a country town.

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