Sunday, 24 August 2014

God's Own Junkyard

Now, here's something that will light up your life.  I haven't been to Walthamstow before. I imagined it was somewhere far out in East London, verging on the Essex cusp with not a lot to report. But how wrong I am, cos E17 is where it's at! God's Own Junkyard has been on my radar for quite a while now, so my friend and I ventured there last week to check it out. It was the best Friday ever!

Full of curiosity and intrigue, we found our way to the industrial estate and entered the world of God's Own Junkyard. Nothing prepares you for the neon hit that engulfs you as you walk through that door. It's one of those real 'Wow!' 'Gasp!' moments. It's totally bonkers, crazy, mesmerising and off-the-wall. All at once. It's like an adult's Santa's Grotto, only waaaay better.

Chris Bracey is the Head Honcho of God's Own Junkyard. He's a neon artist/designer extraordinaire, and there is nothing that this Neon Man and his team can't create with the art of illumination.  He has a cult following in London and LA, and every piece is totally iconic. His family have had a sign-making factory in Walthamstow since the 1950's and Chris himself has been making signs for almost 40 years, including all the original Soho peep-show signs, fairground lighting, movie props and shop fronts. You name it, and Chris and his family probably made it. In fact, they made the original sign for the 'Raymond Revue Bar' in Soho in 1958, which they're currently sprucing up back to its former glory, so keep an eye out for that towards the end of the year. Soho will be shining again!  I met Chris' son, Marcus who runs the place with his brilliant sidekick, John, and they couldn't have been more helpful, friendly and informative.

God's Own Junkyard is a huge warehouse literally stuffed to the brim with every kind of neon creation you can possibly imagine. Lightbulbs (custom-made) in every shape, colour and wattage possible; vintage letters; restored retro signage; valuable kitsch; collectors 'junk'; old shop fronts; custom-made art; original peep show signs; stuffed herons; Jesus in a Shed; a Louis Vuitton & Chanel-clad Virgin Mary; a dog-eating shark; a giant stiletto and a Dr Who Tardis. It is an oasis of exhilarating colour. A neon heaven. Oh, and not forgetting the most enormous glitter balls you ever did see, weighing a hefty 250kg a piece! There's even a terrific little cafe called.. wait for it... 'The Rolling Scones' where you can grab a cuppa or a beer and something nice to eat whilst you sit at one of the tables surrounded by non-stop neon. Or if you want a break from neon, there's a great garden outside, full of more quirky signs and objets d'art.

Now, I have to be honest about the prices, as these iconic pieces don't come cheap and are more targeted for those with money to burn, although I imagine it probably just about covers the Junkyard's scary electricity bill! Not forgetting it is original art, you can expect to see price tags in the high thousands, although there are several pieces in the low hundreds too. And even less if you have a good rummage. But there are other ways to enjoy these illuminating beauties without owning them. As well as admiring them at the Junkyard, all the pieces are available to hire as props for a party or event which is a great idea if you're having a themed bash.  They also take commissions so you can take one of your own random objects from home and have it personalised to your own neon spec.

Once we had finished tripping the light fantastic, we made our way into the abruptly less-colourful real world and wiggled our way around the corner to Orford Street in the heart of Walthamstow Village. Well, that was another lovely unexpected surprise - a pretty village straight out of the 1950's with old street lights donning colourful flower baskets, a cafe with the original Hovis sign above it (I'm sure that'll end up at God's Own Junkyard one day...), a couple of nice-looking pubs, a Sausage Shop (of course), and the pretty excellent Eat 17 where we stopped for a great lunch.

God's Own Junkyard is open to the public on Friday - Sunday, and I can't recommend it enough. Especially on one of those gloomy, dark winter days, this will get your heart and soul aglow in no time! (Probably a good remedy for anyone who suffers from that lack of daylight thingy too).  In Chris' words, 'God's Own Junkyard - where neon never dies'.

God's Own Junkyard
Unit 12 Ravenswood Ind Estate
Shernhall Street
London E17 9HQ

020 8521 8066

Open to the public: Fri, Sat & Sun 11am - 5pm
Nearest stations: Wood Street and Walthamstow Central (approx 10 mins walk)

There is a 'God's Own Junkyard' concession in the basement at Selfridges on Oxford Street

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Forza Dispensa - Spiedini & Spritz Bar

Everyone is secretly wishing they lived in Peckham these days. No, really they are. And not just because it's got excellent and unusual places to hang out like Frank's, Peckham Springs and Bar Story (which I'll be featuring in a special Peckham Post), but because the most recent newcomer is none other than Forza Win's latest (and permanent) venture, Forza Dispensa. Forza are renown for their grand scale, communal eating bashes in unexpected venues. They specialise in proper quality sourced food (with meat from the fabulous Ginger Pig) which usually has an Italian flair and involves being cooked on the open fire. Be it exquisite wood-fired pizza served on a rooftop or a winter fonduta (Italian variation of a fondue), they never disappoint and have come leaps and bounds from their humble beginnings as a South East London supper club.

Luckily for me, I do live in Peckham so last week I popped my glad rags on and took a friend along to try out the delights of Forza Dispensa. After winding down a few dodgy streets and wondering if we'd taken a wrong turn, we arrived in an industrial area and there it was - Forza Dispensa in all its glory, proudly located in a converted old cash 'n carry. Ron's old cash 'n carry in fact, as quoted by Rodders in Only Fools & Horses:

                                          Well, you know where I was 
                                          last night while you was up 
                                          at the Albert Hall, head-
                                          banging? I was having a 
                                          drink with the managing 
                                          director of the Advanced 
                                          Electronics Research and 
                                          Development Centre!

                                          Didn't that used to be 
                                          Ron's Cash and Carry?

It was a perfect, balmy evening as we made our way into the warehouse, greeted by a bubbly bird who showed all 70 diners to their tables and armed us with a very welcoming 'spritz' which involved homemade Limoncella, Prosecco, grapefruit fizz and basil. One of those scarily refreshing drinks you could easily knock back half a dozen and end up on the floor! Now, if you're still reading the title and thinking eh, what's she on about with that 'Spiedini & Spritz' mumbo jumbo? Well, spiedini is the Italian word for grilled meat, so in this case we're talking posh kebabs. And spritz, as you've probably gathered, is a cool word for a tasty cocktail concoction to accompany your spiedini. Oh, and Dispensa is Italian for pantry. Got it!

The set up is wonderfully basic with large wooden tables, random convention-style chairs, cutlery served in old tomato tins and simple, yet atmospheric lighting. Not forgetting some good tunes playing in the background. Whilst the punters all settled in and got chatting, the Forza team were beavering away in the open-plan kitchen/bar, chopping bread, tossing salads and dicing with flames as they grilled the spiedini to perfection. The food was all excellent: crusty bread slathered in homemade pesto; fresh tomato, basil, onion & crouton salad; peas with rocket & pancetta; rustic Italian soup with pasta and ham hock, and the menu's highlights - chicken and beef spiedini. And a fruit compote, panacotta pud. Drinks-wise, there was a great selection of wine and cocktails available, plus a cool vending machine where instead of pressing the buttons and retrieving a warm Twix, you could get your hands on a cold Italian beer (and a few freebie jellybeans and action figures for those who were quick enough).

My friend and I shared a table with a fun (and pretty hairy) bunch who were all very friendly, chatty and up for sharing more vino, which is always a sign of instant friendship in my eyes! I totally loved my evening at Forza Dispensa and will undoubtedly be returning. Whether you live near Peckham or not, I really think you should give it a whirl. It'll be open 3 days a week including brunches at the weekend, and costs a very reasonable £25ph for an Italian feast including pudding and that welcome spritz. Well, that's it from me. Thanks Forza folk for a fun night. Arrivederci!

Forza Dispensa
Copeland Road
Peckham SE15

Currently taking place every Thur, Fri & Sat til 13th Sept

Tickets £25 available via the website
Contact for more info

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