Nestled snugly in between Turnpike Lane and Manor House tube station is a stretch of road that I hold responsible for the weight gain of my mid-twenties. It took me years to pluck up the courage and venture so far from my usual West London hang-outs, that is, after being discouraged by the notorious name Green Lanes acquired through the press, ‘The Murder Mile.’, and thinking its far, too far. Long gone are the days of turf warfare and its not too far at all, well worth the 45 minutes tube journey. Green Lanes has always been a hive of multi-cultural activity and now its my number one destination for a temporary fix of the Eastern Med.
Easily accessible by Underground and Overground (Harringay Green Lanes will land you right where you need too be), perhaps if you’re as much of an authentic food seeker as I am its best to arrive with an extra pair of hands to help carry all your goodies back home. Perhaps the first thing that will you notice as you enter the zone is how unique it feels. There is a lack of large known chain shops here, (bar one or two small express supermarkets and an industrial estate, almost invisible from the main road), with grocery shops, butchers, jewellers, hair salons and restaurants dominating the stretch. Green Lanes is the social hub of more than one community, with services and advertisements for cultural events and concerts in most shop windows. Turkish, Greek Cypriot, Albanian, Kurdish and Bulgarian languages are obvious here, seen in almost every commercial property, heard in passing and blaring from passing car stereos.
Elderly flat-cap wearing compatriots greet each other then enter into inconspicuous social club doorways, passing the afternoons playing cards and sipping syrupy tea or strong grainy coffee. Cypriot Yiayia’s (grannies) stand proud-faced behind counters with pressed aprons and coiffed hair. Embellished gypsy women haggle and barter for the deal in gold in the area’s many Turkish jewellers. Their long skirts flap behind them as they vacate, followed by a caravan of children and buggies. Excited gaggles of women fill hair salons, perhaps getting ready for wedding partys in one of the borough’s many banqueting suites. Young brides-to-be can be seen through dress shop windows trying on spectacularly sparkly wedding dresses, surrounded by gasping family members. Towering cakes line bakery windows, some so over the top that they incur laughter from passers-by. In Green Lanes’ many barber shops rows of swarthy looking men await their turn. Bulgarian and Albanian drinking dens with darkened windows seem to never close and are often packed with groups of white shirted youths, engrossed in important conversation. Synthesiser, exotic melodies and the celebratory sound of davul & zurna float out of the doorways and down the road, adding to the exciting atmosphere of the area.
A great place to forget your troubles in the Duke of Edinburgh pub behind Wood Green shopping centre. At the back of the pub you’ll find a huge terrace (named Ortakoy after one of Istanbul’s most beautiful waterfront areas) packed on weekend nights with shisha smoking fun seekers.
On Sundays family groups fill Harringay’s eateries on their weekly outing, and what better place for it; Green Lanes is a gastronomical experience you’re sure never to forget. When I used to live in West London, the long journey to Green Lanes helped build an appetite. Met by wafts of meaty charcoal smoke, I was more than ready to eat once I’d arrived.
Hala has the best Gozleme in town, lovingly prepared by two friendly ladies stretching and rolling yulfka pastry in the window. Try Manti, Turkish style meat dumplings covered in garlicky yoghurt, is one of their many specialities, as is Pide (Turkish style pizza with various toppings), tasty grilled meat and home-cooked style stews. As with all Mediterranean hospitality, a warm welcome is on the cards here; wash your meal down with a Turkish tea or two. Hala is above all unpretentious and welcoming, I’ve watched from from a simple taverna to a double fronted, huge success.
If you want a more formal sit down dinner try Antepliler just down the road, whose mosaic wood burning oven produces steaming Lahmacun by the dozen. Specialising in Gaziantep cuisine, Antepliler is extremely buzzy on weekend nights. Set over several venues close to each other they also have a doner, tripe & kunefe eatery and tea / baklava cafe. Antepliler opened a sister restaurant catering for a well – heeled Islington crowd although I fear it’s slightly more expensive and less authentic.
Gokyuzu is another steaming success in Green Lanes and have expanded with two eateries elsewhere. Admittedly Gokzuyu has become something of a second home recently. Inexpensive compared with the generous portions offered, a plate of mixed meze is always a must, followed by a huge, steaming platter of mixed grilled meat on a bed of rice and bulgur. Freshly baked bread, yoghurt dip and a refreshing salad are standard offering here and won’t show on your bill. If you love meat, Gokyuzu is your place. Its the type of restaurant which is guaranteed to wow, despite the queues of waiting customers the staff will accommodate you with a smile. There is even a secret room at the back of the restaurant for over-spills.
Aside from the obvious restaurants on Green Lanes there are other experiences not to be missed. Nawroz is situated at one end of the stretch nearer to Turnpike Lane station, this ‘Middle Eastern’ restaurant offers home cooked Kurdish food with a bread tandoor and (one of my favourite dishes) potato kubbeh. Tasty thick yellow lentil soup promises to satisfy and is a meal in itself. Kurdish cuisine is like a cross between Turkish, Persian and Arabic food – the dishes mostly recognisable, that is if you are a fan of such cuisines.
Cigkoftem (a franchise chain mostly in Turkey and Germany) is a small fast food joint which offers cig kofte, raw beef kneaded with bulgur wheat and strong spices thus curing it, like Lebanese Kibbeh Nayyeh. Served with lettuce and lemon wedges, they make for a spicy snack for adventurous taste buds, although I have been told that in England serving meat in this way is not allowed and the above mentioned is intact made with red lentils instead. Mezzo cafe is a small characteristic cafe with a shisha terrace where you can enjoy kahvalti – generous Turkish style breakfast of eggs, spiced beef sausage, cucumber, olives, eggs, tomatoes, bread and jam. Try the ‘menemen‘ here, a traditional, tasty dish of tomatos cooked with eggs and either cheese or meat – perfect mopped up with bread and washed down with tea.
The exteriors of the greengrocers lining Green Lanes are stacked abundantly with many varieties of economically priced seasonal fruit and veg, the type you just cannot find in regular shops – think charleston peppers, rose red watermelon, loquats, huge chestnuts, ripe jammy sharon fruit, bunches of vine leaves…
Amongst the many bakeries of the area, Yasar Halim is always a must. Trays of fresh baklava (try the green pistachio rolls), simit, village style bread and cream cakes are constantly churned out by a huge kitchen at the back of the shop. Go around Bayram (Eid) and you’ll need patience as people push and shove to get served. Its supermarket next door offers everything from fresh and dairy produce to rarer food stuffs like mastika and molokhia leaves, or ingredients which might terrify the faint hearted like whole skinless sheep heads and tripe. For sweet goodies such as nuts & dried fruit, helva & turkish delight (lokum) and chocolate, head to one of two branches of Kofali HotNuts, one more or less opposite Harringay Green Lanes Overground station.
For everything under one roof (apart from fruit & veg) head to Sama. It would be easy to walk right by the entrance, you must look for a blue sign outside an alley way. This Aladdin’s cave sells most home products you can think of. Dried and jarred goods (like pepper relish, tomato or pepper pure) or lentils, rice etc), herbs, spices, pickles, cheese, grains, pastry, olives, oil, coffee, evil eye charms, charcoal, turkish coffee pots, tea glasses, sparkly hankies for wedding dances, earthenware pots, carpets and just about anything you could ever need in your kitchen! Its well worth a trip here – you can easily pass the time wandering up and down the well stocked aisles even just to satisfy your curiosity.
Of course this wonderful area is not all about its minorities. A favorite place of mine is the Salisbury Pub on the corner of St Anne’s Road. This iconic building houses a hive of social activity. Not only is it packed on weekend nights with bohemian, trendy types, with weekly activities (swing dancing, drumming workshops etc) it seems the Salisbury is central to the area’s community spirit. Several trendy venues have popped up within the past year, the Bun & Bar and Simply Organique amongst others, giving a lift to Green Lanes and attracting a whole different crowd.
I lived in Harringay temporarily a couple of years back and although apprehensive about leaving the familiarity of West London, I felt welcomed by the warm and colourful place. The areas beyond it emanate the same feelings. Knowing the honourable, protective ways of the Kurdish/Turkish community it made perfect sense when Dalston’s Turkish / Kurdish community actively protected their properties during in the London Riots. With a serious lack of police presence and protection, shop owners took to the streets in a bid to drive away troublemakers. I am pretty sure if the trouble had flared up to the same extent in the Lanes, the same would have happened. Although I am an avid fan of Harringay, there is a visible lack of Police. I feel protected however because there would always be someone to turn to; the same ones who bid good morning / evening / afternoon and whose doors seem to always be open.
If you’ve always wanted to discover Green Lanes, now’s your chance. The area’s annual Food Festival is a good opportunity to get acquainted to local business, and gives a chance for residents to come together and celebrate the area’s colourful heritage. Check out Harringay Green Lanes Food Festival here. Go with an empty belly and dancing shoes: The first year I went I ended dancing to live music outside Yasar Halim bakery.
Check HarringayOnline for up to date events in the area.
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