Monday, 7 January 2019

Jenny from the (concrete) block

I have a long running love affair with the Elephant and Castle stretching back to my late teens/early twenties, when I remember being in a friend's car, driving around the iconic roundabout late on a Friday night. The lights, the chaos, the concrete. A few years later Stealth moved in to a flat just off the Walworth Road and it quickly became one of my very favourite places. Anywhere.

The shopping centre, particularly, is an area that's often been maligned. I would say unfairly, but, as much as I adore coming out of the Bakerloo line tube station on a Friday night, and seeing the majesty of the Faraday memorial in front of me, looking to the left at the rain-streaked adverts for the bingo and the bowling pasted to the blue plastic cladding panels, I'm not sure that even I really think that's true.

Which is why I'm conflicted that the green light has finally been given to bulldoze the shopping centre to the ground. While proposals from Delancy building nearly a thousand new homes and creating a new university campus, there is an uneasiness that lack of affordable housing and the removal of many independent businesses will help hasten the social cleansing that has all ready irrecoverably changed the character of the area. With many people who have lived and worked in E&C pushed further into London's peripheries and much of the areas unique character lost.

Due to a very complicated arrangement that only could have been contrived by Stealth, on our last visit we had to be out of the flat at 9.30 on a Sunday morning. For two hours. As she had roused me early from my bed on Christmas Eve eve, I decided to extract my sweet revenge by insisting we all went for breakfast. In the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. 

Jenny's Burgers, tucked away in a corner on the first floor, remains curiously untouched by the 21st century speeding past just outside it's door. A relic from a time past there's a pane of glass in the window held together with hazard tape, a fruit machine, peppered with cigarette burns, by the counter and the interior decorated with Day-Glo pictures of the menu that have been printed out and carefully backed on sugar paper. There was also a little sprinkling of tinsel around the mirrors on our visit, to really ramp up the festive cheer.

Jenny's offers the JJ Burger, which appears very similar to Wimpy's - another iconic piece of British life that is slowly disappearing - bender in a bun. With it's curled frankfurter sitting atop a beefburger, I can't say I wasn't tempted, especially at £3.40 including chips, but it was even harder to pass up a fry up. And with the two guys behind the counter exuding a wealth of warmth and experience to all comers, I felt we were going to be in good hands.

You couldn't have a fry up with out a good cup of splosh, creosote-coloured and so strong the spoon stands up in it. As the Ewing and Stealth are fancy, they had a giant cappuccino and a gallon of black coffee, respectively. Alas, being extra caffeinated didn't help with the quality of the conversation much (although I must be fair and note the Stealth didn't try to read the Sunday Times on her iPad once).

I had chips almost solely to annoy Stealth, because of her mistaken belief they don't belong with breakfast. Although they were cut thin enough to be verging on fries, and a little wan, they tasted pretty good, and even better with a good squirt of abrasively vinegary ketchup. The sausage was comfortingly cheap and paste-like, just as it should be. 

Toast was white sliced (the Ewing, as she always does, ignored the sanctity of the completely refined fry up and went brown), with butter already melted. I added my beans, and a few errant chips, to mine for DIY triple carbs on toast.

While I'm reluctant to think good things about the changes that are going to befall this vibrant patch of South London in the coming months, I'm hoping provisions will be made for those who chose to make this their home and the unique character is (mostly) preserved. But for now, I was more than happy to see the annual outing of the Christmas lights around the iconic elephant that stands proudly outside the centre. Let's hope it's not the last time.

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