Just days before the closest general election in decades, Christian Rose-Day corners a very busy Sadiq Khan MP to chat about politics, the World Cup, and the food at the Houses of Parliament.
Fluid: What kinds of businesses from the leisure industry would you like to entice to the area?
SK: One the big issues about Tooting historically is that we’re very diverse. We’re diverse in the types of families who live here. We’re diverse in relation to people who are very well off, living in £2 million houses and people living in social housing. We’re diverse in relation to ethnicity and religion. One of the things we need to do is try to cater for all of the communities. What I think we should be doing is providing carrots for the leisure facilities to come here, so that can be making the towns more attractive - less rubbish on the streets, for example. The other big issue here is that, although we’ve got fantastic public transport there are issues with parking. It’s expensive to park outside a restaurant during the daytime for lunch, and there are things the council could be doing, like free parking at certain times of the day, like they do in Kingston.
Fluid: Would you favour smaller businesses or big chains?
SK: One of the things that makes our constituency so fantastic is the number of independent businesses. I’m not against Starbucks and Caffe Nero per se, but I think we’ll lose our identity. One of the great things about Tooting Broadway and Balham is that we aren’t a clone town. I’d rather see local families running local businesses. The advantage of that is the money stays within the community.
Fluid: Do you think the recession has affected eating & drinking habits in your constituency?
SK: The obvious answer to say is yes, but the restaurants are still doing really well and part of that is because most of our restaurants provide fantastic value for money. The second reason is that if you’re going through a tough time it’s quite nice going out for the evening with some friends. And the third thing is that nearly all of our restaurants are family friendly. My girls are now 10 and 8 and ever since they were babies we were able to go to restaurants. We never felt unwelcome. Most restaurants do baby seats, crayons and so forth.
Fluid: Do you go out in the area yourself?
SK: We do. Because I live locally and because my kids go to a local school, and to gymnastics and swimming, and we go to the Common, we cant but help but use the local facilities. We love the community. That’s why we’ve chosen to stay here.
Fluid: Is there a particular hidden gem in this area:
SK: There’s a few. We’re known for the Indian restaurants but one of the good things we’ve done is that a lot of our restaurants now provide Halal food. Down the road there’s a nice restaurant called Coffee Max who do a breakfast until 5pm so you can have turkey bacon if you’re Muslim, like me. There is a great place on Bedford Hill that has great ice cream. There’s a nice bar called The Lounge where you can go to have tapas. Half of me wants to keep these places a secret because our community knows about them, which is great, what you haven’t got is hordes of outsiders coming in.
Fluid: Like Clapham?
SK: I remember Clapham from [almost] 20 years ago when Eco first opened. But if you go to Clapham now on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night it’s full of people coming from outside, which is great for business but you very rarely see families, even at weekends. I think the reason for that is the demographics of the area, and because it’s near to the Common and you can do other things. One of the good things about Tooting is you can take your family there and you’ll know other locals there. So you’ll go to a restaurant and see someone you recognise, which I think is lovely.
Fluid: Where do you plan to watch the World Cup?
SK: Good question. The Leather Bottle on Garratt Lane is quite good. As is The Antelope on Mitcham Road. Smoke Bar at Tooting Bec shows football now as well. It’s horses for course, really. It depends who is playing. For example, during the European Championships I was a big Portugal fan and my friends and I went to Stockwell to watch a couple of games because of the atmosphere. During the last World Cup, when Italy were playing, I went to Soho to watch the games. We’ve got so many good Italian restaurants around here I’m looking forward to it. Numero Uno, for example. When it gets really exciting is during the knockout stages. It would be nice if one or two African countries are still involved, especially because of our community.
Fluid: What’s your favourite restaurant in the whole of London?
SK: Any one of the ones I’ve named here in Tooting. [Offers a wry smile] It’s invidious naming one. I remember when I started a competition about 4 or 5 years ago called the Tiffin Cup which basically saw local residents choosing the most popular south Asian restaurant. The problem which I didn’t see coming was that other restaurants that didn’t win starting saying ‘Why didn’t I win?’, which is fine when you explain the criteria. My nervousness about naming my favourite restaurant is other that restaurateurs will give me a hard time so I’ll keep that one a secret.
Fluid: Lastly, have you eaten food at the House of Commons?
SK: The House of Commons food is awful. There are about 12 restaurants and 18 bars. The food and drink is subsidised, but it really is awful. There’s not much variety. It’s bulk cooking. I try not to eat there if I can. The one good thing about eating there is you get to spend time with other mates and MPs who you wouldn’t normally see because you’re so busy. But compare and contrast House of Commons food to the restaurants we have in Tooting and Balham, there’s no comparison.
Sadiq Khan’s constituency Top 10
Spice Village: “We have so many fantastic South Asian restaurants in Tooting that it would be impossible for me to choose just one favourite. But Spice Village won this year’s Tiffin Cup competition, voted by Tooting residents, so comes highly recommended!"
The Antelope: “Although I don’t drink, I do like the atmosphere of this new gastro-pub near Tooting Broadway. The food is excellent, with plenty of vegetarian options and the games room means there’s lots of entertainment!"
Hannah’s Place: “My wife and I have enjoyed a romantic meal at this lovely Earlsfield restaurant. The food is fresh and you can really tell its all home cooked. A great local place for special occasions, and definitely worth the babysitter’s bill!"
The French Café: “This is a great place for lunch, particularly when its sunny and you can sit outside. The fantastic Labour council candidates for Bedford Ward can often be found having a coffee at the French Café, before knocking on the doors of local residents and discussing the issues that matter to them."
Pizza Express: “My two young girls love pizza, and a trip to Pizza Express is a great incentive for getting homework completed and chores done! A great family friendly restaurant in Wandsworth Common."
Coffee Max: “My wife will sometimes take my girls and me for a lazy breakfast. They serve a special Halal brekkie until 5pm. My girls love the halal turkey bacon."
Thai Buffalo: “My team in Tooting love Thai food, so after a hard day at my Trinity Road office, we sometimes pop down to Thai Buffalo for some excellent local Thai."
Numero Uno: “Another great after work option near my Tooting office. This friendly local Italian is a great place to meet my wife on our way home to Furzedown."
The Leather Bottle: “This pub has a huge beer garden which is lovely in the summer, they also show the football, and so I try to catch the odd Saturday game after my advice surgery just down the road at Earlsfield Library."
The Lounge: “I’ve been to this local restaurant after playing football on Tooting Bec Common. It’s a great place to go with mates to share the delicious tapas."
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