Friday, 1 May 2009

Going local in... Deptford?

It seems the world at large isn't ready for trips to all corners of London's South East. Benji Lanyado caused quite a storm following his latest New York Times piece, which tipped visiting Deptford and New Cross.

The Mail
, The Mirror and The Telegraph were up in arms at the idea. "When the article says the area has 'an edge', the first thought of many was that it meant a knife edge," said the ever-one-sided Mail.

One thing I hate in travel is scaremongering. The papers made it sound like people don't walk the streets for fear of a drive-by shooting.

Whether or not it's worth a visit depends on your approach to travel. No, it's not an area for tick-box sights, but it is a good place to catch a gig, see another side of London, and maybe get an advanced preview of what, like it or not, has been tipped as "the next Shoreditch". The type of readers tempted to take up Benji's advice are not going to be the ones fitting it in between Madam Tussauds and Tiger, Tiger. "Those with well-cushioned sensibilities need not make the journey," read the first paragraph.

But, as ever, The Mail wasn't going to stop spouting nonsense while it was ahead: "What was it about Deptford that caught the eye of one of the world's most influential papers? Here's a clue. The author comes from South-East London." I'm not sure what their point is here. To me, that sounds like a local likely to be ahead of the game. Usually by the time an overseas reports get to a place, they're well behind the times. (See the Wall Street Journal - which recently discovered the "lesser-known" neighbourhood of San Telmo in Buenos Aires.)

It seems to me that the problem was less about the travel tips and more about the newspaper. "The New York Times! That's for Americans! Americans only like escorted tour-group holidays with all-you-can-eat buffets! They are bound to get mugged!"

The question is who should be more offended by this coverage: the dumb-ass Americans or the slum-dwelling south-east Londoners?

Photo: The Ben Pimlott building, Goldsmith's College, Flickr, Andy Roberts

Rosario restaurant recommendation: El Vomito

I’ve just returned from a place where, when asking the locals for restaurant recommendations, there was one thing on the tip of all their tongues: El Vomito.

It wasn’t looking good, was it?

I was in Rosario – a lovely riverside city in Argentina, best known for being the birthplace of Che Guevara - and, after some initial concern, El Vomito turned out to be a term of endearment for a well-loved haunt – Comedor Balcarce (Brown and Balcarce). A traditional, no-frills restaurant, it’s earnt its nickname for offering such hearty and affordable grub, you could eat it until you make yourself sick.

When you look at it that way, it’s quite charming. Kind of.

On the pavement outside, I got talking to an Argentine-Canadian couple. I told them I was looking for "somewhere called, er, El Vomito”. They pointed to it straight away: an unassuming corner building with the sun shades pulled down. “It’s great!” they gushed. “We live next door and when we didn’t have a kitchen when we first moved in, we ate all our meals there for over a month.”

Inside I found the sort of place that
serves soda siphons to dilute your red wine, fizzy drinks in family–sized glass bottles and, of course, big hunks of meat. There was a wide range of people tucking in and an aged waiter who insisted on calling me either muchachita or niña (both mean 'little girl').

I ordered the battered Merluza (hake) with a salad, which came to 15 pesos (around £3). I meant to take a photo for this blog, but I got overexcited and ate it all too fast.

The first person to mention El Vomito to me was Meag an American living the city with her Rosarino boyfriend, Guille. I got in touch with her through her blog, A Domestic Disturbance, and spent a lovely Saturday afternoon with her and Guille. They are both big fans of El Vomito and it is surely a local institution as I heard it mentioned many more times.

It’s the sort of down-to-earth place I love to find on my travels. “Recomienda!!” (Recommend us!), said the menu. And so I will.