Living in Clapham and Battersea

When Clapham comes to mind, anyone would be forgiven for thinking immediately of young professionals and that's about it, but Clapham goes far beyond and covers a far vaster vicinity than most realise. From the highly desirable Clapham Old Town to the rather grimier Clapham Junction (which despite the name, is actually in Battersea) and everything in between, SW11 is one of the most diverse postcodes in south London without even realising it.

If you're thinking of living in Clapham, you're in good company. Clapham has been home to famous faces for centuries and ever since it was just a small Surrey village. Samuel Pepys lived out his last days there in 1703 and in more recent years this part of south London has seen residents include JK Rowling, Vivienne Westwood, Piers Morgan, Vanessa Redgrave and Ainsley Harriott.

Housing

While Lambeth council tax is miles heftier than neighbouring Wandsworth, there's a lot on offer in Clapham and something to suit all budgets. Starting in Clapham North, much of the housing is three-storey period properties, many converted into flats, stretching towards Brixton along Bedford Road and Ferndale Road. This is the most affordable area of Clapham, along with the new-build flats in Clapham Park, and a shared house here starts around £400 per person per month. Don't confuse Clapham Park with Clapham Common though, or you'll be in for a shock. Much of the Clapham Park area has affordable housing schemes interspersed throughout council high-rise. The Clapham Park Project encompasses a regeneration programme aiming to seriously spruce up the area, bringing an additional 2,000 homes and improving the social living conditions for current residents. It was branded the best regeneration in the London area, outside of the five Olympic boroughs, by the former Mayor of London. In short, watch this space.

For a higher class of abode, more desirable locations surround Clapham Common. Sandwiched between Clapham Common and Clapham Park, Abbeville Road has Victorian terrace family homes. As a guide, threebedroom properties are upwards of £450,000. Directly lining the Common, they become pricier still. Way, way pricier. As you might imagine, properties overlooking green spaces in the capital are highly sought after. Stunningly grand four and fivebed houses and apartments fetch £1.5 to 2 million, and there are few renting opportunities particularly at the low end. To the west towards Northcote Road and Battersea Rise, there are some rentals, but very little shared accommodation at less than £650 per person per month.

Continuing down Cedars Road and crossing over Lavender Hill, the area behind Clapham Junction is predominantly residential terracing and estates. Ugly as hell from the outside, but inside a different story, the three York Gardens towers behind the station provide good starter homes and rentals with space for young people trying to get on the ladder. They allow a Clapham location for a doable price. Then Clapham Old Town towards Battersea Park sees rows of cottagesized twouptwodowns on quiet, trafficfree lanes and larger detached homes along leafy avenues.

Shopping

Most of Clapham's shopping is of the High Street, identikit, unoriginal variety. At Clapham Junction you can find a hit and miss Debenhams, an okay TK Maxx, Boots, Superdrug, as well as Monsoon, Moss Bros and Joy in the station itself. Along Battersea Rise, however, there are women's boutique clothing shops such as Galleria Conti, Katharine Bird and Elaine Cross designs. In the same vein, there's Whistles and Sweaty Betty on Northcote Road and Oliver Bonas at The Pavement. Clapham Common also has its fair share of gift shops, such as Zeitgeist, adored by yummy mummies.

With the abundance of rental property as well as young people settling in the area, home and garden stores are numerous. Furnishings and furniture can be found on Abbeville Road and Queenstown Road, for instance, Taftan for (pricey) decorative bits, Tessa Fantoni and Ms Jones. There are also approaching 30 estate agents, a giveaway that property is hot. On Clapham High Street are more of the usual Superdrug, Boots, Dixons and supermarket stores. However, there are one or two gems. Clapham Books is a fantastic stockist and friendly with it, while Grand Passion is an interesting jewellery and gift shop.

Pubs & Nightlife

Depending on your sources, Clapham is home to one of the World's Best Bars as well as one of the worst clubs known to man. Lost Society on Wandsworth Road is the former. With international awardwinning cocktails, Lost Society puts on a quality weekend night keeping it classy. They also run cocktail classes, where you can master a mojito or craft a caipirinha. At the other end of the scale, doling out overpriced mixers and charging a mad £15 to the annihilated dregs of Saturday night partygoers, infamous Inferno's on Clapham High Street is one to be avoided any earlier than necessary. It is inevitable, however, that some big nights will end there, although an increasing number late licence venues is providing the area with some welcome alternatives.

Other places for big nights out and party, party, partying include Aquum, a recent addition to flashthecash Clapham, and The Loft where preening and pretension is part of the attraction. Inigo is far more chilled and yet high energy at the same time. The focus is on big beats and dancing til you drop, rather than who you are and what you look like. Then People's Republic at Clapham Common is the best of the bunch, and the most fun night out you'll find. The music is a bit formulaic, a bit backpacker hostel with rock anthems and pop, but the drinks are fantastic, because the bar staff are made to start at the bottom and earn their stripes, rather than in so many places where people come and go on a weekly basis.

All along Lavender Hill and Clapham High Street, there are smaller DJ bars of all manner and themes. Many are not particularly original or inspiring, but good enough for a couple to warm up, or for a not too mental week night. Among the better of these along the High Street is Rinky Dink, which has really good deals on drinks as well as a long pizza list. There's also 64th and Social, B@1, Kazbar, a gay DJ bar with video walls, and GILT, as well as the independent cinema's bar at Clapham Picturehouse. The variety on Lavender Hill is equally vast, with Sugar Cane, a Mahiki clone, and Ink Rooms, an American beer and rock joint.

For something more lowkey, Clapham has some great pubs. For sports, the Belle Vue at Clapham Common is a nofrills but comfortable place for a pint, and friendly service. The Grand Union on Acre Lane has artsy decor and a trendy feel, with a superbly thought out pub garden for riotous summer nights. The Sun in Clapham Old Town also has a great beer garden, although can get packed and involve long waits at the bar. Best to get a jug of Pimm's and settle into your spot in the sunshine. Cosy and comforting in the winter months, on the other hand, there's the Clapham North or the Falcon, which both do a good roast. Likewise, the Calf with its impressive burger selection and hearty meals is a winner in winter.

Towards Clapham Junction and Northcote Road are many more good pubs. The Merchant, sister pub of Balham's beloved Clarence, is a nice one for big groups as it's spacious and lively. In fact any of the pubs along this end of Battersea Rise are reasonable. The Merchant, The Northcote, The Duck and The Goat all pull in crowds and are down to earth. So busy they are that The Goat is a bit of a victim of its own success - it really does get crowded, but is worth a look for its beer selection if you can withstand the heat. Clapham South has a cluster of bars that complete the Clapham set. The Windmill on the Common, found bang in the middle of the park, is good all year round and always has space. Even on the busiest days you'll be able to squeeze onto a garden picnic bench, or carve yourself out a corner in the stylish pub. Gigalum is a sparsely decorated bar for the too-cool-for-school types, and is always overflowing when any functions or festivals are happening. Glow Lounge and Firefly also draw quite a crowd because of their location along the Common.

Eating Out

Aside from the many pubs serving bar food, local restaurants cover every gastronomic fancy a Claphamite might conceive. Starting with trendy Japanese cuisine opposite Clapham High Street Station, Tsunami is a highend highlight, with affordable sashimi, tempura, sushi and seafood. Brasserie style fine dining can be found at 409 restaurant hidden away at Clapham North and Grafton House down the road in Clapham Old Town, or more French cuisine is cooked up at Le Bouchon Bordelais at Battersea Rise and several places down Abbeville Road, notably Le Chardon or The Abbeville. Some more smartish options are Spanish tapas places Carmen and El Rincon Latino, though the latter gets a bit raucous at weekends.

There are some great budget places to eat here too. At Clapham South, Pizzeria on the Green is popular and criminally cheap with constant 2 for 1 deals on tasty and original stonebaked pizza. The Pepper Tree noodle bar at Clapham Common is also excellent value for money and good quality, again always busy. If you like something a bit different and quirky, the tongueincheek Fish in a Tie (what an image) restaurant does European food in a style reminiscent of English hotel restaurants in the 80s. Dated decor and passe plates (think pork medallions, duck a l'orange, chicken Milanese, profiteroles even!) somehow work wonderfully. And all at prices that make you think they forgot about inflation. Lastly, growing small chain Bodean's has an American diner rib joint on Clapham High Street.

For daytime lunching, if you're that way inclined, or for weekend brunches, Clapham has a host of cafes and coffee shops. Breads Etcetera beats the others hands down on concept. As if its homemade organic breads weren't enough of a draw, they've cleverly drawn up an allyoucantoast menu, where you get a toaster per table and all the preserves and spreads imaginable. The only drawback is the Sunday breakfast queues. Fine Blend opposite the Picturehouse down Venn Street is a brilliant alternative, with a much slower pace and very welcoming atmosphere. There's also Macaron at The Pavement, a gorgeous little French patisserie.

Transport

Clapham has many many options for transport, including excellent train links into Central London and the South, London Underground services, as well as buses and night buses. The Northern Line run northeast from Clapham South to Kennington, via Clapham Common, Clapham North and Stockwell, practically in line with Clapham Road (A3). In addition to this, you can travel overland from Clapham Junction into Victoria or Waterloo in under 10 minutes. Trains run frequently, twice a minute at offpeak times. As well as local trains all over south London, including Croydon, Crystal Palace, Wimbledon, Kingston, Richmond, and Twickenham, lines from Clapham Junction serve Gatwick Airport and the South Coast. Major destinations in the South include Bristol, Basingstoke, Southampton, Windsor, and Guildford. Clapham Junction is also on the London Overland map with services to Willesden Green via Kensington and Shepherd's Bush. While Clapham Junction is by far the major train station for Clapham, the much tinier Clapham High Street serves Victoria also. Both of these stations are in Zone 2.

Buses connect Clapham with the rest of south and central London. Major 24-hour routes include 37 linking Putney to Peckham east to west via Clapham Common, 88 from Camden Town, 345 from South Kensington. Additionally, there are busy day services like 35 Clapham Junction to Shoreditch, 137 from Oxford Circus to Streatham Hill through Clapham Junction, Clapham Common, Clapham Park and Brixton, and 155 Tooting to Elephant and Castle via Clapham High Street.

Kris Emery