The last thing you want to hear about is my bowels – I know that. In William Burroughs’s emetic classic, Naked Lunch, he has a riff wherein rampant bores escape from an asylum equipped with blowpipes and curare-tipped darts; these excolonial British civil servants paralyse their victims before subjecting them to tedious disquisitions on their own constipation – monologues that, Burroughs tells us, are “as intractable as the processes they describe”. So, none of that.
In fairness to me, having been diagnosed in May with that malingering bore’s catch-all “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” and placed on the highly restrictive low-FODMAP diet (see Real Meals passim), I think I’ve been comparatively restrained, managing to carry on writing about food pretty much as if I still ate normally – whatever that means. But now I feel I must share with you – dear dyspeptic readers – an exciting new culinary discovery: the WAGfree café, bakery and deli in Brixton Village.
Started up a couple of years ago by a newly diagnosed coeliac, David Scrace (crazy name – logical guy), this charming establishment caters to the colonically challenged with an extensive range of cakes, quiches, breads, tarts, buns, pies, pasta and even sausages – all free from so much as a micron of wheat and gluten.
We live in a provender-saturated culture – that’s the wholewheat truth. Brixton Village, one of the series of old shopping arcades that radiate out from Electric Avenue – used to be a curious mixture of the vibrant and the desultory. The pale-yellow-painted, three-storey-high passageways, concrete-arched and opaquely skylightened, are designated avenues – first through to sixth – and in times past they housed the odd greengrocer’s stall piled high with phallic yams and anfractuous okra. There were also butchers fortified by glistening ramparts of pigs’ trotters and cows’ feet; the chopped lilt of reggae, accompanied by a rhythm section of cleavers rising and falling, filled the saffron-scented air; while here and there were small shops flogging tea cosy hats and Bob Marley memorabilia.
These concerns are still there – but in the past decade there’s been an astonishing foodie infill. I wonder what Walter Benjamin – whose Arcades Project, the ur-text of modern psychogeography, took its inspiration from Parisian shopping arcades of the same era – would make of it all. Outside, buddleia still thrusts from the brickwork of the railway viaduct, while old Afro-Caribbean women trundle pantechnicon-sized shopping trolleys past clamorous nail bars. But inside the Village, beneath the hanging banners of national flags throng Lab G (Laboratorio Artigianale del Buon Gelato), Etta’s Seafood Kitchen, MTK African Restaurant, Honest Burgers, and French & Grace (home of the Über Wrap) – to name only those within a waddle of each other.
It would be fair enough to dismiss the WAGfree café as just another cavity in the bourgeois psyche impacted with eatables but for those of us who – should we eat wheat or gluten – bloat up Montgolfier stylee, then hover about the house propelled by our own flatus, Scrace’s place is a veritable oasis. His marketing mantra is: “It’s gluten-free but it doesn’t taste gluten-free. We bake things that are great to eat, not poor imitations of things you can’t eat.” This begs all sorts of philosophical questions – for does not everyone eat poor imitations of things they cannot eat: the shadows of the pure nutritious forms being carried past the cave mouth?
But let us nibble – not quibble: David told me proudly that the wheat- and gluten-intolerant flock from miles around to sample his sweetmeats – and having over the subsequent week polished off a trio of his mini quiches, a strawberry tart, the aforementioned sausage and quite a lot of bread, I can only say that they’ve got the right idea. I make no absolute promises on this matter but I hope that having boomed the WAGfree café in this column two things will happen: even those who can revel in wheat and make free with gluten will give it a try; and having disburdened myself I won’t feel the need for at least another five months to bore you with my intolerances. Frankly, I’m intolerant of my own intolerances (which also make me distinctly intolerant), so what they do to you out there in normal land I shudder to think.
Finally: as an added bonus, the clientele of the WAGfree café – so far as I can tell – does not include any wives or girlfriends of Premier League footballers . . . yet. Result, as fried potato supremo Gary Lineker probably wouldn’t say.