Lunch at an outdoor swimming pool on a sunny July afternoon? Ideal. Unless you live in a certain patch of South London, you probably won’t be familiar with The Lido Café at Brockwell Lido. It’s a locals’ secret kind of place. As a totally committed South Londoner, with my thinking cap on for where to choose for a catch-up South London lunch with a friend, I chose the Lido.
The Lido is a totally unique spot in London and is the café to the adjoining outside “Lido”. Set in a Grade II-listed Art Deco building that was built in 1937 by HA Rowbotham and TL Smithson, it was closed in 1990 as part of cost saving measures by Lambeth Council. Around this time, the Brockwell Lido Users group was established and pushed for it to re-open. After much hard work, Brockwell Lido re-opened in 1994 and proved to be as popular as ever with the diverse local community. The café has only been open for three years and initially it served breakfasts and lunches to hungry sporty types, post-swim. But you don’t have to swim to eat here.
As befits a café attached to one of South London’s best-loved outdoor swimming pools, the Lido Café is light-filled and very chilled. The poolside brasserie has floor-to-ceiling windows and a generous terrace. The interior design is smart and airy with stark beech and white furnishings, opening out on to a decked area overlooking the water, and punctuated with potted palms and blue parasols. Although probably too cold for me outside, the pool did at least look nice. Inside, meanwhile, the café is no grand dining room: the chairs are plastic, there’s only one (unisex) toilet, and there’s nowhere to put your coats and bags. But these are minor quibbles. The atmosphere is warm, buzzy and relaxed.
The chefs at the Lido Café prepare tasty, wholesome, ethically sourced nosh, with unpretentious flair. The menus change each month, reflecting their belief in using as many British seasonal ingredients as possible resulting in modern dishes with a European leaning. Indeed, simple, unfussy food lets the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves. All the menus – breakfast, lunch and dinner – appealed to me, as did their pop-up dinners they sometimes host. From their breakfast menu, I was very impressed to learn that they serve home-made gluten-free, goji berry and quinoa granola with coconut yoghurt (£6.75).
My friend and I, however, were here for lunch and we were both tempted by the three salads:
- Courgette fettucicni with red pepper pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, feta and pine nuts;
- Heritage carrots, beansprouts, pak choice, spring onion, chilli, ginger and nuts; and
- Char-grilled broccoli and cauliflower, pickled chilli, black sesame and teriyaki dressing
all topped off with Quinoa falafels (£7 and £2.95). Intrigued by all three, we both went for a selection. The highlight for me was probably the courgetti, especially due to the quality of the sundried tomatoes. The quinoa falafel, however, were a little bland and didn’t beat the chickpea variety. Also, no falafel is complete without a tahini and/or humus dip. The Asian salads, meanwhile, although tasty, were very celery heavy. Not the best salads I’ve tried and I think their sister restaurant’s pizzas – at 400 Rabbits – are the strength of their food.
Nevertheless, the place is busy, fun and poolside, it’s awash with swimmers and dry-side diners. Nestled by the poolside, decked with umbrellas, plants and small overhead heaters, the café is something of a genuine oasis in South London, if not for the food, at least for the concept.
The Lido, Dulwich Road, Brockwell Lido, London, SE24 0PA