There is no getting away from the change on our high streets.
More empty shops and with each one gone, a further tug at a town’s soul. South London isn’t immune to this.
However, there are areas where people are doing their bit to retain the heart and soul of the community by shopping locally.
Such commitment is evident in Crystal Palace.
Residents have hunkered down and divided their support among the many thriving businesses proud to call SE19, home.
Spinach opened in Crystal Palace in January – a brave time to do so, given the traditionally quiet nature of this time of year.
New year is when the hospitality industry rests and regroups, after relentless festive service.
Spinach will no doubt have helped people with their better intentions for the coming year because it’s an unusual beast among restaurants.
Everything is cooked from scratch, no corners are cut in the making of some frankly stand-out dishes.
Owner Mel Harwood is passionate about serving really good food – healthy, satisfying and absolutely tasty.
Dishes only pass the taste test once they are bursting with flavour.
The Spinach ethos is to maximise the health benefits of carefully-sourced ingredients that meet only the highest of standards.
Mel Harwood said: “We do what we do because we want to feed people and make them happy.
“We are into all things green, from sustainable construction materials to repurposed furniture. We practice what we preach and serve up seriously good food in conscious surroundings.”
Menus are carefully crafted to reduce waste, with a keen focus on efficient ingredient use.
Ms Harwood is dedicated to bettering the business’ environmental impact. She said: “We’re doing our best to make small changes that make a difference.”
Spinach is an all-day brunch spot. Doors open at 8am and close at 5pm.
There’s eggs cooked every way imaginable served with smoked salmon or bacon, on sourdough, and a world away from the greasy spoon.
Spinach has created a number of dishes that customers stay loyal to. The cry for sweetcorn fritters (served with crushed avocado, tzatziki and tomato salsa, with bacon or halloumi) goes out regularly.
It’s certainly a favourite of mine. Spinach tries to serve as many gluten-free dishes as possible.
This is a fine example of a great dish, which leaves the diner feeling fed, without even a hint of bloating.
Courgette and feta pancakes is another crowd- pleaser for the same reason. It’s rather cleverly used a base to which to add the more common brunch items.
The most exciting part of the Spinach day is the unveiling of the salads.
I make this sound grander than it is – there’s no ceremony as such but there are multiple choices daily and every day is different.
I have a love-hate relationship with salad. I love to eat it but hate making it. I see how others seemingly throw the most magnificent combinations together and dream that it will one day be my hand that’s created such a display.
Until that day comes, in Spinach, I shall trust.
Served from 11am -3pm – two salads and one protein with set you back £13, including chicken thigh coated in breadcrumbs, coconut and black sesame seeds, steak and lots of veggie and vegan options.
Green credentials and a solid menu will keep the punters rolling in but longevity in the restaurant game is about so much more than that.
At its core lies people. Ms Harwood is passionate about her staff.
She says that showing them you care and taking the time to understand them, means they in turn care about the customers.
She believes this is why the Spinach staff retention rate is so high.
Good people are employed and they progress and stay within the Spinach family, which includes East Dulwich and Crystal Palace.
The current general manager at Crystal Palace began as kitchen porter as East Dulwich.
East Dulwich opened in 2016 when Ms Harwood was 29.
It is now open until 11pm, having added a popular dinner service, focusing on small plates and wine and cocktails.
Both Spinach restaurants are open throughout December, apart from December 25-29.
Private dining space at both properties lends itself to festive parties.
For those keen to add some of that Spinach sparkle to festive gatherings at home, Spinach Catering has a number of menus available to take the stress out of home catering.
69-71 Westow Hill, Norwood SE19 1TX
and 61 Lordship Lane, East Dulwich SE22 8HD
Picture: Mel Harwood. Picture Spinach
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