The Lido Cafe, Brixton
Since David Hockney, we all know that swimming pools are beautiful and mysterious objects, rectangles of liquid, choppy troughs of sky-coloured ground. Brockwell Lido is one of London’s finest. The red-brick quadrangle around it looks like a pavilion and, on a summer’s evening, the sinking sun angles in over the treetops of the surrounding park. And guess what, callooh callay, there’s a cafe, too. The indoors bit conforms to expectations of what a swimming pool cafe would be like, with a vague nauticality and perhaps, whether I remember accurately or not, a jaunty mural of a dolphin, but you rush through there and sit in an area inside the Lido Cafe’s walls to watch the now-smooth water darken. When I was there, some ducks came in to land just before sunset, their shadows trembling on the ultramarine, and we watched them as we ate. There are maybe six or seven outside tables; everyone is young and/or attractive and seems to be murmuring pleasantries. It feels further out of London’s jangling even than the top of Parliament Hill.
Now, I’ve been to a lot of swimming pools in my time and never have I enjoyed anything in the concomitant eateries other than pommes frites with ketchup. At best a burnt and frozen pattie to which little has been done; at worst, egg mayonnaise. Nor did I expect this to be in its menu a restaurant rather than the titular cafe. I’d anticipated cheerful lasagne and perhaps a stuffed pepper. But no, not at all, the food here, much to my delight, is really fucking good. It’s delicate and summery, a huge step up in culinary nous from the mid-range London menu’s tendency to ask whether you wouldn’t like hand-cut chips with that. It’s different every month, so you’ll have to see, but I had some charcuterie, a green gazpacho, a mullet fillet with English ‘Nduja on potato hash and some baked aubergines stuffed with bulgur wheat and other tasty things. Also a pistachio tart. And some cheese. But forget about the cheese; the accompanying biscuits are rubbish. Everything else is a massive win. Also, since the dishes are light, the wine will probably go to your swim-cleared head. Which is nice when it’s summer and you’re outside.
Take your date from the sweaty fug of office and underground and leap straight into the Lido’s cleanness. It’s unheated, so will wash a day of working for the man off you as you break the surface. Swim some backcrawl and watch the big planes passing overhead like the bellies of sharks. Do some lengths, don’t show off, and emerge pink and invigorated to towel yourself in the sunshine. Well-being, shmell-being, you also get a glimpse at your partner’s goods. Remember when jumping out to pluck your cossie from your arse-crack. But trunk-malfunctions aside, at this point you should feel as good as new-born into the evening, released by the power of water from the cloying claustrophobia of city life, fresh, naked, honest and open to experience. If you want to make someone feel the sweet anticipatory melancholy of being young, and seek solace in your arms, take them swimming here. But be careful, get it too right and you’ll be out of the dating game for good.
Brixton is pretty far and Brockwell is pretty far from the tube. Also, you will probably both feel too clean to want to get nasty.