Living the Cheapskate life: journalist Katie Strick on bountiful Balham, unassuming eateries & dressing as Melania Trump
Balham-based Katie Strick is a feature writer and commissioning editor at the Evening Standard newspaper. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail and she has spoken on BBC Radio London and the Standard’s podcast, The Leader.
Where do you rest your head?
Balham, just round the corner from Wandsworth Common. I lived in Pimlico for four years but recently moved south of the river and it already feels like home. It’s green, I bump into friends on my way to the supermarket and there’s a young buzz about the place that almost reminds me of university (a good thing 90% of the time).
What’s something amazing about your area that only the locals know about?
Wandsworth Little Common – the wonderful wildness of the main common, minus the crowds. Also: the sweet potato fritters from Brother Marcus. An iced coffee through the window at Full Fat next door. And the Anzac biscuits from Milk.
Where’s your favourite free place to visit in the city?
Richmond – the riverside, the park, the hilltop looking out over the Thames and surrounding countryside. I went paddle-boarding from there to Teddington recently and felt a million miles from the madness of central London.
Have you discovered any hidden London gems during lockdown?
Morden Hall Park. The Wandle Trail. Epping Forest (ideally in autumn, when it looks its most beautiful). Walking with friends was one of the joys of lockdown and something I hope will stay on long past the pandemic – you don’t need to go for an expensive brunch to have a good catch up.
What would your perfect no-spend London day involve?
Walking or cycling! Like most cyclists, I’m a sucker for Richmond Park and anywhere along the river – the stretch between Kingston and Hampton Court is particularly special, and Battersea will always be my go-to on the park-front thanks to its magical mix of river and green. Take a picnic to the mounds overlooking the river there and watch the sunset – totally free, and it beats any restaurant.
What are some of the most exciting things you’ve done for work?
Being photographed in a floating hot tub on Regent’s Canal in my first week was definitely a suitably-bonkers entry to writing features at the Evening Standard. Since then I’ve been sent to LA for 48 hours, Amsterdam for 12 hours, trained with Olympic cyclist Jason Kenny, soaked in a bathtub of red wine, been turned into a hologram, dressed as Melania Trump, shivered through an ice-cold cryotherapy treatment at minus 130 degrees, joined a Zoom choir, danced with Oti Mabuse over video call and been photographed in unflattering eating and exercising poses in more places than I care to remember. London is mad, creative, ever-changing and could never, ever get boring.
Where are your go-to places for cheap and delicious food in London?
Le Pot Lyonnaise – an unassuming but charming French restaurant on Queenstown Road in Battersea. Something funny seems to happen every time we’re there, in a good way. Also Kaosarn in Brixton Village. Bring your own booze and order a Pad Thai. My friends and I have spent many a balmy summer evening there making new acquaintances and putting the world to rights over too many beers and it feels almost like we’re on holiday, when you stumble across a little place that’s not on Lonely Planet but serves food that tastes like heaven from those who know it best (and aren’t fussed if you hear them shouting in the kitchen).
Say what you like about lockdown but after a year of rules and rigid planning, this is what I found myself craving when London opened up again: a bit of messiness; a bit of awkwardness-turned-amusement when another group is plonked at end of your table; a bit of fun.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about living in the city?
That you have to get the tube everywhere. I managed months without getting on public transport over lockdown and realised cycling to friends’ neighbourhoods was faster, more pleasant – and much less scary – than I’d spent years thinking it was. Now we just need more cycle lanes and more drivers to be conscious of flinging open their car doors without looking!
What are you most looking forward to doing for free/cheap this summer?
Barbecues with friends. Tennis, if I can get a court. My local choir, when we’re allowed to sing together again. And running with other people! I can’t wait to get back to Parkrun on Saturday mornings and my old running club Midnight Runners – I haven’t been in over a year and I desperately miss that electric feeling of charging along the Thames with 100 other runners to a great playlist. Squatting on Southbank with a bunch of strangers is the best kind of workout and feels like proper London.
In three words, what makes someone a Londoner?
Tube-travel without Citymapper.
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