You know an area is on the up when an old fashioned sweet shop opens its doors. As a pregnant resident of Forest Hill I am utterly grateful to Sugar Mountain for stocking its shelves with sherbet and extending its repertoire to ice cream. We live in a small flat, and especially in summer it’s good to have a place to escape to. Although there are plenty of pubs to frequent in this corner of South East London, when you’re sober listening to raised drunken conversations and dodging roll-up smoke is not that relaxing.
Here is where Sugar Mountain has come to the rescue, installing booths, and serving up dairy goodness. Opening hours are extended at the weekend too, meaning that on a Friday evening instead of listening to workers wash away their week with booze (always very boring unless it’s your own petty concerns, and then it’s endlessly fascinating) there’s a retro slice of ice-cream magic to waddle to.
It was during a previous period of sobriety that I discovered the ice cream parlour. As a 17 year-old on a trip to visit family in New Jersey with my friend Liz, my uncle Tommy took us post dinner to the local Dairy Queen.
Although under-age, Liz, myself and our sixth-form comrades were veterans of the Birmingham indie gig and bar scene so I feigned indifference to this evening ritual, but was thrilled by what I thought of as a vaguely exotic experience as up until then dessert was a tub of Walls shared after Sunday lunch with Styrofoam wafers.
Since then memorable ice-cream moments include eating small tubs outside a Buenos Aires store sweltering in the city heat at 11pm, sharing a knickerbocker glory with a Mormon cowboy in Los Angeles, and a Boxing Day in Melbourne eating gelato with a Brazilian customs official and a German exchange student. I’ve always thought of ice cream as a democratic treat given that starting prices can be £1 or less.
While one welcomes the regeneration of the high street, it’s a shame that it comes with a side order of astronomical accommodation costs. An organic deli is a signal that £50,000 has been added to house values and out of reach to regular wage earners. Yet of all the new places to open in Forest Hill I think Sugar Mountain is the most accessible to everyone in the local area as whatever you spend you still partake in a fun and funky experience. It’s like the Scandinavia of confectionary.
Not only does Sugar Mountain serve up creamy and delicious ice cream, there’s also coffee on the menu and a trip back to the 1980s in the form of its booth decor. I actually had one of the Smash Hit annuals, thanks to my Uncle Christopher, who had ‘acquired’ a few boxes of them.
Christopher, who had the nickname Bongo, I kid you not, was a sort of Del Boy character who fenced goods from questionable sources out of his kitchen. Christmas presents were therefore eclectic, from a Shakin Stevens’ album to tea towels. I did well to get something a 12 year-old would be vaguely interested in. Now some 28 years later it gazes up at me as I savour a tub of chocolate chip.