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The Beginning and the End: Exmouth Market, A Street That Feels Like Home

a cafe in Exmoth market
Early evening at Café Kick. Photography of Emma Carmichael.

Photography Lead Emma Carmichael captures the life and soul of Exmouth Market – a hidden jewel in the London borough of Islington.

I could tell you what day of the week it is just by walking in Exmouth Market. I have been coming here every day for the past two years. From friendship reunions to hungover coffees with my flatmates, this street has hosted the happiest of my university years. I discovered Exmouth Market with sparkling eyes in my first year, buying my first-ever plant for a cramped university room. Now in my final year, I leave this street behind with a tight heart full of sunbathed and tipsy memories.

This article is a tribute to the most charming scenery of my twenties. Two shops on two parallel streets. Both iconic institutions, if not of Clerkenwell then of my nights out. By capturing the unique essence of Exmouth Market, I am saving a little piece of this street, a written piece that will bring me back to its brick walls. It will draw me back to a time when our lives felt like a sitcom, where friends still lived a door away and biking together was a way of catching up.

Serkan, Deniz and colleague from Rosebury Kebab, 1:00am. Photo by Emma Carmichael.

Saturday, 6:00pm – The Beginning

Saturday. People are queuing in front of Café Kick, my favourite spot. If you walked in, hoping to find the corner of a free seat, you would discover a warmly lit cramped room, sparking with laughter and rushed by the waiters’ agitation. On the right, sports fans are glued in front of small bright screens hanging from the ceiling. On the left, people playing a game with stained and cornered cards. Outside, smokers attempt to roll their cigarettes in a battle with the wind, sheltered under warm heaters. People are sharing a drink on a converted table football while others enjoy a Portuguese beer, sitting shoulder to shoulder on an elementary school desk.

If, by curiosity, you started to take a closer look at the people walking in the street, you would witness an interesting dance. Stylish East London girls in baggy jeans crossing paths with a businessman walking back from the office. A few curious souls attempt to unravel the secrets hiding behind the small restaurant’s windows. A cocktail of Italian, French, Greek and English creates the soft atmosphere of this noisy street. As the hours go by, bar entrances become overflown with standing locals and moustache enthusiasts.

Café Kick, 6pm. Photo by Emma Carmichael.
The cook and Maya, co-owner of Café Kick, behind the kitchen, 7:00pm. Photo by Emma Carmichael.

Rosebury Kebab, 1:00am – Interlude

Late Saturday or early Sunday. Sizzling oil and frying pans have replaced chatters and glass clings. Clumsy shadows contemplate a bright neon menu from the outside. Mert, Deniz and Serkan, working the late shift, are bustling around the kitchen in a choreographed routine. Flatbread, lamb, sauce, fries. Repeat. A resting silence has replaced lively conversations. Small talkers debrief their night under bright white neons while instructions are delivered in Turkish behind the counter. All the other Exmouth shops have gone to sleep but Rosebury Kebab is an incurable insomniac.

This family-owned kebab shop has been serving late-night workers and socialites for 35 years. After many nights out, I have got to know the three Turkish men. Always up for discussion, I get to try their best recommendations and specialities. They sometimes slide some extra fries or an Aryan yoghurt for free, making sure I will come home with a full belly. As a ritual, Deniz lights up a cigarette outside the shop while I wait for my kebab. He keeps me updated on the other local businesses and I go on about my university stories. Rosebury kebab has become a sacred part of my night.

Undecided customer, 1:00am. Photo by Emma Carmichael.

Sunday, 11:00am – The End

Sunday. Back at Café Kick. 11:00am. The place is a little slower and less inhabited than yesterday. I am mesmerised by the ski race displayed on the blinding screens. Café Kick feels like the interior of a dusty souvenir shoe box. Football scarfs colour the ceiling. Posters from various decades plunge this place back into an unidentifiable time.

On a background of reggae music, I am sipping on the foamiest cappuccino of my life. Regulars are sat at the counter. The waiters are running around in old-school Adidas jumpers, dishcloths over their shoulders. Sundays in Exmouth heal my soul.

When coming in, the owner warned me: “Shared table policy after 2:00pm”. This single sentence embodies the culture of the house. Sit where you can and chat with whoever you want. Candles are proudly standing in used wine bottles despite the warm daylight plunging from the windows. The playlist pays tribute to European artists from the 80s. Smokers are probably lighting their first cigarette of the day on the same terrace where they put out their last.

A man reading outside in a café on the street
A writer and a bagel on the terrace of Café Kick, 11:00am. Photo by Emma Carmichael.

Unnoticed, I watch people live in Exmouth. In the time capsule of my university years, I think of Mert, Deniz, Serkan, the moustache enthusiasts, the football table professionals, the stylish Eastern London girls, the waiters in Adidas tracksuits, the smokers on the terrace. Identifiable characters, the Exmouth people belong in a movie or a photograph. I note what I see and keep this written object as a charm.



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