Brixton is the capital of cool in London's southern hemisphere, a multi-cultural drop-in centre which welcomes all-comers. Residents compare it to Notting Hill or Camden, but its harder edge makes it that bit trendier

People are scared of Brixton. The riots, the burglaries, the shootings. The hassle. SW8 and SW9 are lumped into the "most dangerous" category by insurance companies and the Barbour-wearing Clapham set wouldn't risk it here in case the mobile phone went off, precipitating a mugging shortly after the second ring. But the truth should be told. Brixton is a land of bright, young, things, a hip person's Battersea crammed with trendy restaurants, late-night drinking spots and cultural diversity. Brixton is a riot.

There is little of note on the main Brixton Road - almost everything of interest is off at tangents. Lurking down an alley past Marks & Spencer is the SW9 Brasserie which serves creole food (pan fried snapper with fried plantain pounds 5.95) and an all-day breakfast (eggs benedict pounds 3.95). Lurking down a parallel alley past the Body Shop, on Tunstall Road, is Joseph's, a place so fashionable that they don't have a sign - the menu in the window tells you you've arrived. Both venues serve half-price cocktails between 5pm and 8pm.

Whether you buy anything or not is an irrelevance in the wondrous chaos of Brixton Market (above). The streets around it, on Electric Avenue and Atlantic Road, have a vibrant energy and an eclectic cultural mix. Inside the arcade section of the market, Thompson's Bread Shop offers a fine West Indian spiced fruit bun, while the Nostalgia second-hand shop sells expensive items of kitsch. The Twin Peaks Fish Company is worth stopping at to watch men in bloodied aprons disembowel snappers and bream, while inside Cafe Pushkar, life moves at a slower pace.

Coldharbour Lane is Brixton's main drag, the road where John Major's family had lodgings and where hip diners congregate. The Satay Bar (no 447-450) is a few doors down from the excellent Ritzy cinema and, despite the crush, offers good food and a pleasant ambiance. The Dog Star pub (no 389) is a cross between a pub and a club and caused a stir when it first opened - revellers reportedly took taxis here from the West End. The Ethiopian restaurant across the road is described as "fantastic" by locals and patronised by Brixton's growing East African population. The Pangea pizzeria in a railway arch around the corner on Atlantic Road comes highly recommended, as does Helter Skelter a few doors down.

St Matthew's Church is stranded in traffic between the Ritzy and the Town Hall, but it's worth crossing the road, for beneath it are the Bah Humbug restaurant, which boasts excellent yet affordable fish and veggie dishes, and the Bug Bar. The latter has comedy nights and an informal live music night where the movers and shakers from Brixton's music industry come to hear the movers and shakers of the future. A less fashionable venue is Mingles on Railton Road, an old English West Indian pub for the more mature drinker, whose locals are rumoured to include writer and broadcaster Darcus Howe, and which is open until 2am.

Other names who live in the area are Richard Cawley of Can't Cook, Won't Cook fame, and there have been unconfirmed sightings of actor Ewen Bremner on Ferndale Road.

In the words of those unlikely bedfellows, Sporty Spice and Nick Ross: come and have a go if you think you're hard enough, but don't have nightmares.

For the pick of Brixton's clubs see p64