Hooking up in Brixton

I’d make a terrible hipster. I hate queuing for my dinner and turning up without booking a table on a Friday night brings me out in a slight rash.

Yesterday evening I was off to gig in Brixton and so my friend and I nphoto (8)eeded some pre concert food. Nothing heavy and something relatively quick.

Those of you familiar with Boxpark in Shoreditch may or may not be aware of Pop Brixton. It’s been in place since summer 2015 and was commissioned by Lambeth Council to support local entrepreneurs and start-ups. It’s basically units (fashioned out of shipping containers) containing little bars, food outlets and shops. I’m not sure if this is a permanent fixture so want to make the most of it. Last time I was here in the summer I enjoyed Kricket – a great place serving cocktails and small Indian plates. When we were here then we spotted Hook and put it in the memory bank for next time. So here we are.

We arrive at 6.30 – straight from work and to my delight it was fairly quiet. There was a new wine shop with a civilized tasting event taking place – no gentrification you say?

No queuing or fighting through crowds of hip twenty somethings tonight as we had done on our last visit. Despite eating in a metal box in the middle of winter Hook was cosy and felt like a proper restaurant albeit small (four tables I think). There was a steady stream of people collecting takeaway and the Deliveroo man came in to pick up orders so they’ve clearly built up a reputation locally.

Despite suggesting here I’m actually not a huge fan of fish and chips. Its the batter I think- too greasy. It makes me feel a bit queasy. I’m not a great fan of doughnuts for the same reason. But at Hook they put a whole new spin on one of the nation’s favourites. No greasy batter here – Panko breadcrumbs or tempura instead. But wait – it gets better still. Lemon and basil tempura with truffle sauce for example or Jamaican jerk panko with chipotle mayo which was my choice. Not too spicy but with a great kick to it. Fish is sourced daily from Cornwall – coley not cod – I’m assuming as more sustainable. The fish was firm and delicious and plenty of it. They work with small fisheries who are MSC certified. Good. While we’re on the subject they serve food in recycled, re-usable, wooden packaging, and take-away cutlery is made of biodegradable corn starch. Double good.

Oh yes and the chips. Chunky and lovely, coated with Hook’s own seaweed salt.

The guy that served us was delightful and chatty and helped us choose our wine and meal with some great recommendations. We washed everything down with a couple of glasses of delicious sauvignon blanc (around £7). The craft beer selection looked impressive though I’m not an expert. Think the bill was around £40 between two but we had a special 50% off deal for January so just a tenner each. Result.

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Jamaican jerk fish and chips – yummers

If you’re in Brixton you’re spoilt for choice these days with Pop Brixton and ‘Brixton Village’ as it’s now referred to, plus other places springing up on surrounding roads like Acre Lane.

If you’re heading to a gig or movie and you like your fish and chips I highly recommend Hook – catch it while you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moro – Exmouth Market

Moro is a restaurant I’d been meaning to visit for ages. I’ve often read about it over the years and coveted the cookbook, but just never got there.

Its location in Clerkenwell feels like a world a way from deepest south London so when a friend suggested it for her birthday meal I was pleased I now had an excuse to go.

The restaurant was opened in 1997 and is and run by husband and wife team Sam and Sam Hart. Yes they are both called Sam. Food is influenced by Spain and North Africa. You’ll find pomegranate, chickpeas, cumin and harissa in dishes such as salt cod, charcoal cooked lamb, ceviche and tapas.

There’s a woodfired oven, charcoal grill and open plan kitchen so the whole place smells amazing. We visited on a Saturday night and it was packed. It was noisy and buzzing (in a good way) – the atmosphere as vibrant as the food. The crowd was mixed – large groups celebrating through to couples enjoying a meal at their local restaurant. Jealous.

The evening started well when I looked down to see my menu engulfed in flames and a helpful waiter sprinting towards me to assist with the small ‘incident’. He was unflustered and blamed the tea light. Too kind.

Back to the food. There were a few ingredients on the menu I wasn’t aware of so surreptitiously we did some under-table Googling. This was really unnecessary on my part as the staff were lovely and would have happily explained any mysterious dishes or ingredients. Moro’s menu is both exciting and interesting and far from intimidating.

I wish I could remember everything that everyone ate but I’ll try. A chorizo and sherry soup was raved about and I enjoyed squid with harissa which was delicious and not the usual elastic bands of chewy seafood.

I followed this with the Labanese dish Chicken Fattee. I admit that as I am slightly juvenile at times, I was drawn to the name. There were so many components to this layered beauty – chicken, pitta, rice cooked with chickpeas tomatoes and cinnamon amongst many other things. It was gorgeous.

The birthday girl had raved about a plate of vegetables she has eaten there on a previous visit. Vegetables – really? She ordered this once again and me a strident carnivore nearly went vegetarian on the spot when a plate of beautifully presented jewel coloured vegetables arrived.

We probably didn’t need a dessert but thought what the hell. We opted for Yoghurt cake with pistachios which if I’m being honest doesn’t look very appetising at first glance. But it was light and delicious – a good choice if you’ve over indulged on previous courses.

Moro is not cheap – probably around £50 with alcohol. For a special occasion or when you’re feeling flush I would highly recommend for something different. The quality is exceptional.

Next door you’ll find Morito their tapas bar which was equally full and fabulous looking. Another reason to come back to Exmouth Market.

Oh and fancy a drink before and/or after? Head upstairs at the Exmouth Arms round the corner – 5cc is one of the loveliest cocktail bars I know. Booking advised.

Gin – chapter one

Roll-me-in-the-kennel, needle and pin, nose and chin and Vera Lynn. That’s right I’m talking gin.

Britain is the biggest exporter of the clear stuff with new distilleries popping up all the time, infusing gins in increasingly creative ways – seaweed anyone?

I’m not a spirits drinker but gin I love. In the last few years London has become a hot bed of gin activity – with festivals, dedicated bars and tours springing up. How about a chauffeur driven gin tour where you can avoid public transport entirely?

I’ve only visited a selection of places so far, so I’ll start with one of them. This establishment was visited with me by my gin-loving friend of 23 years – a discerning woman when it comes to her favourite tipple.

So first in my gin chapter is the London Gin Club. Nestled away in a tiny alleyway behind Oxford St, is I admit  not the most appealing sounding, but for the sake of argument its Soho really. You’d probably never end up there ordinarily but I like the fact its off the main drag.

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It looks like a pub from the outside and I wasn’t really sure what to expect from reading the website. I envisaged a gin bar within a pub but the whole thing IS the gin club including a small downstairs area. Inside it’s dark, cosy with the walls adorned with vintage advertising posters. Staff were friendly and helpful (table service) and clearly know their stuff. Which is just as well as there are over 200 gins to choose from. With the continuing rise in gin producers I expect this number will almost certainly increase.

The menu is bewildering but has been split up into helpful sections (e.g Dutch gins, sweet cocktails, classic cocktails) to make choosing a little easier. Drinks are served beautifully in the proper Copa glasses that allow the botanicals to release properly (plus you can fit your face in and have a proper good inhale!). Pre-chilled glasses, twice-frozen cracked ice and an array of tonics – they take the G&T business seriously here.

They offer gin tasting evenings and have readily available tasting menus so you can sample several gins in one sitting. There’s even some food available in the evening which we didn’t try. Gin slips in here too – chorizo braised in gin and red wine for example.

You’ll definitely need to book a table here but I promise it will be worth it. Know any gin lovers? They offer ‘Gin Money’ to spend there so why don’t you treat someone to a great night out. They may not remember it the next day though…

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Fika in Covent Garden

imageNow I know I said in my previous post I don’t have a sweet tooth. Largely this is true but I will make an exception for this next place.

The alleyways leading up to the main drag of Covent Garden are usually filled with the pungent aroma of tramps wee as I approach the office each day. Except for one – Rose Street.

I can no longer walk this way for fear of being lured in by a certain bakery amidst a haze of cinammon and sugar coated dough. The smell practically hits you from somewhere along the Strand.

The last place I reviewed was small – this place is half the size. Three tables to be precise. In fact I dont know why I’m really telling you about this gem at all as you may all rush there and I’ll never get a table. Don’t tell anyone. You may have to share a table here but that’s part of the experience.

Bageriet specialises in Fika – a Swedish word that doesn’t exist in English. The fact they have a word for this is marvellous AND you can use it as a noun or verb.

Fika is considered a social institution in Sweden; it means having a break, most often a coffee break, with one’s colleagues, friends, date or family. The word fika can be used as both verb and a noun.

There’s a book about it with a lovely cover if you want to explore this tradition. I digress.

Bageriet is tiny, cosy and totally Scandi. Those of you that know me will know I love Scandi interiors so this appeals massively. White-washed and wooden but not remotely twee.

They focus mainly on sweet items. The shop is bursting with plates of pretty cakes – where cinnamon and cardamom feature heavily. Buns and pretzels, biscuits, and delicacies that don’t fall into any of these categories and even a mulled wine bread are on offer. One of my friends has a penchant for their oaty chocolate balls – small but perfectly formed. They also sell those green princess cakes – you remember them on Bake Off?

You can buy gifts (perhaps for self-gifting) too in the form of hot chocolate, biscuits, jam and brittle all presented beautifully as you’d imagine.

We’re not talking Greggs prices here but for this quality I think its worth it. And the people that work there are actually Swedish too – they know their stuff. Even the baker pops his head out from time to time – not that you would ever think things weren’t baked on the premises.

Next time you’re in the area and wanting to rest your weary feet check them out. I won’t give you directions – just follow your nose.

 

161 Food & Drink, Sydenham SE London

When two unconnected people in the same week mentioned this place last summer I thought I should give it a try.

Despite living very close to Sydenham, I’ll admit it isn’t my first location of choice for eating out. Until I went to 161 Food & Drink.

It’s small – but as yet I haven’t had to wait. Rather than cramped it’s cosy and feels like a neighbourhood restaurant/bar in the truest sense.

Defining this place is tricky. Who needs labels anyway? The term wine bar generates images (in my mind) of 90’s bankers drinking chardonnay but wine it has. Really good wine. And biodynamic prosecco – which is cloudy. It sounds wrong but it’s fantastic. Now while we’re talking about wine you can buy a terrific selection – perched on a shelf to tempt you as you dine. All have a dine in and take away price on cute hand-written luggage tags. Lucky for those living up the road – an ‘offie’ of dreams.

So to the food. Again hard to define. Definitely Aussie influences particularly on the brunch front. On the last visit I had delicious fried eggs with Speck ham on sourdough. The homemade baked beans were calling me too that day. But there are middle eastern influences also. Banana bread with tahini butter anyone? On one of my visits they were offering Persian love cake. I’d not come across this before and not a sweet-toothed person but wow. Make this now. And bring me some please.

There’s a pile of cookbooks on the counter among the delicious cakes and I get the sense they browse recipes and cook things that float their boat. I like that, and it means you never know what will be on offer. The staff serving also do the cooking so it really feels like a place where everyone cares about what comes out of the kitchen. They’re open for dinner evenings (not every day) too plus hold wine tasting events which I’ve yet to try, so check out facebook for details.

I wish I lived down the road from here – lucky Sydenham I say.

***NEWSFLASH*** – Sister cafe opening 26 Store St from 4th Jan 2016 up near Russell Sq London

Pizza

 

imageBack in the day Pizza Express and Pizza Hut were one the only few options for pizza on the high street. Unless of course you wanted something exotic like a Hawaiian (guilty pleasure) from a local Italian restaurant bedecked with red and white table cloths. Now not so.

Any pizza lovers in London will have no doubt come across Franco Manca in the last few years. Their sourdough pizzas are delicious. A simple menu of just a few options and no other distractions. The wine is good too. I’ve noticed the chain (which I think you can call now) has been growing rapidly (19 at the last count). My local Brixton branch is always busy and you pretty much will always have to queue. The service is brisk with no frills – they need to seat the waiting bunch of punters. But this is why I like it – its part of the experience. I felt a little sad when I saw a shiny new branch in Westfield Stratford. Sure the pizza will be good – but people won’t get the true Franco Manca experience you’ll find at the original venue.

But hey we’ve got our own sourdough pizza place in Crystal Palace – with craft beer, Gelupo gelato and Allpress coffee too. 400 Rabbits is probably the best name for a pizza restaurant ever. Any establishment that names itself after the Aztec God of Drunkenness gets my vote. And it’s run by the guys at the Brockwell Lido café – a favourite among SE Londoners.

I managed to get a booking in the soft launch week bagging one of 200 places – boom. I move fast when I need to.

The interior is hip – Wallpaper mag has even written about it. Plywood with pops of colour with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the bustling high street. All this dominated by a vibrant green pizza oven churning out delicious fresh pizzas.

So yes the pizzas….6 regulars and 2 specials that change. Interesting ingredients (no Hawaiian here) – courgettes, pigs cheeks, Lincolnshire poacher cheese, merguez, roast butternut squash to name but a few toppings have spied or sampled. Couple of salads too (no thank you) and takeaway available which you can order online.

I can’t comment on beer as not a fan but they serve my favourite wine Picpoul, Negronis plus some fair trade soft drinks in groovy bottles. I’ll report back on the gelato in the summer.

They’ve been voted in the top five pizzas in South London and with prices starting at £6.50 I’d hop down there. Fast.

PS – There’s now a branch in Nunhead!

 

 

Photo credit: EC1 Matt via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA