After two exemplary crawls around New Cross and Peckham I was somewhat nervous about hosting a guided tour of Brixton’s best places to eat. The main problem is that Brixton is blessed with profusion of cafes, bars, restaurants and markets that all need to be sampled. You’ve got the likes of Franco Manca, The Saltoun Supper Club, Salad Club, Upstairs, Fujiyama, Negril and Rosie’s Deli Cafe to choose from before you even start on all the jerk grills and cafes.
So I decided to focus on Franco Manca for an early lunch to avoid the queues and then to push on through the market for some jerk chicken, a spot of sushi and a few beers.
One of the things I like most about living in Brixton is that people are really proud of their community and wherever you glance there’s something interesting going on. Whether that’s a guy delivering drugs on roller skates or Space Makers working hand in hand with the council to fill vacant shop units with “creative, community-oriented and enterprising projects”. Or more dramatically the emergence of the Brixton Pound. As a currency it became legal tender in September 2009 and is designed to help money stay within the Brixton community. Its existence is a sign of Brixton’s semi autonomous nature and non-conformity. All of which adds up to a great adventure.
That’s enough from me. Over to Lizzie, Naomi, Chris and Helen…
Arriving at The Wild Caper at 11am, I was initially confused when I walked in. Was it a coffee shop? A deli? It seemed to be an amalgamation of the two. Smiley staff served up a rich and satisfying cappuccino.
As we headed off for Franco Manca, we realised we were a tad early as it didn't open until 12pm. What to do? We'd already done the coffee thing, so there was only one option. Beers.
It was a sunny day which is a rarity so we opted to sit outside The Hive, coats done up to the neck. Naughty breakfast Peronis were the beer of choice, and they slipped down a treat. A zimmer-framed passer-by who was obviously not quite there stopped by our table. "Who's the lucky man?" We looked at each other nervously. He repeated this phrase maybe 4 or 5 times, stunning us all into a wide-eyed silence before he staggered off, muttering to himself. A great introduction to our Brixton adventure.
Over eager for some pizza action we moseyed down to Franco Manca at noon having whiled away some time drinking beers and sipping coffees. By this time, completely ravenous we set to, debating which pizzas we should share. There were votes for anchovies and chorizo, but in the end (much to my delight) we settled on one margherita and one buffalo ricotta with wild mushrooms.
I think you can always tell a good pizza place by its margherita. If you can't get the basics right, there's not much hope. This one was served piping hot from the oven (necessary in my book, if not always a given) in under four minutes. The crisp base was good and it had a nice chewiness to it. The topping was a sweet and incredibly tasty tomato sauce with plenty of good quality mozzarella. If I was being incredibly finickity, my only complaint would be that there was perhaps a touch too much tomato sauce for the size of the base.
The buffalo ricotta and wild mushroom was 10 times better than I expected it to be. I tend to shy away from pizza bianca. For me a pizza always has a base, tomato and cheese. Tomato being the lacking component here. It worked, because there wasn't too much cheese - just enough for the flavour but not so much that it was cloying in the mouth. And for the first time ever, in my experience of 'wild mushroom pizzas', the wild mushrooms really were wild mushrooms and not just a handful of chestnut mushrooms from the local cash and carry!
As we left, with packed tables on both sides of the market passage, the queue ran down as far as the road. The pizza was good. Very very good. But would I queue for what must end up being an hour or more in the freezing cold for it? Probably not (I'd just make sure I pitch up at 11am again and try to bag myself a table for later...)!
Brixton is a town of many smells. The best amongst them are the heady, intoxicating wafts of the Caribbean; thyme, scotch bonnet chilli and allspice. Invisible clouds of spicy scent fill the air, ready to make the unsuspecting tummy rumble.
Browners’ mission was to fit in as much jerk as possible. The first place, Take Two, was a rec from Rosie Lovell of Rosie’s Café Deli and it was also our favourite. The jerk had run out but we settled happily for a portion of curry goat with rice and peas. It was some of the best I’ve tasted. Not outright in your face spicy or dustily over so, but mellow, melty chunks of Billy, coated in a well rounded sauce that built steadily to an addictive tingle. Creamy, coconut perfumed rice and peas were the perfect foil. A garnish of white cabbage was unexpected but welcomed by all and is, apparently, traditional.
Our second stop, sadly, was less successful. The Bush Man’s Café had the banter, the smiles and an impressive array of hot sauces but sadly it was a case of style over substance. The chicken just tasted grilled and the ‘hottest’ hot sauce, despite looking the part as a bright yellow, red-flecked lava bomb, turned out to be barely discernible. Chris on Fujiyama
Not too long ago I worked in a strange loft office above a furniture maker's in Brixton. I had previously worked in Epsom in Surrey, and lunchtimes consisted of a choice between those weird chemically tasting sandwiches from Subway and a greasy spoon that once managed to cock up a cheese and ham toastie. So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of the myriad of restaurants and cafés of Coldharbour Lane and the indoor market. One of my favourite lunching spots back then was Fujiyama, a sushi joint at the end of Saltoun Road that used nice fresh ingredients and always managed to serve them smartly enough to allow me to get back to my desk within the hour. It was nice to get the opportunity to revisit and reminisce as part of the restaurant crawl.
We ordered a selection of 16 or so assorted nigiri, some scallop sashimi (a presentation I had yet to try) and the veggie amongst us ordered a small plate of "Yasai Katsu", deep fried slices of root vegetables in breadcrumbs. It was all pretty good. The scallop sashimi were sweet and attractively butterflied, the tuna and salmon on the nigiri was perfectly fresh, and service was generally attentive and friendly. If I was going to be hyper critical I suppose I could mention that the sushi rice was slightly on the dry side and we didn't think much of the vegetable katsu, but these were fairly minor points.
In fact the only major issue I have with Fujiyama is this - why, in a sushi restaurant with bench seating where table space is at a bit of a premium, do they insist on having a massive spring-loaded napkin dispenser on every table? The things are huge and flat, the size and shape of a 1980s hard disk, and completely and utterly pointless. Sorry I know I shouldn't let it annoy me so much, but there it is.
So after coffee, beers, pizza, jerk chicken, curried goat and sushi we felt pretty full and sloped off up Brixton Hill to my local, The White Horse for a couple of pints. It’s a pub that always feels as if something fun is about to happen. The enormous dog was sadly absent during our visit, but we enjoyed the chilled out vibe and creative daubings in support of Brixton.
As a group we had every intention of pushing on to Negril for a jerk chicken finale but time got the better of us. So Cowie and I took one for the team and gave Negril a whirl ourselves. Me on Negril
We waddled up the hill, spurred on by the promise of the best jerk in town and weren't disappointed. My quarter of a chicken was well jerked and as soft as a slow cooked pigs cheek. On its own the spice wasn’t overpowering, but when introduced to the two pots of dangerous brown sauce the chicken almost breathed fire and caused me to hiccup for the next ten minutes! It was everything that the earlier jerk from the Bush Man was not. Juicy. Spicy. And full of scotch bonnet friskiness.
Our Brixton restaurant crawl was a great success. I am sorry that we didn’t get a chance sample the Saltoun Supper Club, Salad Club, Rosie’s or Upstairs, but in balance I think we did Brixton justice. If we made any glaring mistakes please let us know so we can add them to our “to go to list” for the future.
Thank you guys for a great afternoon and for all your brilliant words and pictures. Here's a map plotting our 1.2 mile journey of gastronomic discovery which should help you picture the mission we went on.
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: