SW9 Brixton – Seven at Brixton – Restaurant review

Post-work drinks on a Friday is something all working Londoners are familiar with. Work ends. You hit the nearest pub. You have four pints on an empty stomach.

We commute and therefore live too far away to catch the tube to freshen up, perhaps grab a light snack, and carry on with an evening which could potentially be a great deal more civilised (next time you see me ask about the night I woke up in Morden).

After a couple of drinks, thinking about finding a decent restaurant nearby, then coming back to the drinking establishment you’ve just left (only to find that the seats you once had have been commandeered by a group of drunken advertising execs) is a not an appealing prospect. Once we’ve found a bar we stay there…Besides, when I’m having a drink I don’t necessarily want a slap-up meal anyway. A light snack suffices; after all, you still want to save room for a few more drinks.

The British don’t do light meals well, and offer little in the way of a solution to combining evening drinks and tasty nibbles, but one of our European counterparts does.

I give you tapas.

More specifically, I give you Seven at Brixton.

In Market Row, once you get past the noisy throng queuing for pizza at Frano Manca, there’s serenity. A low-lit industrial space littered with recycled and distressed tables welcomes you. Pintxos, cake, and a back wall of cocktail fodder are a giveaway as to the motives of Seven at Brixton. Little do you know that there’s a warren of rooms upstairs complete with its own art installation.

Art Installation, Seven at Brixton

Thursday night was busy. Seats were taken, and there was chatter – but not that overriding noise that pervades London’s new found love of canteen-style eating. The brown parchment menu had been thumbed by someone who prefers to manually eat their patatas bravas, and the coca cola crates – our seats – required a bit of patience at first. Industrial hardware fashioned the art installation which created the shabby backdrop to our Cruzcampos and tapas. Had I not known otherwise, I would have thought I was in a pop up bar in Shoreditch.

Between the two of us we ordered five dishes: a warm manchego, spinach and rocket salad; button, shitake mushroom and leek croquettas; tortilla with chorizo and prawns; patatas bravas, and ensaladilla rusa. I thought the manchego salad was a bit steep at £6, but everything else fell between £3 and £4 a dish – not extortionate at all.

Warm spinach, rocket, and manchego salad

Service was great. Our waiter (that seems far too formal) did a cracking job weaving in between the tables and crates while simultaneously, and successfully, balancing Old Fashioneds on his tray.

The bravas were well oiled (not oily) and the sweet fiery red sauce gave the starchy fried potatoes the subtle kick they needed. The ensaladilla rusa, a creamy potato salad, green beans, and carrot was soured with slices of green olive – taking the edge off what could have been on the verge of being too sweet. The piquillo pepper also helped tip the scales in its favour, although the crusty toasted bread could have had your teeth out if you weren’t careful.

Patatas bravas, Seven at Brixton

I couldn’t fault the tortilla which had subtle onion hints running through. Chorizo and prawns are a classic combination, but unfortunately the garlic had slightly caught (a one-off occasion, I’m sure) and didn’t do much to accentuate the flavours.

The mushroom croquettas although tasty, were a little too soft in the middle for me, and didn’t hold themselves together all that well. I would have preferred a little more chew in the chew per bite ratio.

Pinxtos, Seven at Brixton

And at this point I’m going to have to backtrack. I mentioned that I thought the wilted spinach salad with manchego was quite expensive, but come to think of it, it was probably the dish I enjoyed the most. The spinach retained its texture and a bit of crunch – even so, it was soft without being watery; the rocket did its job to give a little zing and the manchego was smooth.

My tarta de Santiago was moist and pasty – like the inside of an almond croissant. Its light and buttery base was not too sweet but satisfyingly wholesome.

Seven at Brixton is as versatile a venue as you could want. It’s a bar. It’s a bar that serves the kind of food you want when you are having a drink. I’m thinking tapas could and should shift the culture in the way we treat social drinking. Therefore I propose you consider Seven at Brixton as a venue for after work drinks. There will be no debauchery, but there will be a friendly ambience, inventive food of modest size to accompany your cocktails, and a soundtrack to tap your toe to. Equally, you could just pop in for a light dinner and a home-made lemonade as I did last Thursday. What’s more, I sense Seven is someone’s well-thought out project; you can tell they care. I’m glad I discovered you, Seven at Brixton, I hope you’ll have me back, although I think I’ll keep you my little secret.

Ambience, Seven at Brixton

Seven At Brixton on Urbanspoon

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SW9 Brixton – Franco Manca – Restaurant review

There are rules to a dinner party. You don’t talk about politics or religion. It’s just not the done thing. Arguments do not make for a pleasant and sophisticated night, which is what most of the middle classes expect from such an occasion.

But when blogging, are there any rules? What is the protocol for new bloggers such as myself? Neither politics nor religion will touch the lips of the SW Food Blog, rest assured. But are there any restaurants which I cannot review? Are there any food establishments which are sacrosanct, save for a couple of notorious food critics, which grace the pages of the most well-established broad sheets?

Pizza is contentious. It’s contentious among the Italians. So when a pizza joint pops up claiming to be ‘the real deal’, that’s exactly what we foodie Brits expect: and nothing less. Once a pizza restaurant has been heralded as such, it’s difficult for people to eat there objectively, or at least being able to express their true thoughts without causing a commotion (see the comments which followed Mama Lan’s TimeOut review).

This was my thought train when the Welshman suggested I review the famed Franco Manca in Brixton Market. Its sourdough pizza bases are known throughout London to be the most moist and textured. I was frightened of reviewing it; I’ve had delicious pizza in Battersea when I lived there previously – Pizza Metro and Donna Magherita – and I admit, it was going to be a challenge for Franco Manca to match them.

In order to escape the wrath of my impatience (I hear the queues are long) the Welshman and the Scouser and I arrived at Brixton Market around 11.45am (it opens at 11.30am). Apart from one family who had just sat down, we were alone.

I am a creature of habit, and for me, anything which has anchovies has its own gravitational pull. I am helpless to the universal forces that be. I chose the Number Five; anchovies, capers, olives, oregano and mozzarella. If I was going to be clichéd, this is like my equivalent of an orgasm on sourdough.

The Number Five at Franco Manca

My Scouse comrade chose the same thing, while the Welshman seized his chance to eat pork in my company, selecting the home-cured Gloucester Old Spot ham, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta, and wild mushrooms.

The Number Four at Franco Manca

One has to tear the inch-worth of sourdough crust, which can barely be described as a crust, in order to get to the topping. Nibbling is a precursor to the main event. The sourdough, while never crunchy, has a toughened layer which sinks and then rips like a leathery skin when you bite into it. The centre is moist and doughy.

Now I’m into the middle. The sauce is light. This is good. I’ve had pizzas where there has been way too much reduction and way too much garlic, but this is not one of them. I must admit, I’m a bit perplexed by the inclusion of what looks to be Kalamata olives, but I’m certainly not put off. The quality of the mozzarella is superior to what I’ve had on top of a pizza before, and there are sufficient ingredients to avoid making the Number Five look like a barren circular wilderness of dough. The centre of the pizza is thin, which results in a wetted and top-heavy pointed corner of cheese that I have to scoop into my mouth quickly like a Neanderthal.

As the pizza disappears before my eyes my white plate is left with a carbonised smear – a good sign of stone-baked dough.

By the time we had finished, shortly after 12.30pm, the queue had started to snake out of the main entrance to the market. What you must understand about Franco Manca is that it is street dining. It is not a place to while away a Saturday afternoon, especially when the snake of people start staring at you, willing you to move on (we’ve all done it).

I will lend my voice of support to Franco Manca, I enjoyed it. However, it only just pips my favourite Battersea pizza haunt… by a smidge. I think it was the toppings that done it; definitely more flavoursome and better quality than I’ve experienced previously.

Anyway I’m struggling to finish this post in a witty or cheesy way, so all I am going to say is, bring on the Pizza Off: Franco Manco vs. Donna Margerita / Pizza Metro.

Only a review of the latter will truly settle this debate, unless you have your own thoughts?

 

 

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

My food week in pictures – £5 for 5lbs – A lot of food

I will give you £5 if I’ve not put on five pounds this week. This week’s gastronomical extravaganza will be difficult to surpass.

Monday was the day of the trout; fresh from Brixton Village market, I left it whole and steamed it with ginger, garlic, bonnet chillis, spring onions and a dash of soy and lime zest. It wasn’t rainbow trout, but you can see from the spectrum of spices and colours, it might as well have been named as such.

Fresh trout, lime, soy, ginger, garlic, chilli

Although I have no pictures to show for it, I reviewed The BreadRoom in Brixton on Tuesday – check it out if you fancy a cheap lunch.

Wednesday heralded the mid-week beer (I’m trademarking that phrase), in celebration of my friend’s birthday. We may have enjoyed food from the voucher-friendly All Bar One (which I will not be reviewing), but the festivities were not complete without a quartet of cakes from the one and only vegan-friendly Ms Cupcake.

Chocolate chip

Saturday was a treat. Beating the queues at 11.30am, the Welshman and the Scouser and I sampled, what for pizza aficionados can be best be described as Mecca.  Franco Manca in Brixton Market has a reputation for its glorious sourdough bases. It has, whether you agree or disagree, been crowned as one of the best pizza joints in London. I made notes. There will be a review. Watch this space.

The number 5 at Franco Manca

On what was a very windy day post-pizza, our trio left Franco Manca and headed to the vintage market which had set up shop on Station Road. Catching my eye and nose, was not the rustle of a musty mink vintage fur coat*, but the fragrant waft of roasting coffee. This traditional Ethiopian coffee vendor, who I am assured comes down to the road opposite the Rec every Saturday, roasts whole Arabica beans in a small tin handled pot, before grinding them and brewing them in a beautiful Jebana (long necked coffee jug). You’re poured a lovely little cup; the actual coffee is thick and grainy with a comforting amount of  astringency (when unsweetened). There’s also a large reed basket full of popcorn to snack on while you sup. Please visit – it’s a real treat.

Ethiopian coffee

Just when I thought the week couldn’t get any better, the Sunday comfort club (me) decided to cook up, not a roast, but a hearty wholegrain smoked salmon tetrazzini (spaghetti bake) with lightly smoked salmon, cream, chestnut mushrooms with a parmegiana topping.

Smoked salmon tetrazzini with mushrooms, cream, and a parmigiana topping

Happy Sunday!

*I don’t wear fur. Please don’t e-attack me!

SW9 Brixton – Ms Cupcake – local producers

I must admit, I like a pint. Liking pints over the years has taken me from pub to pub, and from a size 8 pair of jeans to a size I’m-not-telling.  It means that as I have skirted (waisted – wasted?) from pub to pub from Thursday Friday to Sunday, I have had to sit with my fellow pub-goers, watching the rugby, football, and putting the world to rights (in a most left-wing manner, of course). My fellow pub-goers have generally been men. I’m not talking romantic liaisons – just guy friends. When I go out to celebrate birthdays with said guy friends it nearly always involves a pub, and almost never involves buying him a present, or card.

The birthday currency with the highest exchange rate is a pint.

I can hear some of my close friends reading this (ahem) guffawing at the fact that I do have female friends. I do! And, I do socialise with them. Yes, yes, I really do! Such an occasion was this, that is obviously warranted my writing of a blogpost.

Celebrating her birthday on Wednesday was a dear female friend of mine. My close female friends always buy one another presents, and obviously, being the generous beer-swilling girl that I am, I happily reciprocate. But the question is; what to get the woman who has everything – including a Mulberry handbag (I am told this is valuable), without matching the value of said Mulberry handbag.

I decided the only thing that would be sentimental enough to make her blush and think well of me (and that I could afford), would be live candle-blowing shenanigans and a lovely bunch of flowers.

Cake was the order of the day.

Hell yes, I could have gone to Greggs the Baker and picked up some tooth-wrenchingly sweet iced cake that would have gone down reasonably well in a dark and noisy All Bar One (don’t judge me). But I didn’t.

The spirit of this blog is all about eating and buying local – supporting the people and businesses who  live and operate in the area that we do.

When you think of cake shops in Brixton, for me there is only one place which springs to mind: Ms Cupcake.

Dashing to the bastion of iced goods, I was met with a cabinet of colours and cupcakes which couldn’t look more at home than at a magazine photoshoot; photoshopped perfection. What did I choose?

Unfortunately no nut allergies among my girlie party meant that any cupcake could potentially be mine. I couldn’t tell you what was what, such was the choice. Fortunately the astute shop assistant knew that I meant business and quickly pointed out the most appropriate flavours:

Chocolate Chip

Red Velvet

Almond coconut cupcake

Rather messily, and because no one wanted to miss out, we chopped each into four to share between our now, quite tipsy, quartet. After eating them I slipped them a sly one…

THEY’RE VEGAN!

Yes to those in the know, Ms Cupcake, whose shop resides on Coldharbour Lane, sells sugary goods which are completely vegan.

Exclamation all around…but in truth no one gave a cherry on top. This was because Ms Cupcake’s vegan cakes – although they contain no butter, milk, eggs, nor animal products –  are quite simply everything you’d want in a cake. You can’t even tell that they’re vegan. Moist, and the fact their buttercream was bafflingly creamy, ensured they were devoured.

Thanks to Ms Cupcake for penultimately rounding a great girly night out. The ultimate round off was, of course, a cold pint of Estrella.

SW9 Brixton – The BreadRoom – Restaurant review

Homemade soup and artisan bread for £3? I can spend £3 in a Sainsbury’s Local on their not-so-appealing meal deals and come away hungrier than a pre-metamorphosing caterpillar. But this rare value is what attracted me to The BreadRoom cafe in Brixton Market; I could eat out for lunch at a very reasonably rate. In fact, I was pretty stuffed, but even if you wanted something more carbohydrate based, you’d still receive change from your fiver with one of The BreadRoom’s sandwiches.

At only £4 a sandwich, the list of fillings do not have the diversity of say, Rosie’s Deli Cafe, but gracing the menu are still the stalwart favourites; mozarella and pesto, parma ham, chicken, and cheddar slabs. Limited some might say, and perhaps a bit economical with the frills, but you’d have to be a bit fussy if your tastes were not accommodated. Quiche of the day and a salad also only came to £4, and on the saccharine front, cakes, pastries and baked goods sat out on the front bench waiting to be plucked like ripe fruit.

My soup was broccoli and coriander. Yes, broccoli and coriander. An alarming green colour (although I guess if it was supposed to be carrot and coriander, then I’d be slightly more alarmed), but definitely homemade nonetheless. Broccoli and coriander’s ring on the ears does not have quite the same familiarity as perhaps its aforementioned rooted cousin. Sometimes there is an ultimate, but not completely unavoidable tendency, to overcook any and every vegetable which finds its way into soup. You’ll know when broccoli is overcooked, it adopts like its fellow brassicas, a distinctive odour. The broccoli inhabiting my soup, was forgiveable, but not technically immune from this faint scent.

I ate it all which, considering the generous portion size, was a reasonable challenge; it was a wholesome and hearty dish most appropriate for a cold, hungry day. It was also quite thick; a little runnier would have dribbled down a bit better on my palate, but that’s personal taste. Another time and on a non-broccoli flavoured day, I’d come again. It’s nigh on impossible to get a fulfilling lunch for under a fiver in London. My accompanying bread was well toasted (and by that I do not mean burnt, just a little too dry; the doughy-ness beyond the external toasted crust had become a little dessicated).

The BreadRoom is a small and cosy affair which felt somewhat awkward when all the seats were full. I was afraid I was going to fling my spoon high into the air and straight onto the lap of my – very – proximal neighbour. It’s also the kind of place where personal noises are not welcome; that is probably the advice I’d give to my – very – proximal neighbour. Still, it was comfortable when the noisy diners left, and the generic lift music took a siesta.

I was impressed with their veritable selection of loose-leaf teas – there was not an imprisoned tea leaf in sight – and a fine selection including Moroccan mint, green tea and jasmine, and rooibos, among more traditional blends.

BreadRoom by name, and bread room by nature; all of their doughy offerings are baked with Shipton Mill Organic Flour – I assume this means it is good? Apparently the baker also creates his own sourdough liquid for  a selection of the breads which are available to purchase as individual loaves.

The BreadRoom is a cafe which doesn’t convey quite the right atmosphere to make you want to linger for a long lunch. It misses the personal touch. From the matching barstools to the god-awful tables, there’s a sense of ‘eat lunch and be done’. However, I was full, and full of homemade value-for money soup, which ensured my Scottish tight-waddedness didn’t not rear its ugly head. And with that I was happy.

My food week in pictures – Real ale, Eggs Royale, and a sandwich

It’s been a funny old week: it’s not often you spend your Thursday drinking pints of Hip Hop Green Bullet at a real ale festival, nor do I want my Fridays to be quite so bleary-eyed! But yes, for those of you who follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that the Battersea Beer Festival was on this week. I wrote a guest post for www.lavenderhill.co.uk about the event which you can see here. It was a great opportunity to meet some local producers (I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Duncan Sambrook – yes –  founder of Wandsworth’s Sambrook’s Brewery), and some drunken German chap from Munich who kept telling me that is 9% abv German beer was “lekker”. I took his word for it. Here are a selection of photos of the main event which I think you’ll enjoy. There’s also a few more on my Facebook page.

Less about liquid now and more about solid food. After a brief stroll around Brockwell Park on Sunday I popped into the nearby Lido Cafe for a spot of brunch. They were closing early so I was lucky to get my hands on their Eggs Royale. Perfectly runny yolk oozed itself over the beautifully tender salmon, which comes from the Severn estuary, and is traditionally smoked by the Severn and Wye Smokery. The Lido Cafe would be a venue I’d love to review, but unfortunately it’s just the wrong side of the SW postcode. Rules is rules!

And finally, before I sign off, you should check out this week’s review of Rosie’s Deli Cafe – and here’s what I ate:

SW9 Brixton – Rosie’s Deli Cafe – Restaurant Review

London is a lonely place.

Perhaps I should clarify that; OK, north London is a lonely place; maybe it’s because the number of people I know above the Thames is a relative quantity – rather like the amount of shrimp you get in a £1 Tesco prawn sandwich – relatively nothing. London is labelled as a lonely place, but you don’t have to let it be, especially south of the Thames. As I sit here, in south London, in the Borough of Lambeth, in Brixton, in Market Row, in Rosie’s Deli Café, I feel that essentially I am not alone (she says, eating her solitary lunch). My point is, I could strike up a conversation with the guy on his day off, reading the 900-page novel sat opposite me. I could start talking to the girl wearing the snood typing on her laptop to my left, or even the guy wrestling noisily with a chair, whose padded cushioning won’t quite sit straight. Why don’t I talk to them? Well, that’s because I’m furiously typing away at this review. My point is, we all have something in common, and that is, we are sat in Rosie’s Deli Café.

Writing a review of a café probably shouldn’t start like this. Nor should it start if you’ve had nothing to eat all day, save a Burger King coffee (one of those powdered all-in-one jobbies), partnered with a client meeting where all we did was discuss flatbread and tandoor cooking – delicious – but not helpful.

It’s 12.59pm. I’m hungry.

On the chalk-board menu which stands out on the pre-school grass-green wall, is an array of sandwiches – all of which tempt me like a vulture hovering over a zebra carcass (note to self: less carrion-based meat metaphors in restaurant reviews). A mackerel pate and tomato sandwich catches my eye, as does the Capocollo and aubergine ‘generous salad’ (I’m not suggesting it isn’t generous: Rosie’s words, not mine); but then the hummus and antipasti will definitely float my boat. I vote for a goat’s cheese and onion marmalade ciabatta. I fear the standard bread sandwich, as opposed to the ciabatta: not because I think it won’t sate my hunger, but because very often their breaded partitioning almost certainly consists of crap bread. But as I move seats to make way for a mamma and baby, I face the prep area and a bouncy, brown, and flour dusted loaf sits alongside its partner-in-crime knife. I needn’t have worried.

My ciabatta arrives, warm. It’s well toasted but with a great deal of give as I bite in. The layer of bread which borders the filling is really moist, and much welcomed, as goat’s cheese can occasionally have that dryness, which only a pastey cheese can have. The cheese is sour and soft – and strong, but the marmalade, as you’d expect, sweetens the blow – but can I say, it’s not too sweet. Many an onion marmalade has befallen these crimes. In fact, I’d go as far to say it could do with a thicker layer but maybe that’s just me. Spinach adds the crunch – thank god it’s not rocket – bit of a pet peeve of mine. Why sandwich vendors feel they can add £1.50 to the shittest sandwich on earth because it has rocket, disgusts me. While we’re on peeves, why do people insist on serving things on top of napkins on their plates? The napkin goes on my knee, not underneath my food. Rosie was guilty of this, but I’ll let it go. If anyone can enlighten me, I’ll happily redact the above sentence.

People drop in and out, there’s a takeaway option, a mixed clientele, old, young, fat, thin. I saw them all. You’d be welcome here. It’s a homely-looking place – rather like a room-sized version of somebody’s pantry; there are tins and jars, cardboard boxes, and crockery. The hotchpotch chairs remind me of year eight in art class, and a token library of foodie books and classics looks like a book exchange (I don’t think they are, so don’t take them because I said that). I feel like I’m in someone’s house.

I want to order more, but I’m not going to. I’ll save it for another time – I want to come back here. It’s somewhere that I’d like to support, not that it needs it; it’s busy, and Rosie seems to have made this part of London, her part of London, a much smaller place.

And they play Joan Armatrading.

Rosie's Deli Cafe on Urbanspoon

SW2 – My food week in pictures – Brixton Village

Happy Sunday everyone, and I’d like to give a warm welcome to the snow, snow which is purportedly reeking havoc on the England’s transport infrastructure. A warm welcome you say, surely that would melt said snow? Exactly. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the snow; what I can’t stand is the foreboding and doom from the newscasters tragically trying to make rolling news, well, roll, on BBC News 24. The headline story is the 5cm of snow that has hit central London. With no sense of irony the next story is the minus 33 degrees which has killed countless Ukrainian homeless in Kiev. Anyway folks, I apologise for the rant, and just to prove that I do actually like the this festive weather, I’ve included a picture of Brockwell Park in the snow.

Back to important, and food-based matters now. One blogpost per week is going to be dedicated to ‘my food week’ in pictures. Obviously writing a food blog means that I have some sort of interest in food. This interest manifests itself with symptoms like compulsive restaurant attendance, a weird affliction of hanging around markets, stalking local producers, and drooling at delicatessens’ windows. Do you have this condition too? I’ve heard the only cure is calories. So anyway, one post will include a selection of photos of places I’ve eaten at, dishes I might well have cooked, and anything which is vaguely consumable which I’ve clapped eyes on.

This week I stayed in SW2 and headed to thefamiliar Brixton Village, concentrating mostly on the fresh produce on offer.

There’s also just one food experience which I’d like to share with you – and that’s the brandy snap. A lovely friend of mine was kind enough to invite me around for dinner this weekend, and to finish off the most delicious and authentic paella I’ve had to date, was this lovely brandy snap, which I ‘snapped’ for posterity.

The very first post of the SW Food Blog

Greetings hungry south-west Londoners!

Immediately I know I will regret this post. For some time now, I have planned to start a food blog documenting eateries, restaurants, cafes, markets, food shops, and pop-ups in the south west London area. Every time I ate out at my local restaurant, I would say, “it’s about time you started that blog about restaurants in the local area”. Internally (occasionally externally), I would reply, “yes, that’s something for next month”.

But next month came and went. I still ate in my local restaurants, yes, but I was under a lot of pressure to move house. I didn’t know where I was going to live. Was I to move away from my dearest Battersea?  Move away from some of the finest culinary experiences I have had in the last two years of my life? It was a real possibility. So much of a possibility was it, that at one point, I thought I was going to move to Islington – yes that’s right – NORTH of the river.

In the end I did move. But it was much closer to home; Brixton.

To my great relief I was still in my beloved SW postcode after all. I have got my act together (I moved last week – get me), so here we are.

And that was the first blogpost.

Disappointing, I know.