Only in Brixton…Is Cuba So Far Away

From this Thursday (25 July) Cuba is coming *ever* so slightly closer to Brixton.

mojito

Until the 28 (you’ve got until Sunday night), aficionados of the Cuban cocktail can make their own mojitos – for free. Yes, that’s for free people. And why I am I telling you this? Well, because it’s only in our backyard.

Trained ‘Cantineros’ – the word for barmen in Cuban Spanish – will guide you towards making the most authentic Cuban mojito (mine never tend to be authentic, more just heavy handed). That’s one that’s free from all this rubbish the trendy places normally include – pomegranate pulp, earl grey shawaddy-waddy or whatever other bullshit is in vogue.

In Brixton Market between 25-28 July all that’s getting between you and a good time is mint, Havana rum, mint, sugar, lime, ice and sparkling water.

If you’re unable to make it and want some more info on how to muddle your way through a mojito-making masterclass (and I quite literally mean muddle), then there’s more information at: havana-mojito.co.uk. (It’s a nice and snazzy website).

I guess I should probably encourage you to drink responsibly, but that wouldn’t be any fun, would it now?

Disclaimer: I was told that if I write this I’d receive some free rum. So I did. You’d do exactly the same too. Plus you also get free rum so no one’s complaining.

Have fun rum bunnies.

**UPDATE:**

The Havana mojitos lived up to, and exceeded expectations. Delicious.

havana-rum-mojito

havana-rum-mojito-1

havana-rum-mojito-3

 

SW4 – Clapham Common – The Dairy

I’m not a romantic type, but I am a pedant when it comes to choosing a venue which is appropriate for the atmosphere, company and of course food. The Welshman and I had a free evening on Tuesday, and as it was just the two of us at the beginning of the week, we though it an appropriate occasion to try The Dairy in Clapham; subdued quality dining which would be relatively informal.

It’s a small, narrow restaurant which squeezes itself between two units (which I forget the name of) as the pathway from the Clapham Common Tube station gradually bends into Old Town. In a sense it is enigmatic from the front; upon walking in, it suddenly strikes you that it is much, much bigger (or should I say longer) than you might expect. The high benches at the front exude ‘wine bar’, sharing snacks and shifting uncomfortably on stools. At the back, you find the restaurant, with the traditional table and chair set-up. The tables are small, and with the sharing platters that the menu proffers, alongside the dim candlelight – it is a slightly cramped, elbows-at-dawn intimate affair.

The low lighting is the stuff of food blogger nightmares. Sadly, and as a result of this lack of ambient brilliance, my photography efforts were somewhat hindered. I have credited the photographer where I have borrowed an image.

Each dish on the menu is starter sized. Between us we chose seven dishes (including two deserts) and we were offered, on the house, bread and smoked bone marrow butter (heavenly), and a complimentary appetizer to go with our aperitifs.

The menu is sectioned into: snacks; garden; sea; land; sweet.

Snacks

The truffled brie de meux on toast with acacia honey was obscenely decadent (not that I am complaining). A beautiful combination of sweet, salty and textured crunch. (£8.5)

The padron peppers, cod head, smoked cod roe (£6) was one of my favourite dishes. This is the perfect aperitif if you enjoy strong flavours; the kick of the chilli, the soft creamy roe with the added surprise of the delicate head meat. Sublime. A perfect sharing dish.

Photo by Wrap Your Lips Around This

Garden

To be fair, I wasn’t overly enamored with the selection on here; nothing really appealed. In the end we chose the rooftop carrots, goats cheese, oat granola, buttermilk (£7.5) – it was more to fill us up and reach the seven-plate quota we were recommended. In truth, it wasn’t necessary. However, the sharp textures of the pickled vegetables, the heartening crunch of the immaculately cooked carrots (which had that slightly leathery, caramelised structure to their skins) and the crunch of the walnuts, made it a very welcome dish indeed. And, frankly, one of the most beautiful which left the pass.

Sea

If you try one dish, please try the mackerel. Nigel’s mackerel – as it was described – with Swiss chard and bonito butter (£9) was a delight. The fish was seared and still pink on the inside. It melted like butter.

Photo by Wrap Your Lips Around This

Land

The presentation of the 32 day aged Irish onglet, butternut squash, black cabbage (£9.5) was divine. And, even though I would consider myself a butternut squash skeptic, this was a delight on the tongue. The onglet was a bit disappointing – slightly tough and lacking in flavour. The steak The Welshman enjoyed at L’Eto was better.

Photo by Wrap Your Lips Around This

Sweet

For the sake of a comprehensive review of the menu, we shared two puddings. While I normally have no sweet tooth at all, the clementine with brown butter ice cream and rice (£6.5) was a phenomenon. Butter ice cream will change your life. As The Welshman said: “Well, I wasn’t going to live that long anyway.”

The other sweet dish – a deconstructed Eton mess – was boring and unimaginative. It paled into insignificance against the butter ice cream and the other fantastic dishes we’d enjoyed.

What defines a good restaurant? The Dairy is certainly good one – and at just under £40 a head including drinks, it’s incredible value for money for the quality dishes served up. I was initially contacted by Match.com who asked me to recommend a place where a couple on a date might enjoy an evening out. I do think The Dairy could be that sort of place – it’s somewhere to impress, but is understated and unpretentious. It’s not raucous and you can freely enjoy conversation while there is still a foundation atmosphere which would put a new-ish couple at ease.

It’s definitely somewhere, if you live in the area, you must try…but if I’m honest, I think it’s a ‘once only’ place for me. I’d much rather go to somewhere like Abbeville Kitchen or Bistro Union where they have ‘robust’ dishes with more complex flavour combinations – and – just that little bit more space to bend your elbows.

SW9 – Brixton – Sorry, No Vacancies

Sorry, No Vacancies – if you can find it (because believe me, it’s further and more hidden down Brixton Road than you think) – is located at number 378. The door in the parade of shops – just a little past Morley’s – eventually catches your eye as it’s the last bastion of light (or so it seems) before you hit Kennington. Of all the gin joints in Brixton, we found it!

Classic Magarita

Classic Margarita – old habits die hard!

Priorities / common sense mean the Welshman and I get the cocktails in first. Determined not to be the creature of habit I usually become when I go to new places, I opt for a Californian Sunrise in the hope the gin, Aperol and lillet rouge, topped with San Pellegrino aranciata rossa, casts me to Venice Beach, or at the very least a state of intoxication in which I can dream of the sand, sea and the rest. My tongue always deserves the bitterness; there’s no chance I’m opting for a sickly sweet cocktail. That I cannot abide. Lord also knows why I’ve added the Margarita photo first. I had that next, and while we’re on the subject – that’s more like it! Margaritas are my favourites, and not being a cocktail girl at heart (beer and wine only, and a distinct lack of nail varnish), I slug it down like no tomorrow.

Why are Margaritas always so small?!

Both the Margarita and Californian Sunshine were both more than quaffable. If you go out for cocktails with the girls on a Friday, have dates on Wednesday evenings in low-lit trendy places, you’ll be drawn to Sorry, No Vacancies.

Priority number two: hotdogs!

*Insert wurst pun here*

*Insert wurst pun here*

The hotdogs were pretty suave. Doughy bread (in good way) were filled to the brim with onions, and the dog itself was *oh yes*. The chef responsible for such a mealy hotdog (consider it substantial enough for dinner) is Chris Gillard – the man from St John’s Restaurant. I’ve since heard that they’ve also added a vegetarian option too, if you swing that way.

Californian  Sunshine, in Brixton

Californian Sunshine, in Brixton

Alas, we see a picture of Californian Sunrise, which I was banging on about earlier…the dimly lit bar and red down lighting ensured my photos were sufficiently poor quality enough to put a strong sepia filter on them. American beers also proliferated the drinks menu. The Welshman opted for Brooklyn, which was served by the bottle.

The bar at Sorry, No Vacancies

The bar at Sorry, No Vacancies

Cocktails are priced at the standard rate you’d expect the in London Town,  around the £6-7 mark or just a little over. The decor is dim, 70s, pop-up like (it’s a pop up). Not over enthralling and highly predictable. What was pretty cool though was the upstairs duplex bit, and the cywch (Welsh word, Google it) in the back which is more than passable for a small gathering. Otherwise, I feel it’s a tad lacking in atmosphere.

Sorry, No Vacancies runs from November until January.

378 Brixton Road
London
SW9 7AW

I was invited by Sorry, No Vacancies to sample the menu and cocktails.

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

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