Brixton is hip. Brixton is desirable. Brixton is a foodie’s destination. None of these statements are breaking news.
The regeneration of Brixton Village a few years back, combined with the trend for street food, has seen Brixton, scene of many a major riot, become both outrageously cool and a destination for Time Out wielding tourists. It’s gone even further, as City boys and Chelsea girls have started making it their home.
But Brixton is also where I live, and as a ‘local’ boy (well, since the mid-nineties, anyway) I’ve greeted this phenomenon with bemusement. The increase in eating and drinking options, not to mention the value of my flat, is a good thing. But bumping into the type of people I normally see in a City environment is not so good. And that’s how reverse snobbery works. The Northerner is outright antagonistic to the changes, and has declared many of the new venues off-limits. And that’s tough if you’re a food-and-drinks man. Nevertheless, there are some places that do pass her incredibly rigorous muster, and Courtesan on Atlantic Road is one of them.
The fact it’s located on the original 'front line' (and next door to the Atlantic Bakery, my favourite Jamaican pattie shop and … bakery!), as opposed to in the gentrified village is a big factor. Courtesan is a dim sum restaurant which makes a nod towards the opium den era. Antique bird cages and beautiful hand-painted wallpaper amid hues of dark red and black make Courtesan seem more like a Shoreditch cocktail bar than a dim sum house. And the charming owner, Hammant, and his team have moved away from the traditional menu and included nods to the locale – so jerk chicken and turnips feature. I know, turnips.
However, most of the menu, apparently derived from the original dim sum recipes, is pretty damned delicious. The deep fried soft shell crab is heavenly and the dumplings – the prawn and crab and wasabi king prawn are our favourites – are divine. The Northerner has never particularly enjoyed cheung fun or rice noodle rolls; the texture, which can border on slimy at some venues, is not to her tastes. She likes how they’re done at Courtesan, though – particularly the roast pork. It’s an extensive menu, as you’d expect from a dim sum house, and not every dish is perfect, but overall there are more hits than misses. The wine list is short, but particularly good with its Italian red selection – no doubt influenced by the fact that Hammant is half-Italian. However, the cocktails are the real star of the drinks show. Try the Courtesan – Courtesan of Morello cherry, Wyborowa Vodka and Prosecco – for a cheeky aperitif.
Now I must declare a bias, because I have got to know the owner and love the elegance and style that Courtesan offers as a nice contrast to the street food chic of the Village. But locals have taken it to heart, as apparently have the LGBT community, so it obviously has more going for it than the simple fact that I like it. As it happens, Courtesan is also the first Brixton food or drinks venue I have reviewed for HITC. But it won’t be last. After all, Brixton is cool. And so is Courtesan.
69-73 Atlantic Road
Brixton SW9 8PU
020 8127 8677