I have my lunch in Brixton two or more times a week and have done for more than 20 years. So I welcome the increasing number of good places to eat. But this change is not universally popular and I was sorry to see, via Urban 75, that someone using the hashtag #BrixtonMum on Twitter, was attacking one of the most recent openings, Brindisa – see post #596 here, down towards the bottom of the page.
The complaint, essentially, is that £5 is too much to pay for cheese on toast and so Brindisa, as a hated symbol of gentrification, should go back to Soho. Someone else then tweeted to point out that you can get a cheese and pickle toastie for £1.50 at Papa’s Café. My view is that there’s probably room for both but, on behalf of our loyal followers, I felt duty bound to check them out.
My first visit was to Brindisa. Because of problems with the electricity supply it doesn’t yet have a full menu. They told me it might be another couple of weeks, so we will hold off a full review until then. But the temporary menu offers plenty of choice of usual and some unusual Spanish delicacies. There is a focus on llesques, which is the Catalan word for large pieces of toasted bread served with helpings of cold cuts, pates, cheeses and so on. Hence the hateful cheese on toast.
It appears the menu at Brindisa changes from day to day and on my visit the cheapest version of cheese on toast was “Monte Enebro and dry fruits” which cost £5.50. After my visit I found the following description of this particular cheese on the Internet:
Made by a single producer, Rafael Baez, of Avila in Castilla y Leon, this unusual goat cheese is shaped like a log, but is said to resemble the leg of a mule. A rind composed of ash and mold means insistent flavor, more like a blue cheese than anything else. The damp, cakey, acidic paste near the rind is fierce, with unmistakable overtones of black walnut. Inside, the core remains salty, lactic, and soothing. A relatively new cheese on the scene, Monte Enebro won top goat cheese in Spain in 2003.
So what you get is a single slice of bread with this cheese topped with a sprinkling of nuts and dried fruit, together with a small green dressed salad. And I have to say it was fantastic, along the lines of the foregoing description. It was everything a soft cheese should be, on excellent crunchy toast.
The following day I went to Papa’s Café, which is run from Papa’s Park, the community garden, playground and football pitch/basketball court in Pulross Road. There the menu is more down to earth, with the usual bacon sandwiches, etc. including, of course, the cheese and pickle toastie costing the aforementioned £1.50. Well, this was everything you expect a toastie to be, sliced white bread with Cheddar and a bit of Branston’s type sandwich pickle. I’ve no real complaint but in truth, it just wasn’t that interesting.
I’ve focused on the food in this post but both places were welcoming, with helpful friendly staff and decent coffee – nothing really between them in those respects. So, what’s my verdict? Well, almost certainly to #BrixtonMum’s disgust, I will fantasise about the Monte Enebro, which is a truly great cheese; the cheese toastie, not so much. More specifically, I know I will be going back regularly to Brindisa keen to try what else is on the menu; whereas going to Papa’s will be a once a year thing.
But what about the price, I hear you ask. My answer is that I think both of them represent value for money. The thing is, my current budget for lunch is somewhere between £5 and £10. So that easily covers a light meal at Brindisa. I know I’m lucky to have the money. It’s also a fact that the Monte Enebro costs about six times as much as you pay for Cheddar from Lidl but, in my mind, it is easily more than six times better.
And the gentrification argument? There is no doubt that the opening of Brindisa is a significant development for Brixton, but it’s nonsense to suggest that anyone in Brixton would be better off if it went away. There is also an argument, put forward by the excellent Miss South on the Brixton Blog here, that Brindisa is “a more Brixton business than most people would have thought.” I also, writing as a Brixton dad, agree strongly with her conclusion that Brixton has “always been an area where people cook and appreciate the variety of cuisines and ingredients and Brindisa captures that along with opportunities for local people to build on their interests.”