Donostia Social Club – Pop Brixton

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To find: Pop Brixton 49 Brixton Station Road London SW9 8PQ

telephone: 079 6184 4464

email: donostiasc@yahoo.co.uk

http://www.donostiasocialclub.co.uk/Pop_Brixton.html

We had heard good things about this restaurant/tapas bar and after an early show at the Ritzy on Saturday we went along for a snack. We certainly were not disappointed by the food, the ambience or the really helpful staff. At the outset we want to say this is a gem and you should visit.

As you may aimlessly wander around Pop Brixton we thought we would give explicit directions. Pop Brixton is a collection of large storage containers offering food, drink and the occasional piece of jewellery or clothing. Donostia Social Club is on the upper level and can only be approached from the set of stairs on the right immediately after the entrance.

Donostia is the Basque name for San Sebastian, a town with more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in the world. It is also famous for Pintxos – large sized tapa and this restaurant provides small and larger ones to tempt the palate and soak up the heavy reds or cool sherries. The bar where we sat offers a sanctuary in busy Pop Brixton. You can contemplate the menu and chat to the waiters. It is long and thin. Even when busy there may be seats at the kitchen end. You can also sit outside or at high tables inside. This is definitely built for the summer and any cooler months which makes it stand out from the crowd.

dsc02The menu has snacks. The usual ones to go with a drink (olives, dried broad beans, large salted almonds etc.) and then they have plates of cheese and/or meat and one of our long-term favourites – pan con tomate. We chose a plate of meat and the almonds with the pan con tomate before we were tempted by the tapas menu.

The main part of the menu is divided into meat, fish and vegetables and each is a tapas sized portion. We chose duck, piquillo peppers and a daily special, truffled mushrooms. We failed to take a picture of the menu and it does change, so do not rely on the online version.

Everything was wonderful and we have lots to compare it with as we are frequent visitors to Spain. The meat consisted of three “sausages” – chorizo, salchichon and catalan fuet (a thinner more meaty and less fat type of salami). It came with bread and olives. We really need to point out the olives – large manzanilla green ones, small lemony ones, meaty black ones with lemon pieces. We have never had a mixture so good and we often complain that many of the Brixton restaurants fail on this very small item.

But onto the other dishes. The pan con tomate was certainly up to our high standards. It all depends on the quality of the tomatoes and the olive oil and they had it just right.

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The mushrooms come on pieces of bread too and were perfectly seasoned although being greedy we wanted a bit more truffle. But there were two other stars of this show (apart from the olives). First the piquillo peppers which are stuffed with  smokey aubergine and picos blue cheese and surrounded by tomato sauce. Although this didn’t come with bread we had lots to wipe up every inch of sauce and the peppers were sweet and salty with a hint of the smokiness – heaven.

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The duck was the other star. When we cut into it we thought it might be a bit tough but that was the fault of the knives. It was again seasoned well and came with a vegetable puree (see picture).dsc07

There was a chocolate desert but we were too full to even contemplate it.

We washed the whole lot down with a glass of ice cold Fino and three glasses of very acceptable Ribero del Douro. Surprisingly the whole lot came to £51.70 before service. This we thought was value for money. Interesting food, a pleasant ambience and a really slick operation. All the drinks and dishes came at the right intervals and there was none of the chaos that we have seen in other restaurants in Brixton. We hope they continue to flourish in the highly competitive pop-up scene in Brixton

The Beast of Brixton

UpstairsAddress: 89B Acre Lane, entrance on Branksome Road, SW2 5TN

Telephone: 020 7733 8855

email: hello@thebeastofbrixton.com

http://www.thebeastofbrixton.co.uk/

 

 

Although the restaurant overlooks Acre Lane the door is in Branksome Road and even with these instructions it can be missed. There is a doorbell just round the corner of Acre Lane and a discreet notice. Gone is loved Upstairs and to replace it we have a bar with food with the unlikely and unlovely name of the Beast of Brixton. The first noticeable change is the speakeasy-imagelooking door on Branksome Road is now open if you push it. Up the stairs you find the same two small rooms one with a bar and the other an extension with seating for about 20 people. The interior is different with only the long beige couches left on either floor from the previous owners. The walls are now covered with colours and on each floor there is a feature wall of silver or flock skulls. As I said an unlovely name and unlovely walls.

This is really a bar with snacks which are small or large plates. The bar has a few drinks options – cocktails, wine and beer – but limited doesn’t mean uninteresting. The cocktails are cheap by Brixton standards and so are the other drinks and they sell it in the right quantities, i.e. 125ml glasses of wine are available here.

Each week they are now going to have a pop-up chef. We missed the Japanese street food and were there on the first night of El Marinero. Pop-ups seem to be all street food that can be prepared in the very small kitchen on the top floor so they will probably be chefs used to a van at a street market. Again the choice is limited – about 6 small and 5 large plates. Plates is a misnomer as they are served in a cardboard box. As El Marinero implies this week it is Spanish fish dishes like whitebait, scallops and chorizo and squid. Large plates are served with spinach salad (well more of a garnish) and rice.

BoB02We chose scallops and chorizo and the squid with a small plate of fried chillies. The chillies are not for the faint-hearted. The first bite is sweet and warm but that is before you get to the seeds which are fantastically hot. In fact the menu did warn that it was hot but as we left we noticed they had changed it to “very hot”. They came with a sweet tomato sauce and a lemony mayonnaise. The squid was cooked perfectly with enough flaked salt and pepper to make it interesting. The scallops were also cooked well, soft but not slimy.BoB06BoB05

The chef came out and gave us an extra dish – whitebait – which was to the same high standard.

 

BoB01We drank a Verdita (coriander, vodka and green chilli) which was a shock at first but very interesting and not too much like an alcopop, a rum, sorrel and spiced hibiscus (which was too sweet) and a glass of white wine. The whole lot came to £30.00. So for a fast food and cocktail restaurant this is reasonable value. But this is not fine dining but the food was good and the menu will change each week so there will always be something new to try.

Gremio de Brixton

gremio04 address: underneath St. Matthews Church, Brixton Hill SW2 1JF

telephone: 020 7924 0660

http://gremiodebrixton.com/

It’s more than a year and a half since we first reviewed Gremio (see here) but little has changed, although the lighting is better and the number of customers has swelled. It lies underneath St Matthews Church with the entrance down some steps on the northern/town centre side. The crypt is a restaurant and bar with tables outside overlooking the Peace Garden – even in the depths of a winter’s night there were a few hardy souls or perhaps committed smokers sitting there. It is a bit like a cut down version of the Mezquita in Cordoba. Lots of pillars obscuring the view of the other diners, making the spaces a bit more intimate (so might be good for Valentines). The bar is dark and looks smoky, although, of course, it isn’t, but the spaces are again small and dark. The restaurant tables have overhead lights, making it possible to read the menu.

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Lidl, Acre Lane

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71 Acre Ln, London SW2 5TN

I wouldn’t describe myself as a great fan of Lidl, but for some things it’s really useful. I rate their parmesan cheese and some consumer tests have given high marks to their olive oil. And it’s cheap. There’s also the entertainment value in checking out what random items they’ve got on special offer for that week. Recently I bought a weighing machine for the bathroom and a blood pressure monitor at prices that, compared to those at regular shops for such items, are ridiculously low. Their fruit and vegetables are often good quality as well and for something like gazpacho you can get a really great value meal, without any compromise on taste.

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The Provincial

Address: 21 Market Row, Brixton SW9

Provincial has been known as the place where you do not know when or if you will get the food you ordered. We decided to test this again after we had a recommendation to try their ceviche. Now we know a little something about ceviche having learnt how to prepare it on the Amazon and eating in the best ceviche restaurant in Peru – showing off I know but we wanted you to know that we have got some expertise in judging this dish and its authenticity.

Provincial opens its doors so that it flows into Market Row. With its colourful orange interior and the wall mural of Peruvian life it does have the feeling of a South American restaurant down to the rickety chairs and tables. They can take larger groups as we saw on the Saturday night that we visited. The waiting staff were all women overlooked by the manager who pops into the restaurant from the kitchen to deliver food directly to the tables.

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Brindisa Food Rooms

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address: 41 – 43 Atlantic Road, Brixton London

tel no: 0207 733 0634

http://www.brindisa.com/our-shops/brindisa-food-rooms

Currently open Wednesday to Sunday

Returning from our too brief visit to Spain we decided to compare our restaurant experiences in Andalucia with the Brindisa Food Rooms in Brixton. Located next to their shop on Atlantic Road, the design takes in the railway arches and has used brick and steel in a (I hate this word) minimalist interior. Metal chairs and tables for two are pushed into different formations depending on the size of the party – with three we had plenty of space on two tables but four would be a bit squashed if they didn’t time the dishes well.

The menu is ….”inspired by the Catalan Llesqueries” (from the website) but toast and salad to you and me. We wrote about their cheese sandwiches in a previous blog. We thought they were so delicious we ordered another one on this occasion. The waiter comes to the table to explain everything but you have to order at the counter and either pay straight away or leave a card. Presumably this keeps out all those who may try to make a quick getaway while no-one is looking.

The menu has tiny starters of olives, salted almonds and small dips (tapenade etc)  to accompany a glass of wine and larger plates like salads, different llesquerias and inevitably charcuterie – serrano, salchichon and iberico ham. They also have a few daily specials. We chose the cheese on toast, the iberico selection, tapenade, gazpacho (a daily special) and for dessert a slice of almond cake with saffron yoghurt to share.  We say no more about the cheese on toast ……. it was still delicious.

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The meat selection came with four different meats and was definitely enough for three carnivores. The variety also added to the interest with wafer thin slices of pork loin, chorizo, salami but thicker pieces of iberico. The tapenade was served with thin fingers of hard baked bread which were actually difficult to break apart. We expected the tapenade to be salty but you really do need to like salt to eat this. The Gazpacho was very light and had more red pepper than usual – it doesn’t deserve a superlative but it was definitely good. We wanted more of the saffron yoghurt sauce for the almond slice.

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We also ordered two glasses of red wine – go for the more expensive one for a better richer flavour. The service was excellent – plenty of explanations. We did find a price discrepancy between the menu and the till receipt but they willingly paid back the difference as clearly they had not updated the menu. The whole thing came to an eye-popping £46.60 but we knew it wasn’t going to be cheap and half was the meat selection. We had had a good meal with well chosen ingredients in a pleasant ambiance where we could hold a steady conversation without getting a sore throat …. how old foggie is that…… If you want a cheap tapas then go to Seven – here is a bit more sophisticated and you can linger.

A tale of two cheese sandwiches

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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.

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