Lofty cuisine in formerly louche confines
Claim to fame: A part of the self-made Brixton subculture that’s an example to others
Reason to go: The über-artisanal Cannon & Cannon charcuterie platter
To look out for: Don’t miss touring the markets, in the evenings, they become a destination for food-savvy bohemians
Brixton used to be a snaggle toothed runt; un-groomed, on edge, too homely to visit. The ugly duckling is of course growing up to be something quite different thanks to savvy entrepreneurs who have been lured to the area by low rents. Scores of innovative, creative food- and drink businesses have now sprouted in the old markets.
Market Row is one of the oldest covered markets in Brixton, a late-Victorian complex of daytime food stalls and evening cafés/watering holes and restaurants. Salon superficially looks like the others, with a small ground-floor bar and a few hipsters propping up its counter. Salon’s British charcuterie platter is one of London’s finest, showcasing the best of Britain’s cured meats; the salami, bresaola and ‘Parma’ ham are hand-selected by Cannon & Cannon, the cured meat firm that also owns Salon. Should chili venison chorizo and a chilled tipple not be enough, there’s also ’nduja croquettes with alioli, a British cheese board, or salted caramel brownies to tempt you to linger with the locals.
If you’re looking for more than snacks, head upstairs, that’s where the real culinary action takes place, a raised vantage point that overlooks the covered market in three directions. Although the dining room’s service is very casual, the kitchen’s slickly professional. There’s a no-choice four-course seasonal set menu that changes monthly and also champions the best of British. Baked cheese crisps prime the appetite before a first course that initially resembles a spillage. This arc of dried vegetable chips turns out to be tiny crisps of Jerusalem artichoke that cover plump Scottish scallops, the dish given additional texture with charred baby leeks, attitude provided by a fine dice of green apple. The next course shares a similar wholesome appearance, with a chunk of surprisingly sweet and buttery Delica pumpkin sharing the plate with the vivid maroon of grilled radicchio leaves, a purée flavored with Beauvale blue cheese, and a granola-crunchy scattering of toasted mixed seeds. Roast venison is served pink and proud, the virile flavor cut by the canny addition of pickled cranberries and the earthy tang of cavolo nero. Onion, both roasted and crispy-fried in rings provides some much-needed sweetness. Dessert is perhaps the simplest dish: pear roasted in red wine, with a deconstructed cheesecake (Almond crumb base and filling separated), and a scoop of blackberry sorbet. These small miracles are all created in a cramped galley kitchen on the same upper floor.
At one time, ordering a glass of wine would mark you out as someone who didn’t belong in Brixton. Not any more; there’s a matched wine selection to go with the menu. Some customers choose to pay their bills using Brixton pounds, a local barter currency accepted here that sticks two fingers up at the taxman. Consider a nightcap at one of the many nearby cocktail bars. This runt is kicking the pedigrees out of the park.