Dim Sum hasn’t really caught with the great British public at large, but aficionados will tell you that there’s a lot more to Chinese cuisine than some orange goop on a bit of fried chicken. One of the places where you can be introduced to this wonderful form of Chinese food is The Courtesan, a new restaurant in Brixton which specialises in Dim Sum fully Chinese style, along with a range of Asian-inspired cocktails.
The Courtesan is situated just around the corner from Brixton Market — an area already widely recognised for it’s diverse range of restaurants. Once inside you can instantly see that this is no ordinary Chinese restaurant, or perhaps not even a restaurant at all! In fact, what it looks like is a 1930s style Hong Kong Opium bar complete with a speakeasy in the basement. It’s grey washed walls, art-deco lights and peeling paint furniture all give the impression of that colonial Hong Kong has landed in 21st century London – an image reinforced by the 28°C heat and high humidity we are currently experiencing…
The cocktails that The Courtesan offer continue this theme and are all 30s inspired but all include an Asian twist. From the choice we were given the the obvious hit was always going to be the Lychee flavoured one called Yang Yuben which is made up of Lychee Liquor, Rum and Camomile Tea. Delicious and refreshing in this tropical heat. However the really big surprise was the Wang Zhaojun cocktail which contained Violet Liquor, Gin, Vodka, Jasmine Tea and a sprinkling dried violets on top. I was prepared to dislike that one the most of the selection — never was a fan of Palma Violets — but it may have been the best one there or a close equal to the Yang Yuben.
The other two cocktails available to try were Courtesan, a cherry flavoured concoction containing Prosecco and Cherry Liquor and was excellent and the final drink called Courtier containing Whisky, Lapsang Souchong tea and chillies. This was a very interesting drink, it comes across as amazingly smokey, a little hot and, if not an acquired taste, then an excellent gimmick. It’s a drink that really added to the atmosphere of the place. It was hard at that point not to imagine you were in the new film The Great Gatsby.
The food was excellent too. It was the right mix of coming up with something new and not messing with the Dim Sum classics. The Cha Siu bun (a dim sum staple) for example was as you would find in Chinese supermarkets, a fluffy bun but with sticky honey and ginger flavoured pork in the middle. The Wasabi King Prawn dumplings was on the other hand were a new invention – the prawns had very little in the way of trappings – which is always the best way to eat the best sea food – and very tasty as long as you like Wasabi.
The duck spring rolls were always going to be the favourite. It was as much as you would expect, shredded duck with pancakes, except here the pancakes were deep-fried. The rolls came with a side of the traditional plum sauce but I would suggest that those rolls would work extremely well with Sweet Chilli sauce. The Crocodile bites were a real treat – slices of crocodile meat simply baked with a rub of Szechuan pepper. A lot of people who have eaten crocodile before say it tastes fishy, but for me it was more like chicken with a very complimentary hint of pepper to it. Something I look forward to trying again.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to try a few of the other things on the menu such as the Wagyu beef and the Black Sesame balls. I guess they were just too popular!
I strongly suggest you try out The Courtesan, if not for the décor and the food then for the quirky cocktails. There’s something everyone in this new venue and it’s just five minutes walk from the end of the Victoria line so I find it difficult to find an excuse not to go…