Created with flickr slideshow.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Brixton Brewery - Florence Brewpub - Courtesan - Effra Social

Saturday 26th October -  When I was kindly invited to sample the delights on offer at The Courtesan Dim Sum Bar in Brixton, I decided to make a day of it.  I started by paying a visit to the Brixton Brewery which officially launched on October 16th down the road at Craft Beer Co. They are operating out of a railway arch (much like the Bermondsey breweries) on Brixton Station Road, and are currently producing three beers - Reliance Pale Ale, Effra Ale and Electric IPA.  There is apparently a Stout on the horizon as well.

The guys were very friendly, handing out tasters of all 3 beers and even giving impromptu mini tours around the brewery.  It is hard to pick out a favourite as they were all delicious and dangerously drinkable, and I bought more than one of each to take home for closer inspection. The Reliance Pale Ale (4.2%) and the Effra Ale (4.5%) are both excellent session beers, and the 6.5% Electric IPA hides the extra 2% very well! They aren't planning to open a brewery tap bar on site, but they do hope to open most Saturdays for off sales. 

Bottled beers almost always have great artwork these days, but the Brixton bottles are particularly striking.  I may struggle to throw them away after emptying them of their contents. Go and get your hands on some!

Weighed down by my new bottles, I went to meet Lauren and Morgan for a wander around Brixton Village.  Despite there being numerous delightful places to stop for a drink or a bite to eat, we always seem to end up at Seven as their ever-changing £5 cocktail menu is hard to beat.  This time around I went for a Gringo Bebida made with Monte Alban Mezcal and Wild Turkey Honey, with a drunk Weevil Larva floating on the surface. Monte Alban Mezcal bottles apparently comes with weevil larvae inside, and a small jar of spares to use in whatever way you see fit! Seven is also a tapas bar and an exhibition space for local artists - check out some attractive images here.

After our slightly unnecessary 4pm cocktail, Lauren and I hopped on a bus to Herne Hill to check out the popular Florence Brewpub opposite Brockwell Park.  Two separate ranges of ales are brewed here by Peter Haydon, a former explosives engineer who spent 10 years working for the Meantime Brewing Company in Greenwich.  The Florence Ales (Weasel, Stoat, Bonobo, Beaver) are only available at Capital Pubs, whilst the quirky Head in a Hat beers can be found all over London.  I went for a pint of Beaver, a malty wheat beer with a hint of orange. You can opt for Sparkling Beaver if you like your beers fizzy.

A Head in a Hat Brewing
There is plenty to enjoy here besides the beer too, though I'm never sure if wine on tap is a good idea! The pub is has a cosy village feel to it, with a food menu to match.  There is a retro arcade table and a table football table to keep you entertained, and I'm sure there are some board games tucked away.  It is also a family friendly pub with a dedicated kids play room next to the family area.  Nearby you also have The Lido Restaurant and Bar, the superb Sesami delicatessen and café, and The Prince Regent pub which rotates interesting ales - plenty of reasons to visit Herne Hill.  Brockwell Park is also home to Lambeth Council's free "four seasons" themed fireworks display taking place on November 5th next week - read more here.

Lauren and I had different evening plans so we made our way back to Brixton together before going our separate ways.  I found Flatmate Maggie in Craft Beer Co and we wandered over to The Courtesan for an evening of cocktails and dim sum with the owner Hammant Patel Villa and professional drinker Su-Lin (who was also responsible for my recent trip to CoLD Bar - read more here).

The Courtesan herself
The courtesans that Hammant is referring to here are the ancient Chinese ladies of the court who often had the ear of the Emperor or equivalent power, and were, as a result, incredibly influential.  The courtesan concept runs tastefully through both the menu and the decor without it being a "themed" restaurant.  Empty birdcages represent the fact that whilst the courtesans seemed to be caged, it was actually those that stared at them and sought their company who were in fact trapped.  In the dining room, a picture of one troubled courtesan is centre stage, surrounded by wallpaper covered with her tears.  This is one good looking place.  We had the perfect view of the stunning bar area from our cosy corner table, and it was hard to put the camera away.  

Hammant, who has an industrial design background, joined us shortly after we arrived, and encouraged us to get a drink so that he could start telling all the stories behind his labour of love.  We duly obliged, starting with a Courtier, a Yang Yuhuan and a Treacherous Heart.  

Yang Yuhuan (often known as Yang Guifei - so beautiful, flowers are put to shame) is one of four great beauties from ancient Chinese history who make it on to the cocktail menu. The other three are Wang Zhaojun (birds fall from heaven), Xi Shi (fish forget to swim) and Diaochan (who eclipses the moon).  They apparently brought kingdoms to their knees, and their lives ended in tragedy or under mysterious circumstances. My superb Courtier (made with two whiskies, chilli, fig liqueur and lapsang-souchon tea) represents the last cigar that you might be offered after being rejected in court by one of the courtesans.  The Treacherous Heart doesn't need a back story, especially once you taste the thick blood red concoction made with plum wine, cognac, Sangiovese, chilli and red bean paste.

With a drink in hand, we wandered downstairs to take a look at the dark, attractive boudoir which can be privately booked.  They have a 5am license here but that is saved for special occasions - I hope I get a call when they have a lock in here as the atmosphere downstairs would be fantastic.

We made our way back upstairs for more cocktails and some dimsum, chosen for us to match our drinks.  We were mainly here to imbibe though, so I won't go into great detail on the food front.  We moved away from their house drinks temporarily, going for a Whisky Sour Sour (created in response to their Whisky Sour not being sour enough) and a Courtesan's Mojito (with St.Germain Elderflower liqueur).  They use elegant glassware here, and I particularly liked their enormous coppa style glasses.

All sorts of food turned up and disappeared equally quickly.  We had their house prawn crackers (simple but delicious), taro croquettes (a masterclass in frying), mushroom & duck puffs (a welcome change from the traditional pork filling), pickled vegetables (Hammant's nod to home cooking), Szechuan style ribs (messy but worth it), deep fried squid (perfect with chilli oil) and special vegetable spring rolls (more interesting than they sound!).  We will need to return for a full dinner soon to put the rest of the menu to the test - Stormy Seaweed, Wagyu & Ribeye Sliders, Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab and Chocolate Spank (no idea) are among the many things on my wishlist for next time.  

It is rare to have such high-quality dimsum outside of Central London and many that come here may think that it is bought in, but it is all created on site by a very experienced and adventurous chef.  The dim sum style of small sharing dishes originated as meals for the Royal Court where chefs would experiment to produce exciting treats for the great Emperors, "so exquisite as to touch their hearts", says Hammant.

We moved on to one final round of drinks, and Hammant was eager for one of us to finish with a Courtesan's Ghost (Wyborowa Vodka, Rose Liqueur, Lychee, Rose Peony).  This cocktail is always presented to guests on their birthday at The Courtesan with a slightly spooky message - life is fleeting, and you will one day be a ghost like the courtesan who haunts this place, so appreciate and embrace your life whilst you are still living!  On that note, why not head there tonight for a ghostly All Hallows Eve?

Hammant's passion for The Courtesan was infectious, and we had a wonderful time eating and drinking in his charming establishment.  Both the drinks and food are reasonably priced (you will want both) and the atmosphere is hard to beat.  I would head straight to the tables which have been raised to bar level so that you can have space to eat your food but still chat to the bar staff whilst they are mixing you up something special.  With food available til 10.30pm and the bar open til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays, The Courtesan is a fantastic alternative to the overcrowded Brixton Village at the weekends.  Book ahead by emailing - be sure to be courteous or you might find yourself having your last cigar!

The night was still fairly young when we left The Courtesan, so we decided to squeeze in a quick trip to nearby Effra Social.  Team List visited here a couple of months ago, but a comedy night was well under way downstairs so we didn't get to see the main room.  I'm glad I made a return visit as we had a grand old time dancing away to obscure soul music & drinking pints of Truman Lazarus and bottles of Beavertown 8-Ball, with sheet music hanging above our heads on washing lines.  There seemed to be 4 DJs all working at once having an absolute blast on the small stage, which added to the already very relaxed atmosphere.  It almost has a wedding / student union type feel to it which is infinitely preferable to going clubbing in my opinion.  There's dancing, it's open late, it's free to get in, you get pints rather than £6 bottles of Sol, you can still have a conversation and there is space for all of your friends! What's not to love?

Effra is another cracking Antic London pub (Balham Bowls Club, Tooting Tram and Social, Battersea Mess and Music Hall) with a social club feel - it was previously the local Conservative Club which shut in November 2012.  It is hard to keep up with Antic who seem to open a new place in South London every week.  That said, Farr's School of Dancing will be opening soon in Dalston Junction, taking its name from a dance school that occupied the building in the 1930s.  It will be spread over 3 floors and will apparently have a "speakeasy events space in the basement".  Stay up to date on with their other new sites by checking the Antic website regularly, or by following them on twitter.

Whilst we're on the subject of Brixton, a new cocktail bar / club / restaurant called Sorry, No Vacancies is set to open on Saturday 2nd November, with drinks from Soul Shakers and gourmet hot dogs in The Dog House.  Read more on Brixton Buzz here.

Want more ideas for going out in Brixton? Check out my posts on my last two trips there:

Crown & Anchor - Gremio de Brixton - Honest Burgers - Seven

Craft Beer Co - Kaff Bar - Wishbone - Effra Social

Square Meal

Square Meal


  1. I adore Brixton Village! Seven is a favourite!

    1. Seven is the best! The only place I have written about 3 times, I think!


Seeking out the best places to eat, drink and be merry in London and beyond - follow @MattTheList or sign up for email updates above

Contact Us