Brixton certainly seems to be the home of hidden gems. It may take weaving your way through over-spilling bins and derelict buildings to find them, but we can rest assured they’re there. It feels like an area still slightly shy of gentrification like surrounding areas, but it’s hard to appreciate the beauty of somewhere when it’s shrouded in hectic mess. Increasingly famous for its street food and pop-up food trucks, food is at the heart of this South London haunt with a cuisine for every taste and a budget to match (including a number of BYO).
If there’s one place to lure you out of the cold, drab streets of this corner of London, it’s probably the born-again Courtesan, a dim sum retreat to give the West End a run for its money. Think dark wood and soft red lighting with a pointedly large picture of a Chinese Courtesan, from which the restaurant takes its inspiration. Signature décor is more lavish and imposing than the traditional Chinese restaurants of Chinatown, yet inherently welcoming from the drab streets of Brixton. The interior adds to the atmosphere and the story, by which the entire restaurant and its food revolves around a homely and warming touch.
Courtesan has undergone a gargantuan makeover and is celebrating the change. As someone who could gorge on dim sum for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I was all too keen to get stuck in. The restaurant is devoutly traditional, but the owner pays homage to his grandmother with a couple of Italian-influenced options of her own recipes.
It’s rare to find such an extensive and expansive dim sum menu – let alone at dinner – you can only hope your belly will be as big as your eyes. If ever there was a time to over-indulge this could be it, more is certainly merrier. You’ll most definitely want to try the delicate pastry mushroom puffs and the perfectly steamed char sui bao buns to warm up.
The show-stealers were the wagyu and rib eye sliders, a fine, tender wagyu patty encased in soft pillows of steamed bao buns, need I say more? Don’t skip the deep-fried sea bass slices, which make a welcome and appetizing change to calamari with a sweet wasabi dipping sauce.
The curious pumpkin buns are real winter warmers of, pillowy, soft dumplings encasing gujarati spiced pumpkin. The Italian influence was found in the pleasure-inducing tortelli al vapore, dumplings of Italian ricotta, parsley, egg and parmesan. For those after a true taste of authenticity, there’s the option of chicken feet.
Don’t let the food consume you completely because Courtesan is not only a dim sum haven, but also a late-night cocktail bar with live music. Never before did I know that a feminist wine list was a thing before Courtesan, but this modern dim sum haunt is capturing the zeitgeist by supplying only wine sourced from female-run vineyards and there are a number of strong contenders.
The feminist influence doesn’t stop there, with an all-woman chef team that caters for vegan, vegetarian and gluten free customers; it’s a real something-for-everyone restaurant with a cosy hideaway bar downstairs.
It’s safe to say Brixton has some hidden gems but Courtesan is easily the rose between the thorns.
Courtesan, 69 Atlantic Road, Brixton, London, SW9 8PU, England
Tel: +44 (0)208 127 8677
Located in the heart of Brixton, the nearest Tube station to Courtesan is Brixton on the Victoria Line. The restaurant is open Monday to Thursday from midday to 11:00pm; Friday and Saturday from midday to 1:00am and Sunday from midday to 10:30pm.
Type of Restaurant: Modern Dim Sum Restaurant & Late-Night Cocktail Bar
Price Band: Medium
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10
Kelly Greene is a freelance travel writer based in East London, writing for Good Housekeeping and presenting for East London Radio.