Courtesan – Brixton, London SW9

In all honesty I wasn’t convinced about meeting a friend for lunch in a restaurant in Brixton – I live way out of London. But we had heard that there was a good Dim Sum restaurant which also specialised in cocktails and as we are both Dim Sum addicts, and we rather like cocktails, we set forth.

Not far from London Victoria

Actually I arrived very early, I hadn’t realised that Brixton was only a seven minute tube journey from Victoria station and the Courtesan restaurant in Atlantic Road, about a five minute walk from Brixton station.

First impressions of Courtesan weren’t exactly great that Wednesday lunch time. A couple of bags of rubbish on the pavement and from across the road it looked dark and gloomy. But as I pushed open the door the welcome I got from the lovely Victoria was as warm and bright as sunshine.

Chinese lanterns and velvet booths

I think we made a mistake, I think we should have sat in the brighter, livelier bar area, but instead we headed for the inner dining area. At lunchtime it is a dimly lit room full of dark wood chairs and tables with some rather ghostly pictures but my friend and I both agreed that in the evening with the lights from the large Chinese lanterns illuminating velvet upholstered booths and cushions plus touches of Chinese erotic art it must all come gloriously alive.

And anyway we hadn’t come to admire the décor, we had come for dim sum. That early in the lunch service it was quiet and owner Hammant Patel Villa had time to sit and tell us about the menu, himself and Courtesan.

Not the usual dim sum fillings

The menu certainly intrigued us; these were not the conventional dim sum fillings – frogs legs, spicy pumpkin, jerk chicken, Italian ricotta? It became clearer when Hammant explained that his mother is Italian and he also has a Gujarati background. Consequently the dishes, with a generous nod to ancient Chinese techniques, are absolutely up to date when it comes to flavours and ingredients.

Hammant told us that the chefs are all female, his head chef Fengjuan Xue, one of the very few female head dim sum chefs.

Influential women

And then there is the drinks menu even longer than that for the dim sum. The descriptions of the wine are certainly interesting – as befits a restaurant called Courtesan! For instance an Australian Shiraz is described as ‘Pretty strawberry dresses swirl far too deep into the night’.

But we had also spotted something else that intrigued us; along-side each listing appears a woman’s name; likewise the champagne and the prosecco. We looked at the list of Spirits – all produced by women.

Hammant pointed out in the courts of Ancient China courtesans were well-educated women who were recognised as much for the intellectual abilities as for their beauty – a long way removed from what we might delicately term today the ‘ladies of the night’. And he has worked hard to make sure that skilled and talented women play their role in his restaurant.

We ate…

But back to the dim sum, we chose, with advice from Hammant, steamed Black hart dumplings – fresh salmon and prawn in a black squid ink open parcel; Flying cow dumplings – beef dumplings in a ginger spice sauce – fried then steamed; and as a nod to his Italian heritage the steamed Tortelli al vapore – Italian ricotta, parsley, egg and parmesan filled pouches; and to his Gujurati background the Curious pumpkin buns – delicately spiced pumpkin filling in a turmeric flavoured light fluffy bun.

And to round off our meal some Deep fried squid in a delicate batter and some Szechuan style ribs – braised spare pork ribs fried in a chilli Szechuan batter . We enjoyed them all, but possibly our favourites were the tortelli, the ribs and the Black hart dumplings. Dim sum prices range from £4.70 – £9.60.

We were by now very full but unfortunately we spotted that some frozen mango truffles were on the short dessert menu. They were too much of a temptation, we succumbed.

…and drank

We both enjoy wine, but having had a cocktail each: Courtesan, a potentially heady mix of Morello cherry, cherry liqueur, Finlandia vodka and prosecco; and a Wang Zhaojun, an equally powerful blend of violet liqueur, jasmine tea, Greenals gin and Finlandia vodka, we wisely settled instead for a pot of seriously good Jasmin tea.

Cocktails are in the region of £9 each.

Sadly Courtesan is too far from home for evening visits, but now I know Brixton is so accessible from London Victoria more lunch time dim sum trips are on the cards. thecourtesan.co.uk

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