Cocktails and Parcels of Heaven at the court of the Courtesan, Brixton

Courtesan dim sum Brixton logoMany years ago there was a nascent cocktail scene in Brixton, south London.  One of my ill-advised favourites was ‘riot in glass’, think tequila sunrise with added fire, followed years later by Sunday nights spent at Dogstar, the punters helping load up the tables to clear the floor for eclectic dancing.

Since then, bustling Brixton has shifted up a gear with the ‘village’ enclave of eateries and bars and the colourful local market stalls. The vibrant edge has now spread to Atlantic Road which has become home to the elegant Courtesan, independently owned bar and dim sum restaurant.

Blood-red shutters on this shop-cum-house lead to dimly lit fifties Shanghai. Empty birdcages, filament lamps, ‘mist wash’ walls, vintage cane and dark wood armoires stacked with premium spirits give it a fallen Imperial China feel.

Words by Alan Greenhalgh.

The Courtesan Bar and Restaurant Brixton, London

Trapped in a birdcage for the night

The cocktail menu is superb.  I started with the yang yuhan, said to be so beautiful, flowers are put to shame. The faded blooms in this cocktail were chamomile drenched in lychee liquer and havana rum. Sweet. The wang zhaojun, so beautiful the birds fall from heaven – you can see a theme, right? is violet liquer, gin, vodka and jasmine tea. Vivid colour, smooth taste and a crunchy  finish. Try it and you’ll know why.

Wang Zhaojun

Wang Zhaojun, so beautiful birds fall from heaven…

Eating comes in the form of huge steaming bamboo baskets brimming with mushroom puffs, the best char siu buns I’ve ever tasted – light but with that sticky top-of-mouth feel and an intense filling and delicious wasabi king prawn dumplings in translucent skin.

Other delights were the wagyu beef sliders, burgers are big right now but this ups the ante somewhat,  and, bizarrely,  crocodile bites with sweet chilli sauce, Put sweet chilli sauce on anything and it’s edible, trust me.

The cocktails came from the expert hands of  Mohammed our magnificent man from Syria. We hung out in the bar but there is a 50 cover dining room with original commissioned artwork and a 35 seater private room downstairs.

This is the spiritual home of the courtesan, a historic lady of the Royal Court – cultured, empowered and beguiling. Her beautiful, ephemeral portrait hangs high, gilded birdcages hinting at her entrapment.

It’s a place we’re happy to be trapped in for a few hours.

Courtesan is open all week.

Sunday to Thursday noon until midnight. Friday and Saturday noon until 2am.

Last food orders at 10.30pm

(Licensed for events and private hire until 3am Sunday to Thursday; until 5am on Friday and Saturday.)

Courtesan Restaurant & Bar

Address: 69-73 Atlantic Road, Brixton, London SW9 8PU.

Telephone: 020 8127 8677 Twitter: @courtesandimsum

Tube/train: 5 minutes from Brixton, Victoria Line

The menu – recommendations
Crocodile meat bites £6.90
Frogs hot legs £6.90
Deep fried soft shell crab £7.90
Jerk chicken parcel in rice, wrapped in lotus leaf £4.90
Wagyu & ribeye beef sliders – £8.50
Fine charsiu buns £3.90

The cocktail list
The menu resonates with the tastes of Imperial China, alongside popular classic cocktails, from around £8.

For a light-as-air sip, try Courtesan’s original prosecco mixers eg. prosecco & prune, prosecco & rose.

For a challenging, dare-again drink, try the enigmatic Moutai which has the pungent aroma of fermenting sorghum grain. Rare to find in the UK, this esteemed drink is favoured for gifting and toasting in China, and is served at Courtesan for £25 for 25ml.

Fine teas – from Tea Palace
A wide selection is served by the pot for £3.30 to £5.50. These include white peony with pink rosebuds; Pu-erh
imperial; Lung Ching Dragonwell.

Wo men, mai dan! You’ll be seeing us again dear Lady!

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