While its footfall may lack a little luster and the shutters outside don't necessarily exude tales of opium and the exquisite, The Courtesan is something of a shining light in Brixton dining, with dim sum that could be considered the most enviable around. You just have to go inside.
Carved and curated, The Courtesan isn't your run of the mill 'get in and dim out' Chinese dining space. From Chinese carpenters putting forward their fare to emblazon the awnings, to curated bells jars of taxidermy birds and the dripping of musky paint down the walls to evoke a sense of back alley dining and raw imperialism, the Courtesan isn't half what you'd expect from the dampened and dowdy shutters outside, it's a lot more. Sure, the space is dark and broody for dining, but to reflect the days of the Courtesan and an intimate lady's chamber, it felt pretty apt and well, pretty.
The Food and Drink
Courtesan owner Hammant joined us for the meal, and considering that my experience in dim sum might normally equate to something that sounds more like 'div sum', this was incredibly helpful. With those rascal Italians having stolen the art of pasta from the art of dim sum itself, these dishes held a lot of historical weight with a Courtesan twist. From spicy seaweed that blended the soft with the crisp, black ink dumplings (£6.30), seabass with a wasabi mayonnaise (£8.80), Flying Cow dim sum with ginger spice and an amazing trio of cheung fun (£6.50) (steamed rice noodle sheets with filling); faultless was pretty much what The Courtesan offered us. One of the most stand-out dishes? Belly Laughs. No, they weren't the funniest thing in the room, that was me, but this mix of warm bun and tossed pork belly was a testament to the women in the kitchen. Literally, The Courtesan has one of the only female head chefs in London. Praise be.
In terms of cocktails and wine, the list of drinks is clearly as historically curated as the food itself. Some of the cocktails not only reflected the names of some of China's most heralded Courtesans (lush ladies of the night that can horse backwards and shoot an arrow, you know the ones), their ingredients mustered the whimsical tales too. Take for example the Yang Yuhuan (£7.90) with chamomile tea, pink rose buds, Havana rum and lychee liqueur, not only one of the best lychee cocktails i've ever had, this pale and punchy drink mirrors the tale of the a courtesan so pale and beautiful 'that she put flowers to shame'. I've never personally seen a peony blush, but this cocktail was incredible, gentle and fresh. From some of the best tea in the business, to a wine list that carefully considers the dishes, the Courtesan drinks menu has to be one of the most thoughtful i've ever seen.
While reasonably quiet as a restaurant for the night, I could see the tongues really wagging on a weekend here. The space is large, there's potential for romance (if you're that way inclined, don't be a sexy scrooge all your life) and the interiors add an air of brood that really matches the quality of the food. The great thing about Courtesan is that it isn't too packed, there's space to breath, and space to be enthusiastic with a pair of chopsticks, no matter how poorly you appear to manage them.
Okay, so The Courtesan has some eeking out to do, be that formatting a new website or giving their restaurant front a good going over; but all that said, hoorah. The Courtesan not only have theme on point, some brilliant women in the kitchen, and dim sum dishes that truly reflect their knowledge of the cuisine, but owner Hammant could tell you a thing or two about, well, anything. I really hope Brixton perks up and takes note of this layered restaurant, because i'd hate to see it left behind in the new Blues Kitchen trail. Remember, to dim is to sum. Or something.