This year has been an eye opener for me in more ways that one. Hailing from North London, 2017 marked my my first ever trip to Brixton (which I now love) and I tried the wonder of dim sum for the first time. So when an opportunity arose to visit The Courtesan, a restaurant promising dim sum and bao buns, I wasn’t one to say no.
Situated on Atlantic Road, The Courtesan’s exterior doesn’t give away much, but you need only step inside to see how much character it’s got. The place itself has an alluring feel about it, largely down to the dark burgundy wood and red hues, with grey paint dripping down the walls. Using cool, yet authentic details, the venue is beautifully crafted; the main bar is encased in what looks like a copper birdcage, much like the miniature ones dotted round the venue, complimented by an array of vintage Chinese artefacts and Oriental artwork. Seating wise, there’s a mix of dark wooden tables of two or more, with a choice of benches and blue velveteen armchairs. If Courtesan’s decor is aiming to evoke retro Shanghai club/sultry ancient Chinese chamber vibes, it absolutely nails it.
Food and Drink
Nobody needs to convince me to get stuck into a cocktail, but after finding out that the list of libations at Courtesan is produced solely by females, it felt like it was meant to be. After plenty of soul searching my friend went for a Damsel (£7.90) which was a sweet surprise of Finlandia vodka, galliano, pineapple and grenadine, which left a lovely vanilla aftertaste. I chose the Xi Shi (£9.90), a smoky yet floral taste with Bacardi 8yr old, ancienne dry curacao, chrysanthemum honey and prosecco.
The sisters doing it for themselves theme doesn’t just stop at the cocktails, as Courtesan's kitchen is headed by a female chef too - amen to that. The menu combines traditional dim sum techniques with modern ingredients and lends itself to sharing, with the dishes coming as and when they do. Wanting to try a range dim sum and other bites, we filled our table with sea bass and king prawn dumplings (£6.70) and pan fried pork dumplings (£5.20). The prawn dumplings were a work of art, fresh balls of fish encased in a heavenly soft dough, contrasting beautifully to the fried dumplings that were packed full of flavour. My favourites if I had to choose? Our wild card choice of curious pumpkin buns (£4.90). Soft, with hints of spicy turmeric, they married sweet and savoury perfectly and coupled well with our meaty choice of pan fried duck and mushroom buns (£5.70). Finally the Szechuan style ribs (£7.50) did not disappoint, coming lightly fried in a fiery sauce, they were some of the best ribs I’ve ever had.
After our food, puddings were unfortunately achievable, but we couldn’t resist two more cocktails. After advice from the manager, my partner in crime went for the Bloody Caipirinha (£7.90). Made with sagabita cachaca, solerno blood orange liqueur and lime, it was an Asian twist on the classic that was both refreshing and sharp. Never one to pay it safe when it comes cocktails, I went for Opium (£9.90): a tipple created to evoke the feeling of that very same drug, served in a tea pot. While it didn’t quite catapult me into a state of euphoria, the fragrant mix of poppy liqueur, Alchermes, Martell VSOP cognac, Lapsang Souchong tea and beetroot powder definitely left me feeling slightly more light headed.
Atmosphere and Entertainment
The Courtesan recently introduced a music-fuelled entertainment programme, and during our visit we were lucky enough to catch one of the Thursday night vintage jazz jams. This was lovely, adding a fun dynamic to our dim sum experience. We were joined by a crowd you’d expect in Brixton: young twentysomethings catching up over dinner and a few date nights, (for which Courtesan is perfect).
Our evening at The Courtesan was more than just a lovely experience. The food was absolutely faultless and delicately put together, and the cocktails take you on a journey of their own. Being lucky enough to get an exclusive sneak peak of the new downstairs bar (a neon geometric sayagata-patterned staircase), if you find yourself in Brixton soon, make sure you visit The Courtesan.