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In the market for good food…

Sadly I haven’t managed to convince everyone I know to move to Brixton, so at the weekends I tend to go elsewhere in London while socialising. This is something I enjoy hugely, but means that despite living so close by I don’t know Brixton Market especially well at the weekends. Therefore I couldn’t resist spending the weekend close to home when Mister North came to visit and trying to catch up with any many new openings and delicious places to eat as possible.

We started off ignoring the crowds at Franco Manca. This is literally the closest pizza place of any description to my house and I’ve eaten there more times than you can count. I think it’s excellent, but pizza would be too filling to start our day with. Instead we went two doors further up to the newly opened Mexican restaurant Casa Morita.

Nicely minimalist yet welcoming and quite busy, we squeezed in and shared a table with two others, ordering the mole chicken taco and a chorizo and potato quesadilla to whet our appetite. There’s quite a small menu and most people seemed to be doing the same as us and calling in for a taco or two rather than sitting down for a full meal. There was no sniffiness at this or ordering tap water and service was prompt and we didn’t have to wait long.

The mole taco was lovely. The chicken was perhaps a little overshredded, but the flavour was rich and complex with a lovely warm kick of chilli. Our quesadilla actually ended up being chorizo-less by accident (they charged us less though) and was delicious with silky fried onions and fresh coriander infused guacamole to stop it being heavy. We liked the place a lot and I look forward to going back and sampling more.

We called into Wild Caper and got practically the last seeded sourdough loaf for breakfast next day. You need to be quick in there on a Saturday! This was a problem we encountered again when we moved across to Brixton Village in search of our next course. The newly opened Mama Lan’s dumpling boutique closes for lunch at 3 and it was five past. We’d have to wait til 6…

Luckily there was plenty to tempt but we were both drawn to Okan which sells the ‘Japanese pancake’ or okonomiyaki that Osaka is particularly famed for. It’s hard to describe without sounding slightly off-putting, but tastes great. Basically a slightly sour batter infused with cabbage, it is stuffed with anything you can imagine and served like a pancake sandwich. We ordered the special which comes with squid, prawns, kimchi and corn and got some green tea too.

What arrived was a monster sized plate of okonomiyaki laced with Japanese mayo, delicately fluttering grilled onion skin and bursting with seafood and flavour, particularly the tang of kimchi. It was delicious and extremely filling even between us, making it top class value. along with Curry Ono in Market Row, this another restaurant that proves Brixton is becoming great for Japanese food!

Well and truly full and with most places no longer serving for lunch, although busy with those lingering over plates and drinks, we left the market behind and headed up Atlantic Road to the newly Kaff Bar which has taken over the space on the corner of Kellett Road that was La Lupa. They’ve opened it out, done a cracking paint job and made it spacious. It wasn’t that busy at 4ish and we scored a comfy sofa and some nice bottled American ales and passed a hour or two people watching. Friendly and with a nice vibe (although no British beers on tap) I’m keen to go back in the evenings.

Appetites whetted, we made a beeline for Honest Burgers around 6pm before all the tables got snapped up. I want to say unfortunately their gas was off so they were delayed opening, but fortunately it gave us time to go back to Mama Lan’s while it was quiet. Only their second evening open, we ordered two plates of Beijing dumplings, going for the pork and the unusual sounding dill and tofu from the list of three options.

A proper family operation, the dumplings are made in front of your eyes by Mama Lan in a blur of chopsticks and dough and then fried by Papa Lan. I don’t know if it’s the love involved, but they are wonderful. The pork was tender, juicy and flavoursome. But the dill and tofu was the star (and this comes from a tofu-denier). Shredded dill studded with five spice-infused tofu, they melted in the mouth. I wanted more, but settled for eating all the pickled lotus root on the side and keeping space for another course and went back to Honest.

Like Mama Lan’s, all the meat is supplied by the Ginger Pig at Honest Burgers and aged well. This means that the burgers really taste of something and therefore don’t need souped up with cheese to get flavour. I loathe melted cheese on burgers so it is a constant source of annoyance to me that it needs to be added to most burgers to make them interesting these days. We both went for the regular burger and we both liked the onion relish that comes as standard, thinking it worked nicely with the meat.

They do option with cheddar or stilton and bacon too and a tasty sounding veggie fritter. Gluten free buns are available too. All the burgers come with chips included in the price. I think the chips are amazing. Triple fried, properly golden crisp and dusted with rosemary salt, I could eat them three times a day and never tire of them. It’s an effort not to call into Honest everyday for lunch!

Completely stuffed after our day of feasting, we headed home around 8. The market was buzzing. There was a serious queue for Mama Lan’s and no chance of an outside table at Honest, Cornercopia or Casa Sibilla or Kaosarn. There were plenty of families stopping it getting too hipster heaven and it all feels quite relaxed and dare I say it, continental. Make it a destination as soon as you can. Come early, bring a bag, use the market too for wonderful world foods and deli goods. Then prop up a bar or two in the afternoon and reconvene in the market for dinner. As long as you remember nowhere takes cards (try the Brixton Pound) and bring a healthy appetite, you’ll want to move to Brixton in no time!

Wahaca

Since the authenticity of Mexican food in London seems to be a hot topic amongst food bloggers, I’ve heard a lot about Wahaca and since it has opened a new branch in Wardour Street and I’ve recently sampled the food at their competitor Lupita, how could I say no when Mister North suggested eating there this week?

We arrived about six o’clock, absolutely starving and in no mood to queue. Luckily we were early enough to beat the dinner rush and found ourselves seated almost immediately by a very friendly waitress. On first glance the menu was so immense I could hardly focus on it to start choosing and was happy to have Mister North take charge and order two Modelo Especial and some scratchings and guacamole to take the edge of our hunger and help us focus.

The scratchings describe themselves as lighter and healthier and they look quite different to our pork scratchings in their pillowy vastness. They were delicious, somewhat like a porky flavoured Crackerbread (trust me, this is an excellent thing) and they scooped up the guacamole nicely. I found the guacamole enjoyable at the time, but can’t remember anything about it now.

Sure that our eyes weren’t bigger than our bellies, we ordered heartily, choosing the Wahaca selection for two as a way to sample as many dishes as possible as it includes tacos, quesadillas, taquitos and tostadas. We also went for the special of queso fundido, unable to resist the combination of mushrooms and cheese, and added in some of our five a day with the sweet potato and the spicy slaw on the side.

Plates started arriving almost immediately and while it was nice to have to wait too long, it seemed a tad canteen-esque to me. Everything was pretty much tepid apart from the bubbling cheese of the queso fundido, but it all looked fresh and appealing and I was keen to get stuck in, if I could decide where to start?

Figuring that pork never goes amiss, we both went for the pork pibil tacos first. These were incredibly rich with soft, pulled style pork and were very tasty, but something about the flakiness of the meat didn’t really appeal to me, feeling a bit claggy in my mouth. The incredibly tasty softness of the black beans on the tostadas were the perfect counterbalance for me and I was more than happy to have the second one of these, leaving the pork pibil to Mister North. In fact the black beans were so good on the tostadas, I heaped some of the extra side portion onto them and bemoaned the fact I cannot get pulses to taste this good at home.

The queso fundido had cooled down enough to prevent taking the top of the roof of our mouths and was well worth waiting for. I am a recent convert to mushrooms and these made me very happy about that. Juicy and tasty with a nice tang from the cheese, I had to be careful not to shovel the entire dishful onto my warm tortilla and leave Mister North without any. The last scraps of this one were hotly contested, but I’m pleased to say my big brother let me scrape the bowl clean…

We also made short work of the nicely spiced sweet potato, with Mister North dipping into the hot mango sauce and devouring the chipotle dip while I didn’t dare risk it as I don’t really like particularly spicy food. I did adore the spicy slaw though and thought the green rice was great. I am always impressed when side dishes are as good if not better than the main dishes and I thought Wahaca was great for this, especially since so many of these dishes are meat free.

I was slightly disappointed by the seasonal vegetable tacos. The veg selection just felt a bit like tinned veggies, thanks to the sweetcorn, with some highly unseasonal cubes of tomato and a bit of lettuce to bulk it out. They weren’t particularly flavoursome and were a direct contrast to all the other tasty meat free offerings. I much preferred the huitlacoche quesadilla with its mushroom infused flavour and almost buttery filling.

We finished up with the taquitos and these were an excellent end to meal. Fried til crispy but filled with soft creamy chicken, these were my favourite of any of the meat dishes we had. Small and perfectly formed, despite being very full, I could have happily had a second taquito, possibly even a third. Despite our waitress warning us that we had probably ordered too much, we cleared all the plates bar about one mouthful of the rice and decided we could make room to try the mango sorbet, along with another beer.

The place was absolutely hiving at this point with a queue nearly to the door and even thought we only ordered one sorbet between us, there was no sense of being rushed or coaxed into ordering anything more to keep our spot. The sorbet arrived quickly with two spoons and we tucked in. It was deliciously mango-y and a lovely refreshing end to the meal, and although quite a large portion, it seemed expensive to me. Probably because secretly I wanted churros, but couldn’t have fitted them in!

Our bill came to just over £50, including 4 beers at £4 each, which I thought was pretty good value aside from the vegetable tacos and the sorbet. I liked Wahaca. The food was pretty good, the service was excellent, but I didn’t get a huge sense of atmosphere from the place, pretty as it was. I’d go back for the black beans, taquitos and the queso fundido*, but I’d prefer it to feel a little bit less like a chain next time. Maybe Wednesday isn’t the best night to try them or maybe I need to get over my dislike of tequila?

* And I am totally sold on the idea of the matchbooks of chilli seeds to grow at home!

Lupita

After meeting a few friends for a refreshing wheat beer or two at the Sam Smith’s run Lyceum Tavern on The Strand on Friday night, we grew peckish and set off in search of some food that would hopefully be well priced and not the overpriced microwaved stuff that Covent Garden seems to serve to its tourist population without shame. To try and prevent this, my always-in-the-know friend A suggested we try the fairly newly opened Lupita on Villiers Street for some Mexican flavour…

I know it is terribly fashionable for foodies and food bloggers to bemoan the fact that compared to the USA we just don’t have very good Mexican food available here in the UK. This may be true, but the USA does have a thriving Mexican population thanks to sharing a land border with them. Yet the Americans very often can’t access good curries and Indian food because they don’t have the same cultural affiliations with the sub-continent as we do in the UK. I always think the eye-rolling about Mexican food in the UK is a tad affected, even if you are pointing out that mediocre Tex Mex dominates here.

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