Brixton Village used to be a forgotten corner of the market, depopulated and unloved, until 18 months ago when the spacemakers project started persuading artists, philosophers, foodies and other madmen into the once empty units. Fast forward to March 2011, and it’s crammed full of interesting new eateries and shops, and in danger of becoming almost painfully trendy – albeit still with that typical Brixton grittiness. Some of the experiments have failed, others have prospered. Ian Riley and Anne Fairbrother’s imaginative take on a truly local corner shop and bistro (most produce is sourced from the market) is definitely one of the survivors, having been there since the start of the project.
Brixton Cornercopia seems to go from strength to strength every time I visit – what started as Saturday lunch at a few ramshackle tables outside the shop has now blossomed into a 30 cover restaurant with a charming dining room (complete with wood burning stove). Ian is one of those rare chefs who can take almost any set of ingredients and weave some magic to render them delicious and exciting. He seems to understand innately how to do just enough to the raw materials to show them in their best and freshest light, whilst never crowding the plate with unnecessary flavours or filigree. This Saturday, we particularly enthused about a creamy cauliflower and blue cheese soup, the pea and mint frittata (so fresh tasting), and a divine piece of Cornish brill: perfectly crisped skin offset nicely by anchovy, pea shoots and a kind of salsa verde. In conclusion, the egg custard accompanying the rhubarb desert was thrillingly spiced and utterly delectable.
To wash it all down, we tried the newly available Gribble Bridge Ortega Dry 2009 from Biddenden vineyard in Kent. I’m always keen to give English wines a try, although some are still “work in progress”. Happily, Gribble Bridge is fully formed – Ortega can be fairly dull when grown on its home territory in Germany, but our slightly cooler climate seems to allow it to express its florality better. This was a fine example, a nicely balanced mouthful of gooseberry/green-gauge scented fruit and plenty of the trademark Ortega floral notes, with none of the thinness that can sometimes plague our native wines. It’s also very well priced at only £12 in the restaurant, and a few pennies under £9 retail. Many English wines are produced in such tiny quantities that prices can be a little out of perspective with the ambitions of what’s in the bottle.
Talking of price, Brixton Cornercopia is also some bargain (three courses with wine, around £25). The cooking really is first rate, punching far above its weight. And who cannot love an establishment where the chef and co-owner pops into the dining room to have an impromptu rant every now and then? It’s all part of Cornercopia’s complete lack of pretension and unnecessary airs and graces. Did somebody say “Brixton”?