It’s Fright Night (& Dim Sum) at Courtesan, Brixton

24 Nov 2017

On the eve of Halloween, there isn’t anywhere more apt to find yourself than a disturbingly decorated Dim Sum restaurant, possessed by the soul of the eponymous spirit.

When I talk about decoration, I don’t mean the cobwebs they put up to celebrate the festival – although they were a nice touch – It’s the blood red shop front, the inside walls dripping with grey paint, the small rickety tables, flickering candles, and the picture of the Courtesan herself on the back wall.

For a Monday evening the restaurant is busy, and the bar staff have their work cut out making cocktails from the extensive list of story-inspired drinks. The Treacherous Heart (£9.90) is an amazingly orchestrated drink, made from plum wine, Gautier cognac, chilli and a red bean that gives it a thickness and a texture of blood – is it worrying that I liked it so very much?

The Courtesan is the kind of place you’ll find yourself looking over your shoulder, waiting for a door to open by itself, a picture to fly off the wall, or a tabletop to be flipped over. Thankfully on this occasion, the only thing to materialise, is food from the kitchen.

First the mushroom puffs (£4.70), a plate of baked pastries sprinkled with sesame seeds, each one stuffed with gooey mushrooms as hot as lava, a great accompaniment to its less calorific cousin, the magical mushroom bags (£5.20), a trio of little steamed parcels that taste better than they look.

Each dish on the table is frighteningly tasty, even the alien of the group, the tortelli al vapore (£5.50) – an Italian ricotta and parmesan dumpling – which is a strange thing to have on a dim sum menu, but then again, the walls looked as if they were crying and there were beans in the cocktails, this obviously isn’t the kind of place to stick to any rules.

The rest of the food is more of a traditional dim sum selection. There is fried teriyaki tofu (£5.30), each one topped with a teardrop of strong Japanese teriyaki sauce, adding a delightful burst of flavour against the silky texture of the tofu inside its deep fried crust. There are Vegetable roly polys (£4.90), a trio of classic Vegetable spring rolls served with a punchy chilli sauce and to top it all off some spine-chillingly tasty curious Pumpkin Buns (£5.90), flavoured with turmeric and Gujarati spice – these fluffy pillows were the best of the lot.

It was quite horrifying when the food was over, and the only thing to do was reflect on the beautifully absurd surroundings and the sudden absence of customers (I fear I might have scared them away). This cocktail bar/dim-sum restaurant/coven is a far blood curdling scream from what’s ‘in’ right now, but why would you need it when that’s available across the street, down the road, round the back, and at the side too? I think I love the Courtesan for all its quirks, and I even enjoyed the unnerving sense of being watched by someone from beyond the grave, however, there isn’t a chance in hell I’d be there when the lights go out.


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