By Lindsay Harrison
Café Max, 18 Brixton Station Road, SW9 8PD
Tucked into the arches, Café Max is run by a warm and gracious Portuguese family who have watched Brixton’s evolution over ten years.
I asked the proprietress what she’d suggest for a true Portuguese breakfast. She smiled and said traditionally, it was a ham and cheese sandwich, and a cup a coffee. Perfect.
An enormous sandwich and a latte arrived at my table, and I ate while watching a steady stream of patrons coming in and out, necking espresso at the bar, or stopping for a chat with someone they knew. These people are locals in the true sense of the word; they’ve been here in good times and in bad and they will likely be here when hipsters decide that Brixton isn’t cool anymore. Though the owners feel that the changes that have occurred in Brixton are only for the better.
The sandwich didn’t blow my mind, but I didn’t much expect it to. However, the coffee was great and of course, what I was most interested in were the wonderful delights residing in the pastry case.
She gave me a pasteis de nata (custard tart) and a bola de bacalao (fried salt cod ball). The bolas, made in-house, consist of mashed potato, salt cod, parsley and garlic, fried. The salt cod gave great flavour to the fluffy, garlicky mash. A couple of those with an ice-cold Sagres would really hit the spot.
The pasteis was also wonderful – creamy custard, its caramelised sugar giving off fantastic brulée after notes; the pastry was flaky and delightfully crunchy. While these are delivered from a local bakery, the proprietress makes the rest of the cakes in-house. An almond tart had just come out the oven. The base was wonderfully light vanilla sponge; the topping sticky, crunchy and lightly toasted slivered almonds.
Café Max really seems to gives off a proper flavour of Brixton, both figuratively and literally. Its patrons mirroring Brixton’s diversity with a mesh of Portuguese, Jamaican, English and now American (me!); the Portuguese food proudly served side-by-side with full Englishes. It made my morning.
£8 for sandwich, coffee, bola, pasteis and almond cake including tip.