By Hannah Crump
I spent the first hour of my afternoon at Gremio de Brixton in a deep conversation about ‘the best beer in the world’ with a lovely and very tipsy group of locals. I say conversation, what actually happened was I was being told that the best beer ever was the Estrella Inedit white beer that they were drinking right there, right then (and had been doing so all afternoon) from the fridges of Gremio. The beer truly was delicious and the perfect summer tipple, but what pleased me the most was the immediate approachability of the bar and the friendliness of the people hanging out there. I already wanted to extend my afternoon visit into the evening, which incidentally is what I did.
Gremio is a tapas bar tucked inside the deepest darkest depths of the Crypt at St. Matthews Church. The bar launched in March with a discreet party advertised by minimalistic red posters dotted around the local area. Over the past few months, their strong red branding has become more and more recognisable as the bar has built up its reputation, and on my way home last night I was pleased to see that they’ve gone all out and projected a bold and huge red logo on the side of the Church. They want to be noticed and flaunt not only their beautiful bar but their selection of late night DJs, dance classes and tapas menu.
The main bar is dark, intimate, candlelit and similar in its cavernous style to the legendary Gordon’s wine bar on the Embankment. Gremio however is vast and that little bit cooler. It also has a handful of picnic benches on the adjacent green sandwiched in between the hustle of Effra Road and Brixton Hill. It’s the perfect set up to while away the hours and flit from inside to out following the flirtatious routine of the sun.
Just like the world’s biggest Estrella fans, the team at Gremio were upbeat, fun and keen for visitors to have a good time. I spent ages reading menus when I go for dinner and on spotting me at the bar in what must have looked like serious concentration mode, the bar tender sent over a colleague from the kitchen to talk through the menu with me. I went on a Sunday and they had an offer on for 3 tapas dishes for £12, brilliant value considering the dishes ranged from £3-£7 in price.
My housemate and I are big tapas fans and we effortlessly fell into our well rehearsed routine of beer, tapas, beer, break, tapas, beer. On recommendation from the chef, we started with a plate of cured meats (£7) which bought together Teruel ham, Lomo, Iberian Chorizo and Cecina. All were of undeniably good quality, served in generous portions and came with some fresh crusty bread and flavourful olive oil perfect for dipping. In a portion of skewers of pancetta, prawn and octopus (£7), the seafood triumphed with the prawns both fat and juicy and the octopus cooked well until tender. The pancetta however was a huge let down and so fatty that we chewed and chewed until being forced to do that awkward spit into a napkin. It was also drizzled with a promising looking green sauce that actually didn’t taste of much and bought nothing to the plate. Navarro Piquillo peppers stuffed with cod (£5) mostly tasted of salt thanks to the use of salted cod rather than fresh. I wouldn’t have minded if the peppers had been more flavoursome and sweet but they were too bland to pick the dish up and the overall effect was a bit sour.
Time for something a bit heavier and what else could fit the bill but croquettas. I’m a huge croquetta fan (who isn’t?) and was recommended the ham variety over the chicken. The portion of 3 generously sized morsels (£4) was very beautifully presented but each one was overly greasy to the point it made the slate they were served on look unappetisingly shiny. The flavour was good and although the filling was perfectly seasoned, it was gooey like they’d not been properly cooked through. Lightly battered fried squid (£6), another classic, was nice and clearly homemade but suffered from the opposite issue. It hadn’t been cooked at a high enough heat and so the batter was soggy and the squid a little chewy. It also was served with mayonnaise where I would have preferred some fresh lemon or a hint of garlic just to freshen things up. Pinxtos Moronus (£5) was huge chunks of skewered chicken served simply with rocket and some more of the green sauce (turns out it was basil oil). The meat was moist, well seasoned and really tasty and the generous portion was perfect for sharing.
The bill for two which included 6 tapas and 6 beers came to just over £40. For an afternoon well spent in beautiful surroundings and in great company, I thought this was reasonable and I came away forgiving the mistakes made in the food. Next time I go, I’ll look at the place as a bar and stick with the basics; beer and jamon.
Hannah blogs at Crump Eats and Tweets at @crumpeats.