Somebody once said that every cuisine of the world is available in London. The staff at the Finnish Embassy disagree. There isn’t a single restaurant in the city that serves the various small fish, pickles, and pâté perched high upon various small breads that seems to be the staple of Finnish cuisine – or so they say. That’s possibly not a disappointment to many, but it should be. While London isn’t wanting for restaurants or choice, certain cuisines are massively over-represented. Italians, for instance, are ten a penny, while a reindeer steak is impossible to find.
Continuing with sweeping generalisations based on research of a rigorous academic standard (i.e. a sample size of ten), Italian restaurants in London fall into one of two categories: pizza emporiums flinging out metres of dough with a passing nod (or not) to an Italian heritage; or Soho basements where C-list celebrities photos adorn the walls, minestrone soup is £7 a cup, and old Italian stereotypes wring their hands and shuffle between dark wooden tables to pour wine nobody asked for.
Casa Sibilla – a small Italian at the centre of Brixton Village – is neither. A lazy writer who’s struggling with a creative block may call it ‘refreshingly different’. And it is. No pizza here and no Don Corleone lookalikes mumbling the specials through a wax moustache and trying to marry off their sons to the female customers. Instead, this is a light, clean space – as light and clean as you can get in Brixton Village – with professional yet seemingly overworked staff, serving large white plates of fine delicate food from a kitchen smaller than a coffee table.
To start, the sharing dish of thinly sliced crisp ciabatta with a selection of pesto was tasty enough for one man to eat alone. A good job too, as my fellow diner was only interested in black coffee and mint tea. The main – pasta with a tomato ragu, chopped sausage, spinach, and sliced raw mushrooms – was fresh, filling, and delicious, even if it did arrive in a bowl reminiscent of a kidney pan. The sausage and ragu adhered to the thick flat strands of pasta that wound around the fork with too much ease, covering the table, floor, and diner in small red flecks. Never wear a white shirt to an Italian. The only disappointment here came from the cold, flavourless cherry tomatoes thrown in the dish at the end. There were enough left on the plate to send a message to the chef; of course the waitress was told that the meal was perfectly fine.
To finish, a large slice of rich, dark chocolate cake. Moist and succulent, it really was something to dribble over. Less so the artwork it sat on. Various sauces and fruits zig-zagged and scattered the plate. Aesthetically pleasing, perhaps; but with a wedge of cake lifted straight from Matilda, only those with the restraint of a monk could tear their eyes from the main attraction. Strangely, the dessert came with two spoons. That really wasn’t necessary, she was fine with that cup of mint tea.
Casa Sibilla is a welcome addition to Brixton Village. Much more of a sit-down restaurant experience than its many street food style neighbours, where meat is piled high, cutlery scarce, and a tacit understanding exists that you should be eating and leaving faster than you can order. The service is a little slow, even during a quiet lunch, and as with all of the Village’s venues space is at a premium, resulting in bashed elbows from passing diners, and frequent requests to stand whenever something is needed from the store beneath the benches. It’s a perfect for a lazy Sunday, where time is definitely not of the essence. The gap between courses allows the bread to settle, freeing up room for an almighty pudding, and the absence of a queue means a coffee can be enjoyed without a feeling of guilt and the heat of the stare from a girl with a clipboard.
Nik Speller blogs at conradsbeer.blogspot.co.uk and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @nikspeller