Nothing can change the face of a neighbourhood quite like food, for better or for worse. In recent years it is clear that Market Row and Brixton Village have been the places to be for food businesses. But our little gastro-coup is expanding. Atlantic Road saw the arrival of Brindisa and will be shortly welcoming Wahaca, and Coldharbour Lane is now the home of Three Eight Four, a self-described “small plates and cocktail bar.”
Sandwiched between a printers and a chicken shop, Three Eight Four is the latest venture from Jonny Rushton and Liam Brown, the gents behind Seven at Brixton. It is also the newest, coolest thing to hit Brixton. In the full spirit of this column, I wholly acknowledge that I made assumptions prior to going. I assumed it was going to be buzzing. I assumed it was going to loud. I assumed it was going to be übercool. I assumed I was going to hate it.
I scored a reservation and a babysitter for a Friday night, throwing my husband and I deep into a world so often frequented by childless wonders all over this city. Three Eight Four was indeed loud and buzzing – the excitement for the weekend was intoxicating. A nice waitress showed us to the end of a line of matchbox-sized tables, where we sat down on reclaimed bus seats, trying to avoid bumping elbows with the couple to our left. The menu was typed out on lined paper inside a pastel A5 folder that looked like it should have held my homework in 1987. One side was small plates, the other cocktails. We ordered a rather rude sounding cocktail, Four in the Pink, and another called Tart’n Tide and decided to eat a Reuben slider, ‘nduja, ricotta and quail’s egg, salt and pepper squid, a burrata and heirloom tomato salad, a rosemary baguette and some sweet potato fries. On (lined) paper, it sounded amazing.
Water was brought in a carafe, with glasses no larger than shot glasses, a small jar of chipotle mayonnaise (“This goes well with most of our food”), and odd little napkin and cutlery wallets, stamped with ‘384’ just in case we had forgotten where we were. Drinks arrived: the Tart’n Tide was delicious. Smoky Auchentoshen whiskey mixed with citrus and sweet from the lemon and honey was served with a hunk of ice wrapped in seaweed. What can only be described as a cocktail for a Barbie doll, Four in the Pink was cloyingly disappointing. I had hoped for a little more bitterness with its addition of Campari, lemon and peach bitters, promising contrast from the sweet Amaretto and Cointreau. Served with a girly Loveheart on top, the drink was frothy and cheek-suckingly sweet. I could almost hear it giggle.
Food began to arrive, and we played a constant game of crockery chess on our tiny table to make room for everything. The rosemary bread, served (literally and metaphorically) on a ping-pong mallet lacked any real flavour; the burrata and heirloom tomato salad was equally bland, despite the beautifully creamy burrata and the fresh tomatoes – the dish would have shone if it had been seasoned properly. The ‘nduja, ricotta and quail’s egg was served on toasted bread, the egg fried nice and wobbly, the ricotta mixed with a hint of honey. It was a decent stab at a happy combination of tastes and textures, though I thought the honey unnecessary. The salt and pepper squid was underwhelming, under seasoned and a few pieces were worryingly undercooked. The Reuben slider was fantastic. Meaty pastrami was beautifully paired with a rich Dijon mustard, nutty Emmenthal, and sauerkraut thick with the taste of juniper. The sweet potato fries were excellent dippers for the equally excellent chipotle mayonnaise.
The thing is, Three Eight Four seems to be caught in a huge identity crisis. It is trying very, very hard to be cool. The interior is a pastiche of hipster bars and restaurants from Soho to Shoreditch from the last four years with its exposed brickwork, industrial lighting, reclaimed furniture, and its ridiculous serving apparatuses and miniature glassware; the exterior desperately wants to be Spuntino, and this schizophrenic atmosphere leaves the visitor constantly distracted by the next gimmick to arrive at his table. I don’t want my food served on a ping-pong mallet; a small plate would do just fine.
Dinner for two including cocktails and service £43
Lindsay blogs at blondevsbland.com