By Nikki Griffiths
The most promising early indicator of a good restaurant is a simple and seasonal menu. And in the spring, simple cooking can shine its brightest. With the best lamb of the year and some of the tastiest, ripest greens, chefs can be confident in their ingredients with no need to overcomplicate. The result, if done well, is something elegant, grown up and delicious.
So imagine my delight when I read a host of springtime pickings from a six-line menu, as I sat down to dinner at Blue Jay. Owned by chef Sherri, Blue Jay has just celebrated one year in residency at Cornercopia inside Brixton Village.
Sherri takes great pride in her “baby” Blue Jay and does it all for the love of feeding people good food, which they enjoy. She’s usually found happily cooking in the kitchen, leaving the front of house in some very capable hands. We visited Blue Jay on a busy Saturday night (we were able to secure a booking – a rarity in Brixton) and were greeted by just one lady tending to all the customers. I didn’t catch her name, but so lovely and enthusiastic was she that I actually assumed her to be the owner. Her energy was quite infectious and she was a joy to spend the evening with, displaying a huge amount of passion for Blue Jay.
The space itself is made up of a handful of tables around the edge of the unit and a couple of bar stools for perching on inside. Reclaimed wooden furniture is topped with jugs of pussy willow and wine is served in a jumble of glass beakers. Speaking of the wine – there’s just one red and one white, chosen by Sherri and the team. Both were pleasant enough, although they weren’t necessarily the grape I’d choose – the red much fruitier and lighter than my preference. Bottles of prosecco are also available and the table next to us seemed to be enjoying those thoroughly. The stocked bottled beer is from local brewer London Beer Lab. Out of three options we tried the one described to us as tropical, which tasted just that – a deliciously citrussy IPA.
Sherri’s menu perfectly encapsulates simple springtime. What’s more, all her ingredients are sourced locally including fish from inside Brixton Village and meat from local hero Jones, the Butcher.
After taking my first bite, I already knew it was going to be a good evening. My crispy lamb shoulder with anchovy and green sauce was sublime – juicy shreds of lamb topped with an intense wild garlic pesto with salty notes of the sea. Alongside it the supple, smoked haddock with a gentle curry butter and topped with lentils and roasted whole cherry tomatoes was the perfect balance of earthy and fresh.
Onto mains, I’d ordered a whole sea bass which came expertly cooked on top of soft leeks, entangled with masses of dill and served with yogurt and sumac (a tangy, lemony Middle Eastern spice). This dish to me sums up everything great about uncomplicated, speaks-for-itself food and the often underrated skill of combining just a few ingredients to achieve an amazing output. In fact, Sherri’s cooking and her combinations remind me a lot of Ducksoup, one of my favourite Soho haunts well known for getting this style just right.
Our second main was the most tender braised beef short rib, served on top of a cauliflower almost-purée (it had better texture than a purée) and mushrooms. Another clever combination by Sherri mixing one of the most savoury, rich meats with the mild nuttiness of a classic vegetable.
Neither of us were ready to call it a night just yet and so had a listen to the dessert menu. Sherri cooks up two changeable desserts per night, plus there’s the option of a cheese board. After a short deliberation, we decided to share a slice of the rhubarb yogurt cake. I have craved it every day since. My goodness – the sourness of the yoghurt, amplified by the tangy rhubarb but then tamed by the sweetness of the super-light sponge is something I can’t forget and can’t wait to taste again.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a really big fan of Sherri and her baby. It’s certainly on-par with some of the best cooking there is in Brixton, if not further afield, and I for one hope that Blue Jay’s residency at Cornercopia is sticking around a while longer.