By Christina Pickworth
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Barrio Brixton, the latest branch from the group which also has bars in Angel, Soho and Shoreditch. A short walk up Acre Lane and first impressions were good. A warm welcome, a table reserved but the option to sit anywhere we liked, a quick rundown of the happy hour drinks, and the future was looking as bright as the decor, which is very colourful indeed!
Turquoise, yellow and orange dominate the Latin-inspired bar with an unapologetically cheerful festival vibe. Throw in the company of my ace next-door neighbour and another fabulous friend and we were ready to go. It may have only been a Tuesday but when you have small children any night you’re out of the house and there’s a drinks menu is cause for celebration.
In the name of research, I felt I should start with a cocktail from the very appealing drinks list. The Green Grocer, (Beefeater gin, kiwi, coriander, lime, cucumber and sesame seeds) was effectively a gin version of a mojito, with for me, a happy coriander twist. Cool and refreshing, it was the perfect way to kick things off, and went down nicely with the corn chips and guacamole we ordered to nibble on, which were very tasty.
Then, unfortunately, things started to wobble a little off course. The service was very friendly and I always appreciate honest recommendations, but you don’t expect your server to warn you off a dish because everyone usually hates it and sends it back! We were also told that something was very spicy, only for it to arrive without the faintest whiff of heat, whereas another dish actually had me reaching for the tap water (unusual for me when there are proper drinks to be had!) to ease the chilli fierceness.
The Mi Corazon, or aji panca chilli marinated ox heart skewers (the actually hot dish!) were disappointingly tough and chewy as you can probably tell from the photo below. The Nikkei-Cucho, tofu marinated in Amarillo aji chilli sauce was ok, nothing spectacular but not the disaster we’d been told to expect – we’d decided to brave the spice after all!
The Ceviche Rojo or citrus ‘cooked’ fish was lovely, but the highlight in an otherwise slightly disappointing line-up, was the tequenos. Crispy wontons filled with a three cheese mix, burnt spring onions & chipotle chilli jam. They were beautifully crispy and cheesy as promised, and very moreish. I actually could have eaten a bucketful of them.
By this point I’d also moved on to the happy hour white wine, which I have to admit I instantly regretted. Usually I’ll drink pretty much anything (I really will) but this wasn’t that nice, and in my view way over-priced (£20 a bottle) outside of happy hour. Later I had some of the Rioja, which was much better, but sadly not part of the happy hour deal.
Perhaps I’ve been spoilt with my last few Brixton eating/drinking experiences (Naughty Piglets, Kricket, Salon) but with so many great places to eat and drink in Brixton I think Barrio needs to up its game a little. I imagine really they are aiming for the weekend drinking crowd and if a fun venue with good cocktails is what you’re after then this could well be just the ticket.
I’m sure 10 years ago it’s exactly the sort of place I would have been happy to toddle along to (after necking a bottle of gin, obviously) in search of a lively Saturday night, and perhaps a boy to kiss! That is presuming they are quick at the cocktail making when it’s busy, and that it is indeed lively at other times – a dead Tuesday night probably isn’t the best barometer for that.
The Happy Hour (every day until 9pm and all day Sunday and Monday) is definitely a good way to get the party started, with cocktails £5.50, Sagres £3.50 and house wine £5 off a bottle (although perhaps steer clear of the white), and I would go back for beers and tequenos. I feel bad at not being able to give a glowing review, especially when Barrio did seem to be trying so hard, but I think, unfortunately, it isn’t yet quite living up to its own expectations.
Our bill was £115.65 for 3 bottles of wine (and one extra glass), two cocktails, and five dishes.
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