Eastern Promise: Courtesan review

Nick Buglione gets his parcelforce on.

Courtesan on Atlantic Road has been one of Brixton’s dim sum emporia for a while. But it’s had a bit of a makeover to become a revamped dim sum restaurant, tea room, cocktail bar and late night entertainment space with burlesque, cabaret, live jazz and DJs.

It’s one of Brixton’s more elegant dining rooms. Not everywhere should be industrial fittings, distressed walls and beards.

I like the dark wood, louche, candlelit, elegantly classic opium den speakeasy 1920s style. Dare I say it … imagining kimono-clad porcelain beauties and colonial Shanghai cocktail bar indulgences – with a suitably luxe cocktail list. I went classic Bombay Sapphire gin fizz, for my female companion (err, my wife), the signature Courtesan, a sultry concoction of morello cherry, cherry liqueur, Finlandia vodka and prosecco.

I’m an occasional disciple of Royal China’s dim sum and, as Greg Wallace booms every 10 seconds on Masterchef: “there is nowhere to hide” with dim sum. Buns must be effortlessly fluffy, batter infinitely crisp, dumplings that melt in the mouth – and that’s before we even get to the packed flavour within their walls. You might not want to do this if you are on a budget – but we rakishly plundered.

Dim sum is one of the few cuisines which should come out of the kitchen in regular staggered delivery (and please, as many of Brixton’s homage to tapas and tasting plates don’t seem to get – not all at once). So we welcome a leisurely procession of frogs legs – deep fried and dusted with chilli, soft shell crab in light batter with Szechuan spice and Japanese mayo, and an array of dumplings and buns.

While nodding to the established cliché that frogs legs taste like chicken, the petite limbs worked fine in light crispy batter, the soft shell crab excellent (delicate crab should never be lost in the coating). And then on to the basket cases. King prawn and bean curd cheung fun (think Chinese ravioli, sort of) possibly won’t replace the roast pork version as my favourite, but I could eat the scallop and chive dumplings, and the scallop and shrimp dumplings till the rising sun. Flavour packed seafood in delicate steaming bundles. Alongside little fluffy cloud like char sui buns filled with honey barbecued pork.

They even make a nod to Brixton with their jerk chicken parcels amidst a wide ranging menu of dim sum, noodles, baked puffs and bao buns that we have hardly dented.

I say this too often, but, for me, the thrill of street food has somewhat passed and I need an antidote to a constant diet of dirty burgers, buttermilk chicken and no reservation policies. Proper food, carefully curated, elegantly presented has a definitive and lasting place in Brixton’s dining panorama.

I am not sure I will often find myself in Courtesan’s late-night basement at ungodly (and babysitter unfriendly) hours and despite the reinvention trimmings, the excellent cocktails and the 1920s back story, in the end, Courtesan is, and mostly should be, all about the homage to a cuisine created over 1,500 years ago in the imperial court of China.

Because you’re worth it … I’m convinced I am.

69-73 Atlantic Road, SW9 8PU | thecourtesan.co.uk | 020 8127 8677