After a lifetime of Brixton based ventures, Pat Forster settles into what he says might be his last. With the support and inspiration of his hugely talented business partners and colleagues, this new spot for comfort food and beer brings a breath of fresh air to a traditional Brixton Market House pastime.
Pat Forster says he stumbled upon the name ‘Karakana’, a word derived from Hindi with roots in Swahili and Persian meaning workshop, whilst discussing the menu experimentations going on in the restaurants kitchen. Designed by Tim Anderson, of Masterchef and Nanban fame, and executive Chef Ravaaj Maharaj and executed by head chef Khilesh, who has previously worked at Cinnamon club, this eclectic menu draws inspiration from Asian, American and South African cuisines. But do not be fooled by the complexity of its origins, what Karakana really does well is Indian canteen style comfort food. The pairings of beers, provided two of the restaurants co-founders and owners of the Brixton Brewery, Jez and Mike, really seal the deal.
The decor in Karakana is also in keeping with this laid back, diner style. Recycled wooden booths and exposed warm bulbs surround a central bar where pints are pulled. Cosy and intimate, it feels like a place without pretension and, as Pat is quick to tell me; ‘We love recycling and I don’t deny that’s it’s fashionable’. The design, he goes on to say; ‘forms part of commitment to maintain it as a club.’ Pat, a walking encyclopaedia of Brixtonian history laughs in the direction of his daughter as he tells me ‘she hates my history’ and says a large part of his motivation to form Karakana came from the lack of an Indian restaurant in Brixton. He tells me that since 1981 there has not been an Indian restaurant here. The passion he feels for this place is clear as he talks me through the buildings iterations including a time when it ‘became a wholesale fish and meat outlet, which was madness.’
Head Chef Khilesh soon appears from the kitchen and the conversation returns to the food which he calls ‘modern progressive Indian.’ This approach to the menu, he tells me, is more fitting their desire for sustainability, which features local and seasonal produce. As well as the Brixton Brewery collaboration, pudding comes from Brighton and Canary wharf based Ice Cream makers; Brass monkey, in Indian inspired flavours of Chai and Saffron. Anderson and Maharaj both brought flavours from the Indian diaspora in South Africa, combined with their signature pan-Asian combinations and the influences of Andersons upbringing in Wisconsin and its large Germanic population. Khilesh, on the other hand, brings a more traditional approach and plans to combine this with fresh and local produce through the addiction of a specials menu. Before leaving, I ask Pat, Khilesh and Tim what their personal menu highlights are:
‘The lamb chops for me.’
‘To start with I definitely will go for the chicken wings as small plate. And I like tandoori stuff, salmon, lamb chop, pork, any off these…’
‘I personally love the samp and beans. This was one of Rivaaj’s dishes, a South African classic made from hominy and rosecoco beans, braised in a lightly spiced tomato-based sauce. The hominy has this amazing, slightly chewy texture, which makes it eat sort of like a really great risotto. That and some roti is all I need.’
Karakana is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm-11am.