Brixton offers one of London’s most exciting and eclectic food scenes. The main hub of restaurants is to be found in Brixton Village and Market Row, but there are plenty of other great places to try further afield. Here’s a guide to the best of them…
In the Village
If Salon was my local restaurant, I’d be broke. Not because it’s wildly expensive (in fact it’s very good value) but because it demands repeat visits. There’s one menu – offering either four or seven courses – and it changes monthly, with weekly tweaks. When I visited in spring, octopus with monk’s beard and rhubarb sorbet were the order of the day (plus house nduja croquettes). The chirpy team of staff all seem to have eaten at Salon and have come to work there as a result. Surely a good sign.
This is recommended by one of the co-owners of Salon and numerous other friends, and it’s not just pork on offer as the name might suggest. Naughty Piglets is a small plates bistro with a basement bar open for snacks and drinks. Like Salon, its menu changes seasonally and offers up intriguing combinations. Don’t forget to book a table as it gets full fast. There’s a new iteration of it in Victoria, too.
It’s the dumplings that people sing the praises of at Mamalan – all homemade in the tiny kitchen. It grew out of a supper club after owner Beijing-born Ning Ma quit her job in private equity to improve the reputation of north Chinese food in London. The food is quick to come and you can watch the chefs rolling the dough or stirring the (very good) beef broth as you eat.
The tiny KaoSarn holds about 20 people and serves up bowlfuls of fragrant Thai food: larb salad, rich Massaman and plenty more. It’s such a small operation that it doesn’t have its own website. When it opened in 2011 was one of those places that gave you the satisfaction of feeling you’d made a secret find. These days it’s reputation is out but the food is still as good. You’d have to try hard to spend more than £20 a head. Stop by a wine shop beforehand for drinks.
Fish, Wings & Tings
This is a good place to find on a rainy day. It’s bright, fun and will serve you up plenty of jerk chicken, rice and peas and roti – plus cans of Ting. Chef Brian Danclair has Trinidadian heritage by way of Washington DC. It’s not spacious inside but that adds to the homespun vibe. Presentation isn’t everything but the flavours – particularly of the homemade sauces – are punchy.
A little further
Hope & Anchor
The zany Hope & Anchor (think traditional pub gone rogue with neon lighting and kitschy mid-century furniture) has a fun atmosphere. The sharing platters are enormous – even the pigs in blankets seem super-sized – but it’s good pub grub to soak up your pints. Make sure you poke your head into the equally enormous garden. It has a firepit in winter and beach shacks when the sun’s out.
Garlicky prawns, salt cod and very brava patatas make Boqueria one of London’s most satisfying tapas joints. Wooden floors, scrape-back chairs and plenty of chatter are reminiscent of the Boqueria market in Barcelona (the hometown of its owner), which is its namesake. It is quite far from Brixton village itself down Acre Lane but it’s good value and tasty. The cured meats alone are worth the trip.
It may not look much from the outside but if you’re in search of something different, Asmara makes for a fun food adventure. It’s Eritrean (named after the country’s capital) and well worth trying to get your tongue around the dish names (Alich Fitfit, anyone?). Roundly spiced curry-type dishes are served on injera, spongy pancakes. Takes tear and share to a new level. The honey wine is recommended as is the knock-your-socks-off coffee.
Brixton’s only Algerian restaurant is cosy, mighty affordable and lined with coloured cushions. The menu offers very good merguez and rich, fruity tagines. The mezze starter (£12) is more than worth the money and – unless you decide to go with their homemade juices – it’s BYOB (£2 corkage). Don’t miss the home-baked bread.
Nanban in Coldharbour Lane was opened in 2015 by Masterchef winner Tim Anderson, who won by pulling off some innovative sliders, among other experimental dishes. He calls the Nanban menu ‘Japanese soul food’ and makes the most of the produce from Brixton Market. There’s everything from ramen to izakaya-style small plates and even Hawaiian poke. Japanese purists might be shocked but the food is good, well-priced and comes with a strong list of craft beers.
A little way out and up Brixton Hill you’ll find The Clink. It is in a prison. The Clink opened in 2014 inside a Category C prison and is manned entirely by serving prisoners as part of their rehabilitation. The environs are atmospheric enough but the food is the star of the show. The inmates are trained to Michelin standards and serve up terrines, pies and pleasingly rich fondants. No alcohol is served as it’s banned on premises, but it rates higher than Le Gavroche on TripAdvisor.
Pop Brixton is a community based organisation that has turned disused land behind Brixton station into a temporary spot for start-ups, makers, designers, social enterprises and heaps of pop up restaurants. Here are some of the best…
Smoke & Salt
The narrow, wood-lined Smoke & Salt runs a small menu of things that are grilled, smoked and crisped – all delicious. It’s all very on trend (seasonal larder, barbecue flavours, a hipster Scandi vibe) but is deserving of the hype.
Koi Ramen arrived at Pop Brixton in 2015 in the early days of the ramen trend. Just as you might expect in a backstreet Tokyo restaurant the menu isn’t big. It’s been perfected though. The tonkotsu is a hit: rich smoky pork in a sweet cloudy umami broth.
28 Well Hung
There is, surprisingly, a veggie option at this place but the main attraction is the steak, either in sandwich form or straight. The beef is from traditional British breeds. The team are the people behind the Southbank food traders Ladle & Skillet so they know what they’re doing and make all their sauces from scratch.
One of many good places to seek out jerk chicken (see also Bamboula and Negril). The recipe for the jerk, which features on pretty much every plate, was the recipe of owner Adrian Luckie’s grandmother back in Mandeville in Jamaica. It’s fiery stuff but has all the smoky deliciousness you’d hope for.
Duck Duck Goose
One of the newer arrivals to Pop Brixton, Duck Duck Goose is a Cantonese pop up that’s spartan, clean and based upon the roast meat stalls of Hong Kong. The duck is unctuous and sticky, but you’re after something fresh its the steamed bream that stands out. Start with the prawn toast.
Made of Dough
The team at this pizza pop up ferment their dough for 60 hours before stretching it into lean sour bases. It’s been voted best pizza in London a number of times. Toppings are straightforward and high quality: Brindisa chorizo, Serrano ham from Girona, white truffle oil – and none cost more than a tenner.
Best of the rest
The original restaurant of this sourdough pizza chain. Reliably tasty and very affordable (pizzas start at £4.95), even if its competitors are beginning to look more exciting.
Squeeze into this family-run Brixton Village restuarant for tacos, tostadas and tart margaritas. The mole sauce is particularly good.
A happily hipster type of coffee shop in Brixton Market with bespoke blends and a rotating guest option. It’s a good spot for breakfast pastries or avo on toast – or to hit a sweet spot come cake o’clock.
This unassuming Pakistani place serves a tiny menu (thali or curry) oozing sweet and spicy flavours – and spot on homemade samosas. The open frontage means you will need to wrap up on cooler nights.
If you haven’t tried okonomiyaki – the savoury Japanese pancake smothered in sweet sauce – you should. And in London, this is where. Moto Priestman, the Osaka-born founder, has been serving this dish in the city since 2002.
You’ve got to stand out to be a pizza restaurant and name aside, Agile Rabbit does have its own style: calzones that you can mix and match, a long, straightforward list of pizzas and live music that thrums out of the place on Thursdays.