Innovative dim sum in the heart of Brixton
There is an air of mystique as you enter the chambers of The Courtesan. Embellished with China dolls, bird cages and dark wood furnishings, the interior of this alluring venue is certainly a sight to behold. From the ground level, an impressive multi-mirrored staircase leads you down to a secret boudoir that is intended to host private dining sessions or special events. A considerable amount of effort and attention to detail was poured into the design to create a space that embodies the spirit of the courtesans of Ancient China. They were mostly educated and talented young women of noble birth who lost their wealth due to misfortune. Determined to remain amongst the privileged circles, they cultivated their skills in music, poetry, painting and calligraphy to entertain their esteemed clientele. The dimly lit rooms and ornate décor of this Brixton-based eatery elicits a seductive charm that is reminiscent of those elegant yet mysterious courtesans.
As enchanting as the surroundings are, don’t let it take your attention away from the food. The Courtesan specializes in dim sum with a creative twist. Although widely accepted as part of Cantonese cuisine, Dim Sum originated in Northern China hundreds of years ago and they were created specifically for the Emperor. Dim Sum’s literal meaning is ‘to touch the heart’ and they are dainty little plates of delicacies for the Emperor’s enjoyment. These delicious dishes eventually became popular amongst tea houses and the food was enjoyed by the rich and poor. It is worth noting that the restaurant’s head chef is one of the few female dim sum chefs in the country. The restaurant also boasts the world’s first-ever ‘female’ spirits and wine list, which means that every item is either produced or grown exclusively by women.
The Courtesan serves up an interesting array of fusion dim sum, which is a treat for the more adventurous eaters amongst us. In keeping with the tradition of sharing food in Chinese culture, we ordered a variety of dishes between us. We started with one of the more conventional dim sum dishes, Char Siu Puffs. For those of you who are unfamiliar with char siu, its literal Chinese translation reads as ‘fork roast’. The phrase refers to the traditional method of roasting pork by skewering the meat on a long fork. Often seasoned with ingredients such as honey, five-spice powder, soya sauce, and hoisin sauce, char siu is a staple dish in Cantonese cuisine. Pocketed in a light and crisp egg-glazed puff pastry topped with sesame seeds, Courtesan’s char siu puffs were heaven in a mouthful. The meat was sweetened with honey and cooked to tender perfection.
We then tried the King Prawn Beancurd Cheung Fun, which came highly recommended by Hammant Patel Villa, owner of The Courtesan. Another widely popular dish in dim sum joints, cheung fun translates as ‘intestine noodle’. Do not let its unappetizing name put you off because the dish does not have anything to do with intestines other than the fact that its appearance resembles pig intestines. Cheung fun is made with rice noodle sheets to form a roll. The Courtesan offers a selection of fillings, including roast pork, king prawns and vegetables with beancurd. You can instantly tell whether a plate of cheung fun is any good by the looks of the rice noodle. Our cheung fun dish had all the signs of an excellent roll, the outer layer was silky smooth and slightly transparent to reveal the fillings inside. The freshness of the king prawns was complimented by the crunchy texture of the beancurd sheets.
Next, we moved on to the less conventional dishes, starting with the Curious Pumpkin Buns. These mouthwatering buns were inspired by Hammant’s Gujurati heritage. Soft and fluffy, the dough was steamed to perfection and the turmeric gave the buns a lovely yellowish sheen. The spiced pumpkin filling has a subtle sweet flavour and melts in the mouth. All in all, they make a very convincing alternative to Chinese lotus seed buns. We then tried to Tortelli al Vapore, another wonderful fusion of ingredients. On the outside, they look like your typical steamed dumplings but they are in fact filled with Italian ricotta, parsley, egg and parmesan. Although pasta is a fundamental ingredient in Italian cuisine, there is a popular belief that Marco Polo introduced noodles from China to Italy in the 13th century, which evolved into the pasta we know and love today. This unique dim sum combines authentic Italian ingredients with Chinese style pastry to give us an idea of what the first Italian tortellini might have tasted like!
Some other highlights of the meal included Black Hart Dumplings, Deep Fried Seabass and Hot Frogs Legs. To complete the meal, make sure you order one of The Courtesan’s specially crafted cocktails that are named after some of the most renowned courtesans in history. The intimate and exquisite décor of the restaurant coupled with its innovative dim sum menu make The Courtesan one of a kind in London. It also hosts a range of exciting events on weekends, find out more on their website!
69 Atlantic Road,