16 June 2014

Saturday Night at Brixton Market

After watching Greece — my World Cup team in our office sweepstakes — under-perform on Saturday afternoon, I was in need of some serious commiseration. I was with some friends near Brixton and everyone was surprised to hear that I had never been to Brixton Market, so off we went. Don't get me wrong: I've been meaning to go for years, and had Honest Burgers not opened up in central London, I probably would have gone sooner, but Brixton is a pain to get to from Bermondsey and I had never quite got round to it.

We were expecting the market to be rammed on a warm Saturday evening, but everyone must have still been in the pub as it was just pleasantly bustling. Inside the market, there are numerous restaurants, with cuisines from more countries than are represented by those in the World Cup group stages. There were many tempting options, but my eye was caught by a Japanese restaurant called Okan, which specialises in okonomiyaki — the tasty grill-it-yourself savoury pancakes from the Osaka and Hiroshima regions of Japan, which I enjoyed recently while in Hiroshima.

We started with a bottle of sake, served in a beautiful ceramic bottle with matching cups. We shared a starter platter, which included some edamame, kimchi, fried aubergine and tofu salad. The edamame were so moreish, we ordered another portion.

Okonomiyaki means "grilled as you like" and there are a huge variety of toppings for the pancake batter base, from tofu to fish and meat. I went for the prawn version, and they throw some cabbage, egg, brown sauce and seaweed flakes on top. Although at £7.25, it was slightly more expensive than the okonomiyaki I had in Hiroshima, it tasted just as good. We didn't get to sit at the grill and make our own, but it was a hot evening, so it was probably more pleasant to sit and people-watch in the market instead. The sake was £10 for the bottle, and was a refreshing and reasonably priced complement to the meal. I even managed to practice a little bit of Japanese, which is always nice.

We had a couple of hours before football part two, so we went to a casual but cool and intimate cocktail and tapas bar called Seven at Brixton. The decor inside is great: colour-coded bookshelves, suitcases as shelves for spirits and funky lighting. It was quite dark inside and as I only had my iPhone with me, my photos aren't great.

The best thing about Seven is that most cocktails are only £5. Yes, five pounds (or 5 lb, as it says on the menu). They are all creative, expertly mixed and well-presented too, so it's quite the bargain. I was going to have a ginger beer and basil mojito but when they offered to make me a raspberry-mint one instead, how could I say no? I was slightly jealous of my friend's Hemingway & Sons Daiquiri, which was served in an upcycled medicine bottle. The Bitter End — short, sharp and sweet — was also great.

As usual, I tried to go for something different for my second cocktail, and in the end, I decided on the Buffalo Passion, which involves Buffalo Trace bourbon, Licor 43 (a citrusy Spanish liqueur), lemon and passionfruit juice. I wasn't quite sure that bourbon and passionfruit would work together, but the fruity tartness of the latter complemented the smoky smoothness of the former very well. After a series of miscommunications stemming from the similarity of English people's pronunciation of churros and jerez, we eventually ended up with some delicious churros for pudding. What a great place!

Then it was time to find a pub with a big TV screen for more football-related disappointment. I left, though, vowing to come back to Brixton Market again soon to try out some of the other food and drink offerings. If only TFL would improve the transport links between south London's two best foodie destinations beginning with B!

Okan. Unit 39, Brixton Village Market, Brixton, London, SW9 8PS (Tube: Brixton). Website. Twitter.

Seven at Brixton. Unit 7, Market Row, Brixton, London, SW9 8LB (Tube: Brixton). Website. Twitter.

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