All words: Brittany Martin
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
Stepping inside from the hot, sunny day, Brixton is immediately inviting. Cool and dark and dimly-lit by old-fashioned light-bulbs and faux-candlesticks. As two somewhat-Anglophilic ladies with family in the U.K. who both list The Clash among our favorite bands on Facebook, we instantly recognized this as a place for People Like Us. We settled in for brunch on the first level of the enormous three-level destination – and, despite being among the first seating of the first official day after a long, very-hyped wait to open, the staff seemed calm, cheerful, and fully-prepared.
That confidence is little surprise, perhaps, as this is hardly the team’s first opening; the Eric Hilton-helmed operation already has several hugely-successful operations to their name. Brixton is not a complete departure from the formula which has already worked for them elsewhere. It is particularly similar in look and concept to the (still fairly new) Chez Billy in Petworth – but where that spot has a French bistro theme, Brixton is inspired by a classic English pub.
Not a strictly traditional pub, however. While the interior of the place is all wood, shiny brass beer taps, and perfect leather sofas, and the playlist consisted entirely of Bowie, Kinks, and other British rockers, the menu is still modern and innovative. We loved an eggs benedict dish which starred salmon pastrami, which delivered a smoky flavor similar to lox but in a hot, torn morsel sort of texture which worked beautifully with the soft egg and light touch of basil hollandaise.
We sipped on a shandy – a classic English summer refreshment (ours was made with Devil’s Backbone Lager and Fentiman’s Lemonade, though several options are available to customize) – which turned out to be a perfect brunch drink. Light and zippy like a mimosa, but less thick, and served in a big, full pint glass. Imperial Tonic, an original cocktail mixing gin with “safari cordial” might be a bit boozy for the first drink of the day (despite the name, this drink is served up, no tonic water involved), but was fresh and tasty and worth making a special trip to enjoy as a sundowner in safari style.
Modern, gasto-pub leanings aside, there might have been a small riot if there were no fish and chips on the menu – and they make some of the best we have had in town. The cod is moist and flaky, inside a crispy tempura-style fried shell which was light, crunchy, and far less greasy than the usual chippy. The chips themselves were giant wedges of potato – each fry must have been a quarter of a potato in itself – which insured lots of fluffy, potato-y interior in each soft bite. Alongside was a pale-pink, slightly-sweet sauce to dip all the fried foods in, which harmonized nicely (but was not the curry sauce of Stephanie’s dreams, which she strongly suggests they look in to developing).
At brunch, the fish and chips is accompanied by a bowl of mushy peas which, when they arrived at the table (a bit after the rest of the food) were perhaps the only off-note of the meal. The peas were not bad, but they were more firm than the expected mushy and could have used a slightly different seasoning to really make them shine.
For a sweeter brunch option, the sticky toffee French toast was amazing. The outer crust of the bread was firm, but the inside was a warm custardy texture, soaked with sweet toffee flavor but not actually sticky and, miraculously, not overwhelmingly sweet. A three-slice portion eaten in its entirety might be a bit much for all but the sweetest of tooths, but a few bites made for a lovely shared dessert after our more savory dishes. French toast can be such a throw-away dish on a brunch menu – too dry or just too boring – but this version is truly delicious.
Brunch can be a hard meal to get right at some places, but Brixton has proved they do it well, from their very first day. They take the perfect all-day neighborhood pub and elevate it (though manage to keep the price point very moderate). The biggest risk you face making brunch plans here is that, after the meal, you and your friends will want to linger over beers or cocktails well into the afternoon.