The popularity of dim sum outside of the Chinatown bubble has been steadily increasing in the last decade thanks in part to the diversification of Londoners’ palates and the rebranding of the offering to appeal to a wider audience. You know it has really hit the big time when you discover gentrified Brixton has one of the coolest, tastiest dim sum parlours in town: Courtesan.
Attention to detail is everything here from the decor to the food to the service. This is a great destination for a date for all sinophiles, lovers of exquisitely-prepared food and imaginative cocktails. You think the owners must have travelled to the Far East extensively to amass a fine collection of oriental antiques for the decor or they must have done very well at local antique fairs. The room is decorated with ornate Chinese umbrellas, meticulously-crafted birdcages and mesmerising wall murals.
The venue is very much a celebration of all things female: they have the first female head dim sum chef in London and they have the world’s first true ‘female’ wine and spirit list, in which the product has been produced or grown exclusively by women.
Their dim sum creations are comparable if not better than the high-end dim sum establishments in the West End, but they are charged at Brixton prices. The first thing to note is their actual menu is much longer than their sample menu online: there are many outstanding, brave and noteworthy options to try. Tortelli al Vapore was an ambitious addition to the menu with Italian ricotta, parsley, egg and Parmesan-filled pouches. It paid homage to the owner’s grandmother’s recipe: it was an unusual texture for a dim sum and would probably have worked if the cheese inside had melted.
Seafood fans are going to rejoice here, especially with options like the trio of dumplings like pinching crab, wasabi king prawn and scallop and shrimp dumplings. Apart from a translucent skin, the ingredients inside were piping hot and fresh.
Vegetarians are also very well looked after here, including dishes like curious pumpkin buns which had exotic Gujarati spices and a heavenly turmeric-flavoured bun. Vegetable cheung fun had unexpected complexity with different textural layers from the beancurd and the slipperiness of the cheung fun. Teriyaki tofu also had a lovely contrast in textures with the silky inner core contrasted with the crunchiness of the exterior and topped with a dash of teriyaki sauce.
Their signature cocktails are named after some of the most stunning women in the history of Chinese culture like Xi Shi. She was reportedly so beautiful that fish forgot how to swim. It had an exciting combination of Brugal rum, Ancienne dry curacao, Prosecco and the best of all soothing chrysanthemum honey.
They also have an eclectic roster of live performance and music on Fridays and Saturdays and they are open until 2 am; so if you need any more excuses to visit Brixton then Courtesan must be high on that list.