The evolution over the last few years of Brixton’s covered market, from virtually derelict units to bustling maze of temptation, has been well documented. Rightly so. The ‘Brixton Village’ arcade alone is a pretty inspiring mix of cultures and offers quite a choice. Well publicised places like Brixton Cornercopia, Honest Burgers, Mama Lans, Elephant, KaoSarn, Federation Coffee and French and Grace are crammed in with others like Etta’s Seafood Kitchen, the Agile Rabbit and many more that I’ve noticed, but never noted, whilst wandering round. The options are many and it would take take a few dedicated weeks to try them all.
Decisions on where to eat are complicated further by the fact the arcade on the ‘Market Row’ side of the Atlantic Road is also buzzing now.
Back when I was in short shorts and prep school cap (a fancy dress party, early 2008) Market Row was basically just Rosie’s Deli, Franco Manca, miscellaneous traders and empty shops. It stayed that way for a while whilst the Village side began to be populated. Today, however, the Row is bursting with options too. I hadn’t been back for an age until I visited in December, and the only thing more surprising than the number of places to eat that there now are was that they all appear to be full. I won’t name bore further, but suffice to say pretty much every place appeared to share the characteristics of their cousins from the Brixton Village arcade: small; resourceful; enterprising; simple by necessity; great value; and charming.
The main reason for my visit, and the newest opening on Market Row, ticks all of those Brixton boxes.
At the end of last year, Cannon and Cannon, a deli selling British charcuterie and cheeses, made the room above its shop into a restaurant cum dining room called Salon. Have space in popular area, will use.
The room is fairly make-shift, with reclaimed tables and chairs, bare wood and basic heaters (you know the drill). Even the name is recycled: based on the hair salon that used to occupy the space. It has a very small and limited kitchen that serves supper club style set menus in the evenings, with lunch options derived from the ingredients used in those menus and often highlighting the produce from the deli below.
The chef, Nick Balfe, is well used to producing the goods from small, sometimes temporary kitchens and serving it to customers sitting on second-hand chairs: he headed the kitchen at the Brunswick House Cafe, and also worked with the Young Turks at the Ten Bells and on the roof at Franks in Peckham. Those influences are fairly obvious in the food, which is necessarily simple and uncomplicated, but smart in ethos, concept and delivery.
The supper club set menu format is in part a response to the limits of the kitchen. There’s really not room to cook or store much more than those four courses. But this allows Nick to pick and choose a small number of top quality, seasonal ingredients for his menu on a weekly basis, tinkering and adding on a daily basis to make sure everything works.
My meal before Christmas was good. Totally unfussy and well balanced, quite restrained, but bang on the money for flavour and value.
The first course was a finger snack, really. Warm chestnuts, dressed with thyme and oil and topped with lardo and a thin mandolined slice of apple. They might have been easier to eat if the chestnuts and apples had been halved, but they were still delicious. A cracking combination and a warming start. The next course was possibly my favourite – sweet, charred sprout tops, sprinkled with anchovy and breadcrumbs and paired with bay infused ricotta. The dish demonstrated the kitchen’s intention to serve interesting, top quality produce, pimped by a bit of home-made ingenuity.
The focus of the main course were flavoursome slices of venison, trimmed from the haunch of a fallow deer to resemble a loin. Pan roasted to a blushing pink, the meat was served with a proper winter warmer jus, cut through by slices of pickled walnut, and served on dices of parsley root cooked down to something between a mash and a puree (and like the chestnuts and lardo, very Young Turkish). Again it was simple, but consciously so. I like the restraint in Nick’s cooking. Most dishes are built on a pleasing triptych of ingredients or flavour and served with style but without pretension; anything more showy wouldn’t suit the room or the price point.
We finished with poached Conference pears, a healthy dollop of creme fraiche and an unhealthy dollop of a killer chocolate mousse, baked so there was a crust. All good and well matched to the rest of the menu.
The menu will change, but I’m sure it will remain tempting. I’ve seen mention of pheasant, celeriac and pine, smoked mutton and pickled carrots, and razor clams and sobrasada. Which, at the very least, sound right up my street.
Salon fits in very well with its neighbours. The food is perhaps a bit more polished and structured than some of the other options, but it’s not flashy, nor does it try to break new ground, rather it remains true to the resourceful characteristics that make the area extremely endearing. So, jeez, there’s another place to add to the list of places to choose from in the arcades of Brixton Market.
Salon in 3 words
Simple. Seasonal. Brixtish.
The evening menu is £29 for four courses. Drinks are very reasonably priced. Lunch options are of similarly good value.
salonbrixton.co.uk – 18 Market Row, Brixton, SW9 8LD – 020 7501 9152