We check out the green credentials of slow food Brixton Village restaurant Cornercopia…
It’s not always immediately obvious that a restaurant is running with a slow and sustainable ethos. Many in Brixton Village are probably already doing it to some extent if they source their produce from local sellers. Yet they don’t always shout about it.
Cornercopia is known for its beautiful homeware shop and larder where it sells jams made in South London, chutneys made from ingredients bought in Brixton Village Market and honey made from Brixton bees. But when I wrote the piece Three Places to Eat Slow in South London for the Time Out London Blog, I discovered that this eco-conscious philosophy runs through the Cornercopia restaurant too. When their ever-so-lovely resident chef Sherri Dymond – aka ‘Blue Jay’ – invited me to try her cooking, I couldn’t wait to find out more.
There are usually just three starter and main dish options on the menu at this pint-sized restaurant. And when you see the teeny tiny kitchen that Blue Jay works from in Brixton Village Market, it seems incredible that she even manages to cater for one table of guests. Let alone deal with 20 or so hungry mouths who join the Thursday night restaurant rush.
The reason for the modest menu is of course, down to there being just one chef (Blue Jay). But it also focuses on doing one or two things really well, and only ever serving food that’s seasonal and therefore keeping its carbon footprint to a minimum.
Blue Jay tells me she cycles into work every day carrying much of the ingredients they use. They forage many of their herbs in Brixton and Herne Hill and other produce is sourced from local businesses and allotments. I’m also told that Cornercopia owner Anne Fairbrother and other local people even bring in fresh produce from their own gardens. You don’t get more sustainable than that.
We start our meal at Cornercopia with a sample of all three starters from the October menu. The spiced pigeon breast with Essex quinoa and plum ketchup is a colourful dish of soft pink meat and delicious quinoa textures with a gorgeous deep red plum sauce that sings notes of Autumn.
The Cornish cuttlefish really broadens my mind when it comes to an education in fish choices. It’s not a fish I know a lot about, yet a quick bit of research tells me it’s up there in the most sustainable fish you can source from British shores. I’m a creature of habit, often remaining within the realms of squid, cod, haddock and the most popular shellfish. Yet this dish is meaty with an abundance of powerful flavours from the capers, shallots, and buttery, garlicky toast. I must say the garlic in the black garlic aioli is enough to scare off a whole family of vampires, but if you want flavour, this has it by the bucket load.
The vegetarian starter (roasted apple, fennel, radicchio, hazelnuts and blue cheese) is a refreshing, light and gorgeously balanced contrast to the palate after the strong flavours of the cuttlefish. I’m in awe that this collection of innovative dishes has come from just one tiny little kitchen.
For mains, we’re delighted with the pumpkin, white beans, roquette pesto and labneh (a type of Greek yoghurt). I rarely eat pumpkin and this is a perfect example of a seasonal Autumn ingredient. The skin is kept on and sprinkled with sunflower seeds for texture. And the pesto offers a tasty addition. It all feels like a gorgeously wholesome plate – one that I imagine the majority of vegetarians (who get a tough deal sometimes) would find a breath of fresh air.
After such powerful flavours, the herb roasted mackerel seems tame but it’s nice to eat a dish that’s hasn’t been interfered with too much. The smokiness of the mackerel is actually enough and the sweetness of the roasted parsnips compliments it well.
BC is raving about the venison saddle – the most tender we’ve both ever tasted. Silence hits the table as he finds food heaven. Blue Jay tells us the deep red pickled Muscat grapes used in this dish are from an allotment around the corner. The cavolo nero (kale) adds the hearty autumnal greens that go so well with rich game. Happy customers indeed.
Before we know it, our waiter is bringing us a delicious dessert wine which warms us from head to toe in the now chilly Brixton Village Market. What else could we possibly squeeze in to end our meal on a seasonal Autumnal note? Well, bread and butter pudding of course.
I don’t normally have much enthusiasm for such a bland and heavy dessert but (and I’m not just saying this) this one is spot on. Flavoured with figs and just the right amount of caramelised sugar, we find ourselves spoon fighting our way through it.
By the end of the evening, we’re about drifting into a foodie coma yet Sherri is still bouncing with energy and continuing to send out plate after plate of food.
A quick chat with her while she cooks (she’s a great multi-tasker) confirms she’s even more passionate about staying ‘green’ than we previously thought. She admits that some people think the extent of her recycling efforts are ‘crazy’ (in a light-hearted way) and her enthusiasm to try and maintain a high level of sustainability amongst Brixton restaurants shines through.
Is this down to a ‘green’ upbringing in Canada or just her love of Brixton? Both I think. And it’s a joy to eat food that’s so thoughtfully prepared and sourced. Here’s to more slow and sustainable restaurants like Cornercopia. I hope more small businesses like this continue to thrive.
For more information about Blue Jay and the latest seasonal menus, visit BrixtonCornercopia.co.uk, follow them on twitter @BrixCornercopia, on instagram @BlueJayBrixton / @Cornercopia_Homestore & on Facebook. For reservations, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read my piece on Slow Food in South London on The Time Out Blog here.
65 Brixton Village Market, London SW9 8PS