We pay a visit to The Shrub and Shutter in Brixton and find a restaurant that manages to excite us in so many ways…
Bangers and mash made with fish – sounds a bit left field right? As does a cocktail made with birch sap, gunpowder tea and served with a slice of venison on the side. Dessert? Well that will be a date infused sticky toffee pudding. Oh, I must mention, it’s in liquid form. Prepare to be excited. The latest restaurant I want to tell you about is anything but ordinary…
After just 12 months of opening, The Shrub and Shutter – an unassuming little place on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton – is winning awards and getting tongues wagging left, right and centre. And even on a wintry night when I was in the kind of mood to sink into the sofa, the innovative cocktails and cuisine here exceeded anything I ever imagined.
For a start, there’s something brilliantly intimate about Shrub and Shutter. Owners Chris Edwards and Dave Tragenza have a combined 25 years’ experience working in super high end bars across central London (the Savoy being one of them). But as soon as we walked into the warm front bar, there was no sign of pretention here. A cosy and ambient atmosphere lured us in and bartenders mixed up cocktails for chattering guests from a counter that was packed with various gadgets and ingredients.
The décor can only be described as rustic with quirky artwork adorning the walls. And in line with its name (shrubs are a boiled sugar and vinegar infusion now making a come-back in mixology) an array of bottles labelled with things like ‘peashoot vodka’ and ‘lavender bitters’ lined the shelves. It soon became quite clear why this place was recently voted Brixton’s best bar in the Time Out Love London awards.
As we sat down in the small but buzzy restaurant area packed with photographs pegged on string and various nik naks, we delved deeper into the experimental offerings of this place.
The sheer variety and novelty factor of everything on the menu made it difficult deciding what to order. There are at least 20 cocktails on the main menu with extras chalked onto a specials board. I finally picked the seasonal sounding pumpkin margarita and Mr C went for the aforementioned carnivore pleasing ‘Good Will Hunting’.
‘We were inspired to create this when we spent time deep in the forests of the Highlands,’ explained one of the co-owners. And when the waiter lifted the glass dome covering the cocktail glass, we could see why. A puff of smoke wafted out of it as a piece of blackened pine smouldered away. Underneath the smoke was a gorgeous glass of bourbon, leopolds alpine liqueur, birch sap, smoked oak bitters and gunpowder tea which was as punchy and bold as it sounds. Large chunks of ice sat on top and the glass itself was presented on a big slab of tree trunk where the slices of venison were laid out. The Good Will Hunting is as primal and theatrical as a cocktail could possibly get.
The food here is simple but inventive. The salmon tasted like it had just leapt out of a river and was served with fresh salad, crunchy cucumber and a dollop of sour cream. The duck was tender and delicious and served with a rich contrast of black pudding and tangy quince on the side.
By the time our main course arrived, we’d had a good look at what our fellow diners were eating and couldn’t help but stare at the cocktails the waiter was carrying, each time he appeared from the bar. Was there smoke? Were they drinking out of a glass or a pouch (as one lady was), was it a culinary cocktail served with a chunk of meat (like the Thai Beef salad or sexy little swine). As I say, this place was anything but ordinary.
And on that note, this was the first time I’d ever eaten a fish sausage. These ones were made from whiting and gilt head bream and rich, with a smokey quality. Yet Head chef Joe Knowlden-Southwell (formerly of The Clove Club) had somehow managed to make them just as juicy as a piece of pork. The smooth and buttery mash was dreamy and it worked well with the peas and flavoursome samphire. I’m not sure if fish sausages beat their meaty counterparts, but this was surprising and comforting, topped with the most sublime lobster gravy. On the unique factor, this dish wins.
BC tucked into a fine plate of lamb presented in a beautifully rustic but thoughtful style. With a lovely accompaniment of figs and greens, this was a delicious and hearty winter plate of food.
Our eyes wanted to order from the delicious sounding desserts (think cheeseboards, sticky toffee puds and lemon possets) but our full-to-the-brim stomachs were stopping us. Still, we couldn’t help but be lured by our sweet-toothed curiosity. So we went back to the cocktail menu and decided to go for the liquid versions.
BC ordered the Milky Bar Kid which was a combination of el Dorado agricole rhum, coconut water, white chocolate, pineapple, lime and flattened cream soda. There was also some hazelnut shrub in there and it was topped with a piece of chocolate containing a popping candy surprise!
I had the slightly more gluttonous sticky toffee pudding. With date infused ban poitin, advocaat cream, toffee, four roses small bath and ‘british bake off bitters’, this is as artisanal as mixology gets. Oh yeah, and there was a piece of sticky toffee pud on top, which was being infused with toffee via a pipette as it landed before us.
Need I say anymore – Shrub and Shutter is a ‘theatre’ of food that’s fresh and exciting, yet also has the quality that many experimental restaurants in London just don’t have.
This could quickly become one of my favourite spots south of the river.