‘The China Ghost is a reminder that life is beautiful and fleeting, as are we. We must grab hold of transient moments and live in the here-and-now. Life is indeed, an ethereal kiss…’
The waiter at The Courtesan just cracked my soul in half, and we’re only ordering drinks.
This quirky dim sum restaurant by Brixton Market is as full of stories as a concubine’s boudoir. Every cocktail has an intriguing blurb. ‘So beautiful, fish forget to swim’ is a particular favourite, inspired by ancient muse Xi Shi and delivering a pleasing goldfish bowl of rum and citrus liqueur, with orange peel swimming in it.
While the stories are enticing, the cocktails are bold enough to speak for themselves. Heady, exotic flavours mix together in a beautifully subtle way; the China Ghost and eponymous Courtesan were our favourites. As well as being inspired by women, the wine and spirit list is intrinsically female, offering alcohols produced or grown exclusively by women.
It’s no surprise to hear there’s also an all-female chef team, led by dim sum chef extraordinaire Feng Juan Xue. The chefs at Courtesan could be forgiven for sitting back and letting the cocktails steal the show, but the food is just as impressive. Our waiter recommended getting something from each section of the list – there’s dim sum, bao, noodles and rice, fried treats and dessert – to fully enjoy the mix of ‘soft and aggressive flavours’. The Fried Squid were a light and crisp starter, served with chilli sauce and a mini teapot of soy sauce. Our favourite main course was the King Prawn and Beancurd Cheung Fun, a soft roll of deliciousness with crispy beancurd on top adding texture. 2-3 dishes per person should see you right.
The restaurant itself is decked out in oddly authentic Imperial Chinese interiors – you step off the busy Brixton street and into a different world of velvet booths and silk lanterns. There’s even a neon-lit patterned staircase, which if followed leads to a dusky Lynchian cabaret room. Courtesan will soon be holding weekly events such as jazz jams, burlesque nights, female DJ sets and queer performance nights. It’s so immersive that it almost doesn’t work, but the bona fide antiques and impassioned staff keep the vibe from slipping into a historical Chinese Disneyland.
Like the perfect concubine, Courtesan is a heady mix of delicate blushes, aggressive punches and exoticism. Its cocktail list is surprising and delightful, the dim sum menu is elevated to something really special, and the design is totally unique. We can’t wait to go back for some more philosophical drinks and perhaps a late-night burlesque show…
We The Food Snobs x