Saturday, February 02, 2008
The French Resistance à Brixtonne
I've often wondered what it might have been like to have been in the French Resistance. To make one's way in the world by stealth. To fear the knock on the door or the crash of Gestapo as they came up the street.
Perhaps that's overstating the subversive presence of 'Upstairs' surrounded as it is by the kebab shops and other possibly even less savoury eateries of Brixton's Acre Lane. But as one buzzes the bell, is inspected by the camera and then is admitted up the spiral stairs into the cozy bar, one does have a sense of the covert and unexpected.
And indeed it is unusual to find a restaurant with ambition like this one in a place like Brixton; 'Upstairs' really is aiming for something a cut above and in a French kind of way, to boot. But does it achieve that? I think it nearly does, and doesn't miss by a margin that makes the trip unrepeatable.
Tonight we ordered the three course dinner. I had herring on a potato salad with a horseradish cream for starts - as delicious as it sounds. Ms T went for the potted duck liver and says it was 'OK rather than outstanding'. It didn't deliver in the flavour department, she says, and the picallili she claims to have been a bit insipid. But I nicked a bit, and considered it flavoursome. Chacun a son gout.
No matter; we studied the serial numbers on the bus roofs from our top floor eyrie and waited for the main course. And here we showed our amateur credentials as restaurant reviewers by each ordering the same thing - a porky cassoulet - meat accompanied by beans and slices of chorizo sausage together with what looked and tasted like crisps! Ms T announced it was good, but not technically Cassoulet. She should know; she speaks French y'know. Anglo-me, I liked it, and found the winey sauce delicious, indeed I had to have more bread to mop it up, showing me Northern roots.
There was space for dessert and so I indulged with a choclatey something which was lovely. Ms T says her roasted pineapple with coriander and chili was also 'rather nice'.
The entire affair was accompanied by a rather delectable red originating from the Rhone area, priced at £17. And I must defend the quality of the service, which was friendly and attentive.
Look, I grant you, this is 'Special Treat' eating, rather than an every week affair. You're looking at £70 for the two of you if you're doing the dessert thing, a bit less if you aren't. But since they won a 'Bib Gourmand' from Michelin people 'Upstairs' hasn't been short of applicants for its tables - there was a real buzz in the place this evening even though it was a Wednesday. We're agreed, the two of us, that we're lucky to have the French Resistance here, and we'll be back.