There’s a lively bustle around Brixton’s Atlantic Road that you’ll find in few other London neighbourhoods: locals of every age and cultural and social backgrounds dashing about, loud music blaring from radios, unexpected foodie discoveries at every corner, the air sizzling with raw energy, and paucity of tourists.
Amid this vibrant mix, an olive stone’s throw away from Market Row and Brixton Village, the iconic Spanish brand Brindisa – from the Spanish word ‘brindis’, meaning ‘to raise a glass in celebration’ – has opened its second food shop with a café next door. As is fashionable these days, both are located under the railway arches. There’s no signage outside, but potted olive trees by the entrance, stringed peppers and jamon hanging in the windows, and a clear view of the brand’s distinctive blue and yellow packaging gives the game away.
Brindisa Food Rooms’ concept is inspired by Catalan llesqueries, which founder Monika Linton enjoyed eating in when she lived in Barcelona in the mid-1980s. There’s currently a rising trend for ‘toast bars’ (we’re not making that up) – and llesqueries are, if you like, the original toast bar. They serve toasted country bread rubbed with tomatoes, onto which local cured meats, fish and cheeses are piled. Indeed in keeping with Brindisa’s aim of over 25 years, the Food Rooms showcase cured, salted and seasoned foods from small Spanish producers and rural cheesemakers. The café next door serves these ingredients alongside the toasted country bread, ilesca.
The spacious shop has the look of a rough-hewn warehouse; and the products benefit from attractive, neat, fuss-free displays on old tables, chests, crates and baskets. Piled high on a large central table are Brindisa standards such as tinned Ortiz fish products, El Navarrico beans, lentils and piquillo peppers in jars, La Chinata paprika in distinctive square tins, marcona almonds, gordal olives, calasparra rice (£3.50/ kg), and award-winning bomba rice (£7.50/ kg).
Over to the entrance’s left are olive oils, wine vinegars, honeys in flavours like heather, chestnut and orange sold in beautiful terracotta pots, torro (a type of nougat), and even paella pans. There are also large, individually wrapped olive oil biscuits tortas de aceite (£3), in flavours such as cinnamon and lemon, and rosemary and almond. We were particularly excited to find Great Taste Awards gold-winning tarta de Santiago (£12.50), a type of almond cake that gained popularity in the UK after Claudia Roden included a recipe in her recent Spanish cookbook.
And don’t overlook the small display of beans, chickpeas and lentils in hessian sacks by the entrance on the right, especially montega del ganxet (£1.90/ 100g), a special, seasonal white bean with thin skin and chestnutty flavour. Similarly displayed in rustic fashion are dried nora, choricero and guindilla peppers. Nearby is a chiller cabinet filled with iberico pork products.
At the front of the shop, there’s a cured fish counter, on which sit smoked anchovies, hand-filleted anchovies in olive oil, and boquerones (£4.50/ 100g): fresh anchovies pickled in oil and vinegar. Plenty for anchovy lovers, then. You’ll also find salted sardines, salt-cured, air-dried tuna slices known as mojama (£6.95 each), and salt cod fillets (£8.95 each) used in traditional croquetas.
Over at the cured meat counter at the back, you can buy sobrassada chorizo pate (£2.20/ 100g); plus thinly sliced cured meats to order, such as iberican chorizo, and llonganissa country-style salami. There’s also a ham carving table, where you’ll find cereal-fed serrano ham (£6.75/ 100g) cured for 18 months, and iberico bellota (£15.50/ 100g) cured for between 4 to 5 years. More meat is stocked in a fridge nearby, including a variety of chorizo and morcilla (Spanish black pudding), snacking salami bastonets de vic (£4.50 each), and smoked pancetta (£20/ kg).
Ham carver Juan Rios also works at the cheese counter, and gave us a marvellous range of small-batch cheeses made by rural dairy farmers to sample. Among a selection of pasteurised and unpasteurised, cured and semi-cured cheeses, made from cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk, were the familiar manchego and cabrales; but also monte enebro, torta de canarejal, la peral, and ermesenda. They ranged in flavour from mild and creamy to strong and pungent, and were delicious with membrillo (quince paste), and fig and almond, and date and walnut ‘fruit wheels’.
Nearby are fresh fruit and veg from Barcelona, such as valencian oranges (£1.80/ kg), padron peppers (£3/ 200g), and sweet penjar tomatoes (£4.50/ kg) used in pan con tomate. Good-quality wines under a tenner – currently three whites and two reds – are also sold. Shop manager George Byrne says, “We’re establishing a new channel of importation just for this shop”, adding that “the range will change, and we’ll gradually include more day to day products like breads and pastries.” So now there are more reasons than ever to visit Brixton’s Atlantic Road.
Brindisa Food Rooms, 41-43 Atlantic Road, Brixton SW9 8JL. Tel: 020 7733 0634.
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Note: businesses featured in this series are chosen editorially, and not as part of a promotion.