As soon as London nights turn frosty, it takes a special kind of talented charmer to lure me out from under my electric blanket and put my party boots on.
However, the recently relaunched Courtesan, discreetly tucked away from Brixton’s main road hubbub, managed to charm the curious side of me. Boasting ‘the world’s first truly female wine and spirit list’ from the cocktail bar it also includes a dim sum restaurant, a tea room and a subterranean late-night entertainment space. It certainly has multiple layers of intrigue.
Upon entering Brixton’s Courtesan you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to the legendary days of the 1920’s Shanghai club scene. A vintage aesthetic with futuristic undertones mixing Ancient Chinese artefacts and erotica prints, jade velvet booths, large silk lanterns, pouffe seats and cabaret style tables and chairs with neon lights and geometric patterns, mirror installations and optical illusion art.
While the sounds of live vintage jazz music filled the first two rooms on the ground floor, I sipped a glass of crisp Argeo Ruggeri Prosecco, the first of my many sampled beverages that evening, all exclusively supplied, produced and grown by women for Courtesan’s drink menu.
I took one look at the impressive Court, Seasonal, Iced and Evening cocktail list and my brain and tasting buds were tickled simultaneously by the playful and dramatic cocktail names: Treacherous Heart, Belladonna, China Ghost, Opium, ‘Martini…as dirty as you wish’ or the Corpse Reviver among others.
Naturally, Courtesan also created four cocktails inspired by the legendary ‘Four Beauties’ of ancient China, so beautiful that ‘birds fell from heaven, fish forgot to swim, flowers turned their heads in shame and even the moon was eclipsed by their beauty’: Wang Zhaojun, Xi Shi, Yang Yuhuan and Diaochan.
As I mused over the drinks menu, a delicious scent of Dim Sum and Bao Buns hit my nostrils. Honouring the regal origins of Dim Sum, the all-female chef team at Courtesan, led by Feng Juan Xue, created a distinctive food menu, focusing on pure, MSG and preservatives-free ingredients as well as providing vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Being a ‘Bloody Mary’ fan, my next cocktail of choice was obviously going to be Bloody Mai, a ‘Toast martyrdom to the Empire’, said the menu. Its Finlandia Vodka, tomato juice, china spice and sweet chili sure awakened my senses.
It was perfect timing, as the burlesque cabaret performer for the night, Vicky Butterfly, appeared on the stage like a beautiful spirit from nowhere and treated the guests to a titillating visual spectacle full of feathers and multi-coloured lights, all to the sounds of a DJ set from Trixie Malicious.
It was now time to explore the lower-ground space of Courtesan but not without another cocktail in hand, this time a heady and exotic Opium, simply because of its truly intriguing combination of the ingredients: Poppy Liqueur, Alchermes, Gauthier Cognac, Lapsang Souchong Tea and Beetroot powder. I’d be lying if I said I’ve ever tasted any of these ingredients before.
A geometric neon-lit Sayagata patterned staircase lead to the late-night venue, an intimate space designed to confuse or challenge the senses, with mirrors, art and optical illusions. I treaded carefully, the exotic concoction in my hand was too precious to spill.
The downstairs late-night space houses a multi-disciplinary entertainment programme, with a variety of residencies, one-off performances and special ‘Courtesan Lates’ shows on Friday and Saturdays, including burlesque and cabaret acts, live jazz music, DJs and West End performers.
Brixton’s Courtesan seems to have it all under one roof. It is open seven days a week, from lunchtime until late hours, celebrating talented female producers, chefs and winemakers, including Carol Duval Leroy, the owner of the only female run Champagne house, and spanning a 45-strong spirits list.
- For more information on Brixton’s Courtesan see http://thecourtesan.co.uk/