“Intelligent comfort-food” is how owner Simon Allen describes the fare served in his impressively renovated gastropub dining-room, the latest addition to the Prince of Wales venue.
It’s fast becoming one of Brixton’s most engaging destinations. Good comfort food should feel relaxing, warm and familiar.
It settles you down, delivering you to the nostalgia of a half-remembered childhood from the first mouthful. The whole idea behind comfort food is that it makes you feel better. At the Prince of Wales, the promise of hearty, satisfying dishes is delivered.
You can see the potential immediately as you step in – colourful, ornate columns, an enormous art deco staircase, and broad French windows give the Prince of Wales the kind of authentic character which most venues can only chase after. It’s also nice to see a new restaurant giving more than just lip-service to the local community: many of the ingredients used by head chef Arno Maasdrop and his team are sourced straight from Brixton market. Even the bread, which could have so easily have been scrimped over, is baked fresh on-site daily.
Before I’ve even made an order, I find myself wanting to like the Prince of Wales. Fortunately, the quality of their food makes it easy. Salt-cod fritters are well-paired with pea guacamole in a refreshing and unusual starter. The oily coolness of the avocado moistens the fish, which is covered in frock of light batter, drawing out the whole range of the cod’s flavours. Pulverised to a soft, mushy puree, the texture of the fish blends into the green soup of the guacamole so that each mouthful is rich and satisfying. It combines the lightness of a salad with the hearty punchiness of cod. It’s an excellent example of how to reinvent an old favourite in a way that’s relevant and appealing.
Lamb shanks might be less adventurous than the distinctive salt-cod, but this dish is a great showcase of the Prince of Wales’ dramatic centrepiece: a roaring, wood-fired clay oven, the kind that looks as though it was built by the Romans themselves hundreds of years ago. I’m eager to see what this kind of volcanic, Old Testament heat has done to the lamb: unsurprisingly it musters no resistance to the slightest prod of my fork; lashings of mahogany-coloured flesh seem to melt off the bone as if they were liquid. Tenderness is the quality that draws us to lamb, and the Prince of Wales’ offering of this cut is as fine a demonstration of it as you’ll find in London. It’s served with shallots and celery, roasted until they’re just as soft as the meat.
An assiette du chocolate rounds off the meal. It’s a kind of do-it-yourself dessert, lying in wait to be assembled into coherent mouthfuls. There’s an immensely rich baton of ganache, a thick slice of chocolate sponge, and a fine globe of pistachio ice-cream. There’s also a white-chocolate handgun lying on the plate, as if discarded in a hurried escape from the scene of a crime. I’m not normally served firearms for dessert, but hey, this is Brixton after all. Beyond this cheeky nod to the local area’s (former) reputation, the handgun is a bit superfluous and its hardness means that it’s difficult to actually eat, resisting the spoon’s attempts to dig into it. But the ganache is like velvet and the sponge is dense; moistened by the nutty coolness of the pistachio, which acts as an adhesive bringing the layers of chocolate together to harmonise.
The Prince of Wales Brixton is the kind of place that every neighbourhood deserves – affordable but with a sense of elegance, aware of its location and sincere in its efforts to serve quality food. It might be ‘intelligent’ comfort food, but it’s also got a big heart.
words Chris Zacharia