Brixton has always had a bit of an edge. Unlike its Clapham neighbour to the west or Dulwich to the east, it’s remained defiant. There’s an attitude in Brixton that’s rare in town… a hustle maybe? Perhaps it’s the constancy of Brixton Market, Pop Brixton’s dynamism, or the classic fruit and veg stalls packing out Electric Avenue, staunchly unchanged as if in a time-lock, still serving the community. Maybe it’s all of this and more, an intangible quality a lot of London used to have but is harder to find these days: that true feeling of a melting pot. A city, indeed a home, for everyone.
Traditionally, Brixton has been eschewing obvious gentrification in favour of more gradual modernisation. But try as we might, that big G is coming. Slowly but surely more buildings are being bought up and torn down to make way for garish post-modern monstrosities. A story told time and time again and one unfolding before our eyes in Vauxhall and Elephant and Castle where developers are chomping at the bit to destroy any remnants of history in search of massive profits.
Perhaps it’s in part due to gentrification that The Laundry is even here. Admittedly it feels somewhat out of place occupying a former steam press and laundry building on Coldharbour Lane. The building and menu seem to lend themselves more naturally to the leafier, brunch-hungry burbs of Clapham or Herne Hill (one can picture this building opposite some verdant greenery rather than noisy roadworks) but fortunately for me and mine, it’s here in SW9.
The space itself is well appointed, a delicate refit of what is genuinely a lovely building and a huge sun trap terrace at the front. Outside is the kind of space that would encourage a long, mid-morning linger or indoors, particularly on a larger table downstairs, a late night hangout making a bit too much noise and drinking a bit too much wine.
I know it’s just a fish finger, but it’s a really good fish finger
The food at The Laundry is more than merely casual. There is a certain level of intentional cooking with some real bright sparks. Yes, people will flock for the brunches and the Sunday roasts (both of which I’m reliably informed are worth the visit) but the all-day menu offering also requires special attention. On our lunch we start with fish fingers (none of that ‘goujon’ talk here) and a soft shelled crab salad. The fish fingers evoke a slightly child-like moreishness, propelled by perfect cooking, beautiful crispiness and helped on by a zingy tartar sauce. I know it’s just a fish finger, but it’s a really good fish finger.
The soft shelled crab was a decent plate too, served atop slaw with a creamy lemon-caper aioli and little peaks of sliced fresh chilli. It was a fine dish overall but it needed a little crab meat running through the mix, something to turn up that sweet crabby flavour even more.
Continuing with a brunch-intended dish, the Turkish eggs had the requisite creamy yoghurt base providing not only the perfect perch for two poached eggs, but a salve from the warmth of the dish itself. It was an oleaginous main though, and certainly extra bread is recommended to mop up all of that sweet, smoky, spicy eggy goodness.
Cod with samphire salad and yellow courgette ribbons was near-faultless: a dish that was more than the sum of its parts and chock full of tiny surprises. The on-point cooking of the fish felt almost secondary to the fresh salad, with sweet tomatoes, lightly salty samphire and harissa dialling up the dish another notch. The herb-crusted crumb had a soft, delicate crunch that provided yet more inviting texture to the plate. The whole thing evoked a Provençal summery style that completely transports you away from the grey drab of roadworks and building sites around.
As for drawbacks, I was expecting more from the wine department. The list itself is very minimal, and a shade punchy for a neighbourhood bistro. Advertising as a ‘wine shop’ (as The Laundry is) they seem to be writing a cheque they can’t cash. Unless there is some hidden cache of wines sequestered in a dusty cellar somewhere, there are barely 12 to choose from, hardly making it a shop.
As for dessert, a strawberry sorbet was middle of the road and somewhat lacking in flavour. It left me slightly yearning for a creamier and richer iteration.
Is The Laundry a product of gentrification or is it gentrification live-streamed? Are we watching the slow decline of the working class neighbourhoods in London as land and property is bought, done up and sold? I’m not sure I have the answers to those larger questions and I’m not sure what gentrification in London really means anymore – everything seems fit to burst, already at a peak of expensive development.
But whilst you might expect a restaurant like this to fit in at a more well-heeled postcode than this, I for one am glad this fizzy little bistro is here for Brixton.
374 Coldharbour Lane
by Mike Daw