Tiramisù roughly translates as ‘pick me up.’ It’s a happy word. The promise of an improving mood and of better times ahead. It’s also a subtle recognition that not all times are good, for if we were always happy, a ‘pick me up’ would not be required.
Depression is perhaps an odd topic to begin a review but it was in such a state of melancholy that I found myself in recently that I needed, quite literally, a pick me up. Cognitive behavioural therapists will say that changing habits and avoiding negative thoughts by recognising them early is one way to tackle depression (at least that’s what they told me). I’m choosing my happier habits by knowing that eating and drinking in restaurants is quite possibly one of the greatest pleasures I’m privileged enough to enjoy. Therefore, one cure for the blues for me is going out for a lovely meal.
I’m being glib, but there is something in this theory of mine. There are restorative qualities to restaurants, as well as the pleasure derived from eating wonderful food. In the same way that a rom-com and a tub of ice cream can be a salve for those suffering a broken heart, a good restaurant is my Jannah, my island, my own little dopamine hit that however briefly, belittles my depression. So I stand by my glibness.
Tiramisù is my favourite dessert of all time because when it’s done well I find it utterly irresistible. It’s intelligent, traditional, alluring, pleasurable and unfailingly welcoming. It also does the thing that all good desserts should do: it wraps you up in a blanket of sumptuous comfort. A good tiramisù is layers of beauty, layers of kindness and cuddles. When it’s well-done, it picks me up.
Maremma in Brixton, near Brockwell Park, makes a fine one. The restaurant is everything a neighbourhood restaurant should be: warm without being obsequious, calm and considered but still buzzing with locals, a well-designed but never pretentious space where uplifting things are happening.
Maremma is an out-and-out pick me up, a charming neighbourhood restaurant which uses fine ingredients simply
The meal opens with a vibrant Campari-red beef carpaccio, served simply with lemon olive oil and parmesan, and a goats cheese and ricotta mezzelune. The creamy, tangy pasta comes with tender artichokes, dressed in a herb oil – this is the kind of straightforward Italian fare that deserves a spotlight. It’s brilliant, unfussy loveliness.
Now, with depression it can sometimes be hard to see the wood for the trees. As it was, the restaurant had delivered two very pleasing dishes, but nothing yet to shake me from my dolour, nothing yet to really make me smile. It required the restaurant to deliver a showstopper, headliner, main event of a main course before my ennui abated. It arrived in the form of a sumptuous pumpkin sformato (that’s soufflé to you and me) with truffle cream spinach and extra truffle for good measure.
It’s not a particularly good-looking plate of food, nor is it a deftly-handled technical piece of masterful cooking. Really we are talking about eggs, pumpkin, truffle and cream. But the sformato at Maremma set my hippocampus ablaze, the nostalgia of warming autumnal flavours delivered so sweetly was more than I was prepared for from this unassuming little restaurant.
One can often feel a hopeless sense of impossible anxiety with depression, a fear that things won’t improve and that you are the problem. Eating food this good though, however briefly, eradicates these thoughts, leaving you with an overwhelming desire to smile.
I can’t (for legal reasons and because it’s simply untrue) say this plate of food cured me of depression, I’m not even sure there is a ‘cure’, but for the first time that evening I felt an absurd happiness wash over me. Grinning like the Cheshire cat from ear to ear, I completely surrendered to this marvellously delicious dish.
This was the pick me up I needed, but greedily, the obligatory Tiramisù still arrived after. Creamy, rich, spiked with fragrant coffee and the requisite hit of booze, it was divine. Here at Maremma, they throw in a smattering of small chocolate chunks, because, well why the hell not? The addition is a kind of happy accident, an intentional addition with unintentionally wonderful outcomes.
Maremma is an out-and-out pick me up, a vision of a charming neighbourhood restaurant which uses fine ingredients simply, banging out no-nonsense dishes that deliver on assured flavours. Beyond that though, it treats guests wonderfully and, however briefly, will make even the gruffest pessimist feel an unavoidable sense of joy.
NB: if you have ever experienced depression or anxiety, remember there is help available. Talking to someone makes a huge difference, be it a trusted friend, family member or colleague. Additional hospitality specifically support can be found in projects like ‘The Burnt Chef Project’ and you can always contact the NHS mental health service.
36 Brixton Water Lane
by Mike Daw