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Thursday, July 06, 2006

THE GALLERY: PUTTING ON A SHOW IN BRIXTON












While Hermano Primero was reduxing The Marquess with
little joy, I was reduxing my life with a great deal
more success.

I am often accused of geographical fascism when it
comes to London. All together now

NEVER WEST OF MARBLE ARCH
NEVER NORTH OF CAMDEN
NEVER EAST OF BETHNAL GREEN
NEVER SOUTH OF THE RIVER

But, for all that, I used to be a regular visitor to Brixton. Our grandparents lived there and, when I was a poor impoverished student, I would spend many a happy Sunday with them being fed unfeasibly large amounts of rib sticking Welsh food while my
grandmother clucked about how skinny I was. If only she could see me now I look like I have indulged in far too many piklets

A chum who lives down in that part of London has been trying to get me to go down there for a long time. Finally, he used the lure of “the south of the river Portugese version of The Angel Mangal” and I was persuaded on to a tube for the surprisingly short hop south

It has to be the best part of ten years since I last set foot in Brixton ( to go and see Joe Strummer, I think) but little has changed. The stretch of pavement outside the tube station is still the craziest in London, The Marks & Spencer remains stubborn in its refusal to remove the 1960’s livery and Morley’s, the department store, unlike many of its contemporaries seems to be thriving.

He met me in front of the tube station at 7.30pm and then followed a short but harrowing journey up Brixton Hill in, what I think he referred to as “a bus” Shaken, but undeterred, we got off at the top of the hill almost exactly opposite the street where my grandparents used to live. There didn’t seem to be any restaurants. A down at heel pub, a garage selling retreads and what looked like a kebab shop with a fluorescent green frontage. It was with some alarm that I realized that this is where we were headed.

The front of The Gallery is a take away grill place which was just getting into swing as we arrived. The owner greeted my friend like a long lost son. Not a favourite son, mind, the sort of son you roll your eyes at and say “ when are you going to get a proper job?” which is fitting as, indeed, my friend has not had a proper job for, well, ever.

We were buzzed through a small door at the side of the take away and went into the restaurant at the back. A small, windowless, airless room. This is my kind of place. Paper tablecloths and napkins, a fading mural of rural Portugese scenes on the walls and a bar that has the only bottle of Dubonet sold since 1978. Fantastic.

The menu is pretty fantastic too. My chum was determined to be in charge and I put aside my quintessential Aries nature and let him order. He did well.

To begin, we shared a plate of clams cooked simply in white wine with garlic and parsley and a quail grilled and doused in another sauce which was pleasingly sharp.

The main event was a mixed grill of spare ribs, piri piri chicken and chorizo. All excellent. I particularly liked the fatty sausage which took some chewing ( a good thing in my book ), The chicken which could have done with a little more heat, a small criticism for a tasty moist treat. The ribs were pretty good too, though more to the taste of chum than me which was fine as all things were apportioned equally.

A typically Iberian salad ( lettuce and tomatoes, er that’s it ) got occasional attention as did a slightly unnecessary bottle of chilled red which was less enjoyable than the beer we tried.

Desserts were also true to my experience of such places. A house made flan was rather good and the ice cream ( house scooped?) was better than the bought in atrocities on the picture menu appeared.

There was a huge argument over the bill. A huge one. Not because they overcharged but because they wanted to charge us so little, if at all because my chum was such a friend of the house. He of course refused being a man of ample ethics (or an ample man of ethics, I am not quite sure ) so we both laid down £20 which I suspect more than covered the bill and tip.

I wont say it often, but my friend was right. He knows me too well. This really was my kind of place. As unassuming as it is possible to get, nice people, damn tasty food done simply and barely leaving a scratch on the wallet. It really is South London’s answer to The Angel Mangal and may even persuade me to go that far south of the river again. Perhaps.

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