16 November 2017

Female spirits at Courtesan

Nope, this post is coming your way three weeks late... "Spirit" refers to the alcoholic kind, and "female" to the fact females are the ones behind the spirits offered at newly-refurbished Courtesan, a dim-sum restaurant in Brixton.

I'd never come across an all-female produced drinks list, so the concept was very exciting. In keeping with the girlboss theme, I invited one of my best gals along for the ride. 

At first, we couldn't figure out how to get into the restaurant. Not ideal. But when we finally found our way in, we were greeted by these ladies...

Creepy or cheeky? You decide.

The bar area was dimly lit, with dark wood and oriental artefacts balanced precariously on every surface. Hidden away, behind the glass-fronted cabinets, were a *lot* of spirits, hinting at what was to come.

The main restaurant area had been set up to cater for the event, divided up into two rows of tables, with a stage in front of the Chinese tapestry. We helped ourselves to prawn crackers and mulled over the menu, which included a sample of Courtesan's food offerings as well as the spirits.

I mean, we should have known, just by looking at the menu, that the night was going to be quite intense. But at the time it didn't click.

First, we had a Courtesan, which takes its name from the restaurant itself. The cocktail's tagline was "Who is free and who captivates?" Ooer. With Blossoms sour cherry syrup (courtesy of Aude Dupont, the first female spirit-er), Briottet cherry liqueur, Square One vodka and Argeo Ruggeri Prosecco, it was sweet, subtle and - dare I say it - seductive.

Oh, and I should probably point out that the night took the format of a brindisi. I didn't know what it meant, but the menu featured an explanation, so I took a photo for, y'know, reference...

So we'd listen to the distiller's representative discuss the spirit, sample said spirit, toast to the distiller, drink the spirit, then eat and be sung to.

Salute! indeed.

After the cocktail, we were presented with "Bitter Sweet affair". I couldn't tell you what it was... a crispy sweet and sour pork maybe? But more crispy than meaty. It was pretty good.

Then we heard from Gabriella Thorpe of Vintage Velvet Vodka, who describes herself and the drink as "fiercely sophisticated" - and I'm all about that...

And tasted the vodka, in all its clear, definitely not Russian Standard, glory.

The glasses were heavy and chunky and you'll see this shot a lot

Despite what this blog may imply, I don't drink all that much - especially not on a school night, and especially not neat spirits. 

Luckily, out came some Szechuan ribs, looking and smelling so-o-o delicious.

The seasoning reminded me of chicken kievs (I know - I have such a refined palette) but with more heat. The meat was also really tender but obviously - classic ribs - it was limited.

Next up was Appleton Rum, courtesy of Joy Spence, but presented to us by male - gasp - Russell Farian.

Followed by some dumplings...

Wasabi on the left (I picked this up by accident; I don't like wasabi, woops) and Scallop and Shrimp on the right. I'm new to dumplings, and I wasn't a huge fan of the texture. I probably wouldn't order them again.

These hulk-like, bright green visions were begging to be sampled, so I nabbed one. I think it was the Verdant Mezzaluna, due to the fact verde is green in French, non?

Again, I wasn't sold - it was like a sticky ravioli, and needed to be washed down.

Washed down, you say? Oh, it must be time for...

Gin! Bloom Gin, actually, from Joanne Moore. Thankfully, it came with tonic water, which we also used for our rum remnants. We were all powering through by this point.

And we enjoyed one of the many songs performed that evening from the songtress, which was incredible, and woman-themed (Peggy Lee's I Am A Woman, if I remember correctly).

Afterwards, the night became a blur, continuing with Jose Cuervo tequila, distilled by Sonia Espinola.

And then we enjoyed my favourite food of the evening, the buns! I only managed to pick up a CharSuiBun (basically BBQ pork), which was delicious; sweet, sticky, and a tiny bit tart.

Afterwards, we toasted to Cognac Guillon-Painturaud, courtesy of Madame Line Sauvant (what. a. name) by a man who strongly resembled Jeremy Corbyn...

Jezza, is that you? (it's not, he was called Peter)

And to finish, Naked Grouse whisky distilled by "master blender" Kirsteen Campbell, presented by a very patient gentleman (we were all quite rowdy by this point) called Amit.

But wait - the showstopper was yet to arrive. And it was a doozy: the Courtier, described as "the final cigar" for its unapologetic smokiness.

Consisting of Lapsang Souchong tea, Naked Grouse Whisky, Famous Grouse Smoky Black, Chilli and Fig Liqueur, it was utter sophistication. Which was ironic, because by this point I didn't feel sophisticated (I felt very tiddly), but my goodness, it was warm and spicy deliciousness.

We were encouraged to our feet to give our final toast, dancing like nobody was watching, our inhibitions left behind a good few spirits ago. 

But neat spirits aside, would I return?

Yes, but most probably to enjoy the drinks in their entirety, explore the late-night venue downstairs, and experience the musical and cabaret acts. My first encounter with the food wasn't wholly positive, but I know there's options on the menu I'd definitely like to try, such as the noodles and desserts (Cubism frozen mango truffles, anyone? Yum). I feel like Courtesan is one of those places that once you visit, you become a loyal customer, yet it's managed to retain an element of secrecy and intimacy that more central venues have lost.

And no, I wouldn't recommend consuming multiple neat spirits in one evening. The next day was a struggle...

**I was invited to the launch in exchange for review. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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