Shrub and Shutter

A new cocktail bar has opened up in Brixton – not in the market itself but a little way out along Coldharbour Lane, in the middle of a run-down parade of newsagents shops. It’s called the Shrub and Shutter and it’s fantastic – billed as “modern, innovative and interactive”. I think it ticked all those boxes… (I’ll apologise for all the bad photos in advance, it was quite dark and I drank a lot of cocktails. I’m not that sorry.)

There are two rooms joined by a small corridor – the first quite small, with the bar in the corner and lots of high stools for cocktail drinking and chatting. The second is larger and quieter, with lots of tables for sitting for hours, drinking cocktails and eating the delicious food … which was how we spent our evening. There’s also a cute little garden out back for smoking and where the chef grows some of his ingredients.

With any opening of a new place in Brixton, and perhaps especially a poncy cocktail bar, the calls of gentrification sound. Shrub and Shutter replaced a Brixton institution called My Father’s Place. However, as I found out through the Brixton Buzz website, the owner died back in 2008 and “the shop was never the same, or even open that much, after that time“. So whatever your views on gentrification, this was not the replacement of a thriving Brixton institution. However, the prices do mean it may not be accessible to a significant proportion of the residents on Coldharbour Lane.

Anyway, that’s the politics of it. Now down to our evening. We arrived shortly after 7pm and settled in for some cocktails, with almost too much choice on the menu in front of us – well over 20 cocktails with a list of interesting ingredients – for example The Deer Hunter: tincup bourbon, orange, SotE smoking pipe bitters, capovilla, tabacco amarone, birch sap, venison. I don’t have a clue what most of those are! But the venison turned up on the side, not actually in the cocktail… So definitely modern and innovative.

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I started with a Bandage of Brothers – a light and refreshing, slightly sour vodka cocktail that came with a small plastic action figurine and a banger. It was really, really good, so when it came to my next cocktail I asked our extremely friendly and helpful (and attractive) waiter what he would recommend. So next out came the Autopilot – a tequila cocktail which had me slightly worried, except the mix which included elderflower meant it was incredibly light and tasty.

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The autopilot came not only with a small plastic aeroplane attached to the side of the glass, btu also a book of paper aeroplanes for us to make. Slightly gimmicky, yes, but quite good fun! Also slightly embarrassing as my friend ended up flying her paper aeroplane into the other diners sat near to us.

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Other cocktails had was the sazerac: whisky, absinthe, armagnac, bitters and…. FIRE

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And this very scary-looking and quite spicy tequila cocktail:

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My friend tried several of the whisky cocktails but they weren’t quite what he wanted so he asked the waiter to come up with something … out came a whisky cocktail with four different types of whisky and various other things – he said it was perfect. That’s the interactive box ticked then.

You might think this is a bit over the top … James definitely thought so and said he would prefer it if it were slightly simpler. Less cocktails on the menu but chefs that could create innovative twists on anything you asked for. Less food on the menu. A less enthusiastic waiter. I could see his point, but the problem with that is that everything was done perfectly. The gimmicks and the sheer complicatedness of the restaurant / bar didn’t take away from the fact that the cocktails were interesting and delicious, appealing to all four of our different tastes, and the food was incredible well done – well presented and as tasty as you could imagine anywhere in London.

We started with a cheese and charcuterie platter for £10 to share between four of us. A good mix of cheeses, a nice chutney, meaty chunks of charcuterie. It’s hard to do cheese and meat badly and this hit the spot for a snack while we decided whether to stay and eat dinner.

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We did, and I had lamb loin, the lamb pink and tender, the mash creamy and the onion confit delicious. James and Charlotte went for a mix of all the starters to share – roast curried aubergine with creme fraiche, smoked haddock and soft boiled quails egg, roasted fig and pork belly (served with the most delicious goat’s cheese curd – I LOVE goat’s cheese curd and stole quite a bit of this). The highlight for me was the ginormous prawns which came in their shells in a cast iron dish – a hassle to de-shell but wonderfully tender and meaty, served with a garlicky buttery sauce.

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The meal wasn’t cheap – it came to £165 (including tip) for four of us. But we drank a LOT of cocktails (over £100 of that bill would have been on cocktails) and it didn’t need to be that expensive. Cocktails range between (roughly) £8-£10 which is pretty normal for London, and main courses were generally under £15 – again quite reasonable. I noticed on the menu bottles of wine for £20. I would really recommend Shrub and Shutter and, if you like cocktails, would even suggest you make a trip to Brixton especially for the experience. It’s a fun night out in a lovely space, with some delicious things to eat and drink.

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