82 Mitcham Road, Tooting Broadway, London, SW17 9N : www.brickandliquor.co.uk
Who needs central London? It's coming to a neighbourhood near you, says Mike.
Tooting was a pretty ordinary multi ethnic London suburb but now Sadiq Khan’s home turf is on the up. The covered market shows it’s swanky side at night with bars and fooderies popped up and thriving.
Coffee shop Mud has drowsy hipster brunch queues outside it every weekend. The big Broadway boozers have upped their game too and small independent food and watering outlets squeeze in amongst the eclectic mix of high street retail.
And now there is Brick and Liquor. Founder David Layton warmly greets us and guides us to one of the small podium tables that line the exposed brick (what else?) walls. David hails from Northumberland and has something of the Viking about him physically; he’s a tall, lean and muscular unit sporting a fine black beard of voguish length.
He takes up quite a lot of the available space in his bijou bar as he runs us through their creative cocktail list. Tongue in cheek names abound: Thyme at the Bar, (Absolut Blue vodka, lemon juice, tonic, sugar & thyme syrup) or Whey to Go (Chivas Regal whiskey, lemon juice, homemade whey milk, salted caramel & cinnamon syrup).
I fancy the The Daily Grind which David describes as the ultimate espresso martini (Fresh espresso, Jameson’s Irish whiskey, Guinness syrup & Café Cartron) and my drinking buddy Iain goes for the nicely named Dill or no Dill (Beefeater gin, cucumber, dill, sea salt, lemon juice & elderflower cordial).
Thoughtful ingredient combinations, homemade syrups and the decorative skills of Shane the barman mean both look and taste great. Mine creamy and rich and Iain’s subtle and refreshing.
The sprig of Dill in the Dill or no Dill (because there is Dill) is clipped to the side of his glass by a miniature clothes peg showing the attention to à la mode detail that runs through the place; dark timber, cast iron and copper lampshades, right down to the Cowshed skincare products provided in the loo. I’m vaguely surprised not to find a beard oil dispenser in there.
David enjoyed quite a high powered job in the central London bar and entertainment industry overseeing many outlets, but finding he was only spending fifteen minutes or so in each before he had to be off to the next, he craved more connection to the punters so his dream of a “community cocktail bar” grew.
“I know it sounds wanky” he says but he clearly believes in the concept after researching bars as far flung as New York to learn how to run one with this genuine “neighbourhood” style and feel.
Two DJ friends joined to help fund the venture (and choose the music) and David left his job to open the bar last October - on a third of his former salary, but judging by his broad smile having made the right choice. Cocktails necked it’s time for us to eat.
The menu is a global fusion of dishes, each served tapas style in two sizes or as sharing plates. Iain unfortunately suffers from acute vegetarianism but his disability is well catered for by the Brick and Liquor veggie platter which includes chunks of grilled halloumi and juicy tomato skewers, smartly dressed salad leaves with walnut and olives, homemade focaccia, houmous & smoked paprika mayonnaise and their amazing “must-try” vegetarian scotch egg.
I am carnivorous to the point of species extinction but this meat free version of the classic looks authentic to me, with chickpeas, herbs and a little flour forming the egg’s convincing surround. It tastes way better than that sounds and should have been a candidate for the recent Scotch Egg Awards. Maybe next year?
Pescetarians can enjoy cod with courgettie or panko crumbed fish and chips but I pang for some real meat tonight and here they skewer plenty of it. Lamb koftas, pincho pollo chicken lollipops or pork belly bites are tempting but I go for Teriyaki steak, a lamb version of the classic Spanish “pincho murunos” pork skewers, and Chorizo Arancini.
These arrive first and are perfectly crisp but not greasy with yielding cheesy oozy centres. Both meat skewers turn up on the obligatory narrow slate tiles and happily reinforce my dubious moral choice in respect of animals.
They’ve made sure the wine list contains surprises too and Iain washes down his five a day with a crisp white; Reine Juliette Picpoul (2015 France) whilst I glug a big tasting Tenuta Moneti Caburnio (2011 Italy).
By now our limited table space is heaving with booze and victuals and I’m of the opinion they’ve made a great thing happen here, it’s buzzing with south Londoners delighted to come from around the corner to get good food and drink rather than needing to trek into town for it.
The convivial David swings by our table again almost blocking the thoroughfare of what is now a bustlingly bar. He tells us the property used to be a Filipino newsagent (which I presume went under for reasons of ‘niche’) and that he and his friends are now converting a Clapham South estate agents into another community cocktail joint. I’m all for it. Besides: Estate agents closes and bar opens? That's a win every time.