Those who enjoy wandering through Brixton market’s bustling shops and eateries will appreciate the prime people-watching potential of Salon, which has been lauded as ‘the best view in Brixton’. If anything should be lauded here, however, it is not the quality of the view, but the quality of Nicholas Balfe’s menu. After initially mixed reviews, Salon has resolved any teething issues and hit its stride, with its delicious food and rustic feel landing it among the Observer Food Monthly’s 40 Best Restaurants in Britain.
Arriving for brunch, which I find an economical way of sampling a restaurant before splurging on dinner, my first impression was that Salon has fallen prey to the trend of distressed wallpaper and bare light bulbs. Yet the casual décor is not pretension, but a real reflection of the relaxed atmosphere. Similarly, whilst the open kitchen might be in vogue, the decidedly less fashionable open dishwasher suggests the use of space is governed by practicality rather than trend. Surfaces stuffed with cookbooks, bottles and herbs add to the feeling that you are in a friend’s kitchen, and small touches like pears on the tables add to Salon's idiosyncrasy.
The menu focuses on local, seasonal ingredients with space for flavours from our continental neighbours. It seems even Salon can’t escape the ‘smashed avocado’ that is the staple of London brunch establishments, but more interesting options include ‘roast field mushrooms, pickled walnut & cow’s curd on toast’ and ‘hot smoked salmon, buttermilk scone, beetroot and cabbage slaw’.
A three cheese cornbread with shredded ham hock was very good. Salty ham and capers marry with sweet cornbread before being balanced out by fresh greens, while ‘superseeds’ (pumpkin seeds) add a welcome crunch. The duck egg, though listed as optional, should really be regarded as essential, with the runny yolk providing a necessary counterpoint to the dry, almost granular texture of the cornbread.
The day’s special was, well, rather special. A European take on a Shakshuka, this skillet of baked eggs comes with nuggets of salty ‘nudja, fatty bacon and plump field mushrooms. A topping of peppery rocket and dill provides a foil to the richness of the dish and the accompanying sourdough is handy for mopping up leftover juices.
Having witnessed several trays of freshly-baked cakes waft past on their way down to the deli, we gave way to temptation and finished the meal with a slice of banana bread. This proved to be an excellent choice: the squidgy, nutty loaf is warmed by subtle spicing and cleverly paired with a slightly bitter, chocolatey hazelnut ganache.
We left satisfied, but not stuffed – the mark of a good meal.