Zoë Perrett discovers a brilliant Brit-Basque bolthole brings a little slice of sunshine to South London
You perch on a stool in front of a wooden counter loaded with charcuterie, cheese, and fresh produce. Something hits the tiny kitchen’s plancha with a sizzle; your nostrils twitch as a bowl of patatas bravas sails by; albarinho is glugged generously into your tumbler.
You’re not in San Sebastien. You’re in Brixton. And what’s more, you’re seated in a shipping container. This is Donostia Social Club, and dining here is sheer joy.
Not a drop of Spanish blood flows through chef-patron Paul Belcher’s veins, but he does a mighty fine job of channeling his inner Basque. That said, don’t expect adherence to authenticity. Paul cooks what he likes, and you’ll like it too.
Choose a few tapas to pique the appetite, but don’t peak too soon lest you spoil yourself for later great plates. Exemplary croquettas bear crunchy crusts and unctuous interiors; sobrasada toast boasts a generous layer of salty, spicy sausage drizzled with honey. Fried padron peppers are an unmucked-around-with must-order.
Our ‘feast proper’ commences with specials of pink slices of wild pigeon atop an earthy, dal-like lentil and garlic puree, and charred lamb chops whose richness is cut by a tangle of roasted red pepper strips.
A simple assembly of broccoli, almonds and garlic, stuffed piquillo peppers; and truffled courgette cannelloni all evidence the fact that Donostia’s vegetable dishes are anything but an afterthought. But we want more meat, so on we plough.
Oxtail comes from the main menu, or the stewpot of the gods. I’m not sure which, but I know that my mouth is filled with gorgeously gelatinous, slow-cooked meat whose alchemic lacquer includes red wine, chocolate and lime. Octopus might not be for everyone, but it’s for me, and I don’t care to share a single chunk of this romesco sauce-dressed cephalopod.
We decide dessert can’t hurt – plunging spoons variously into a distinctly – and deliciously – cheesy manchego cheesecake; an arresting agglomeration of orange foam, mango and almond turron; and a Pedro Ximinez and macadamia brownie that may or may not have elicited a small moan from my chocolate-filled mouth.
Begging for seconds is almost as tempting as staying put to get roaringly merry on sherry, but last orders have been called, so call it a night we must. But we’ll be back. And next time, I’ll be having the Iberico pork.
Make it happen
Where: POP Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road, London SW9 8PQ
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