I think I have had my best meal of 2018, and for that I want to thank chef Simon Whiteside and his team that produce the most amazing dishes from the sea, in a shipping container in Brixton, writes Michael Holland.
Roe only opened days ago and it is already buzzing with new custom and old friends that have followed Mr Whiteside’s culinary career. And it is no wonder when you see the passion he has for his work, his excitement when he talks of dishes he has created, and the smile in his eyes when he presents a plate of food for you. And he will always find time to talk food and fish.
Simon hails from the fishing town of Dún Laoghaire, so grew up with the sea in his veins, plus he has the amiability of just about every Irishman I have had the pleasure to meet. As Doreen from the Co-op and I perused the menu he came over and told us to have this, and to try that, and ‘You’ve got to have some Guinness soda bread…’ His eagerness to please via his cooking was contagious. As he described each dish I became hypnotised, I could hear seagulls, fishing boat bells and waves lapping up the side of a harbour wall. We returned his geniality by ordering far more than was necessary, but we did not waste a single morsel. Maddy, a lovely Australian girl, was looking after us, and we quickly realised that she too had been caught up in the magical maelstrom the chef had created within his team. She brought us our wines (A sublime Picpoul blanc for me, and a South African rosé for the lady) and regaled us with tales of how exciting it was working with Simon, who was now busy in the kitchen again.
Before long the starters began arriving. Sometimes the smiling chef himself would bring them to describe each dish and every one would have a talking point. With the bread it was the amazing seaweed butter that put you in mind of what the coastline must taste like. Doreen actually put a slice of soda bread in her bag after Maddy told us how great it is toasted for breakfast. We were both overwhelmed with the intensity of the flavour in the pecorino foam: ‘How do you turn cheese into foam,’ wondered my companion. ‘Alchemy,’ I replied. ‘And magic.’ The Ceviche with a drizzle of poitin (Poteen) was something special; it burst with different tastes and zest and a life all of its own.
While we waited for the Whole Cornish Black Bream with Salsa Verde and Warm Potato Salad we discussed how good it was here at Roe and how Chef Whiteside had done the interior decor himself and turned a container into a bijou eatery. Is there anything this man can’t do?
The fish arrived majestically, in the manner to which it had quite rightly earned for its final moments. We looked on, struck dumb at its beauty, wondering if it was too good to eat, and who was going to be the first to cut into it, as this was a fish dish for sharing. While we allowed that thought to linger we steamed right into the potatoes! Wow! Roasties with fresh coriander, red peppers and a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, paprika and other ingredients Simon mentioned but have now been forgotten. The deeper you got into the bowl the more intense the flavours became. Divine. And the bream itself was unimaginably good. I think we were told it had been cooked in brine, and that helped retain the moistness of the flesh.
But there was more. We had been enticed into having the Spiced Cod with Fermented Lentils and Roast Squash: ‘It’s a real winter warmer,’ we were told, though we were more than a little anxious about not being able to eat it all. Nevertheless, we were allowed a decent break before Maddy brought it to the table. We found the cod beautifully cooked and its accompaniments perfect for this cold spell.
And still we weren’t finished. Maddy convinced us to have the Stout Cake with Bailey’s Cream Cheese; one each as she would not let us share. Plus more wine. This time two really moreish reds: Tempranillo for me and a Pinot Nero for Doreen.
We finally left Roe feeling sated, happy and ready to go back in the near future.
Simon Whiteside celebrates his heritage, his roots and his love of fish. His passion shines through everything he does and says, and it was a real joy to be a part of that for a couple of hours.
Roe, Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road, SW9 8PQ
07535 269098 – www.roebrixton.com
Tuesday – Thursday (dinner only) & Friday – Sunday (lunch & dinner)
Guinness soda bread with Seaweed butter 4.00
Cuttlefish & Ink Arancini with Pecorino Foam 6.00
Poitin Ceviche 8.00
Picpoul x 2 10.00
Rosé x 2 10.00
Whole Cornish Black Bream 20.00
Spiced Cod 14.00
Tempranillo (Lge) 6.00
Pinot Nero (Lge) 8.00
Stout Cake x 2 12.00
Food 5 Stars
Value 4.5 Stars
Ambience 3.5 Stars
Disabled Access No
Disabled Toilet (in the Pop complex) Yes
Photos: Justin De Souza