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Evoking the Feminine: Toasting the Female Spirits at Courtesan

What a delightful change to only go as far as wondrous Brixton for a corking night out. Just a step away from the bustling area around the tube station is the Courtesan, an atmospheric yet down-to-earth venue that hosts burlesque, jazz nights, queer club  nights, vintage DJ nights and of course, fine dining upstairs.

We were there to sample the delights of their all-female wine and spirits list (unbelievably a world first!) in a marvellous evening of Brindisi, which means ‘toasting’. To put it simply, every tipple was accompanied by a maker (or a storyteller) who gave us the lowdown on their particular brand, while we toasted them. And if that wasn’t enough, there were singers fresh from the musicals of the West End to regale us with well-known numbers from jazz, and opera. The food was fabulous, created by Courtesan’s head chef, the hardworking Feng Juan Xue. We all sat at sharing tables and prepared our palates for an extraordinary variety of the Dim Sum that Courtesan is rightly renowned for.

We had Spicy Prawn Crackers, Piccalilli and Stormy Seaweed to nibble on while guests arrived, then we had our first tipple: a delicious Courtesan cocktail: Blossom’s Sour Cherry Syrup, Briottet Cherry Liqueur, Square One Vodka and Argeo Ruggieri Prosecco. Its cherry taste was deceptive, it had quite a kick. The wonderful Aude Dupont told us all about the process of making it and how it was free of preservatives and additives, always good to hear. Then we had a little taste of Vintage Velvet Vodka whilst its founder, Gabriella Thorpe gave us the history of her brand. Our table all agreed it had a Christmassy sort of warmth to it. Szechuan Ribs, Deep Fried Sea Bass and Squid were served whilst we heard from storyteller Russell Farian on behalf of Joy Spence, who is the creator of the marvellous Appleton Rum (this was SEEN’s definite fave). No sampling of spirits in London could take place without gin; we were treated to a snifter of London Dry Gin, very smooth, created by Joanne Moore and presented by one of the lovely songstresses. We had some excellent Jose Cuervo Tequila courtesy of Sonia Espinola, which was presented by Sara Pearce and some gorgeous Guillon-Painturaud Cognac from Line Sauvant, presented by Peter Bowyer, this was deeply aromatic and very warming, another Christmas tipple. Lastly, we sampled some great Naked Grouse Whisky, from Kirsteen Campbell, presented by Amit Sood, which slipped down very nicely indeed.

Amid all this, we steadily ate our way through Pinching Crab Dumplings, Scallop and Shrimp Dumplings, Wasabi King Prawn Dumplings, Tortellini al Vapore, and delicious Verdant Mezzalune, served to us from giant Dim Sum baskets. This was followed by Curry Pumpkin Buns, Bunny Buns, Char Sui Buns, and Chicken Buns. Then delicious cubes of chocolate truffle to finish. If that sounds like a lot, it really wasn’t: it was a sampling menu.

To send us all off into the South London night, we had a rousing rendition of Nessun Dorma from the talented singers, and a final ‘Brindisi’ with a Courtier cocktail: Lapsang Souchong Tea, Naked Grouse Whisky, Famous Grouse Smoky Black, Chilli and Fig Liqueur. By this stage we’d had so many toasts for each spirit and so much good cheer, it was a rather toasted SEEN who stumbled down Atlantic Road on the way home…

We were all in agreement on my table:  Courtesan should do these nights every month. What a great way to learn about female indie distillers, eat great food AND salute the rise of the female spirits. They’re an inspiration! Your very good health…

69-73 Atlantic Road