In Auckland in the eighties and nineties there used to be a nightclub called Staircase. And if memory serves me correctly it was a terrible place – bad music, bad look, bad entertainment. However it did have three claims to fame. First it was Auckland's most famously gay club. Not much competition at the time, but this is NZ we're talking about. Second it was occasionally hosted by a one-legged 50's rock n roller who did a mean piano. And third, it played a part in launching the career of a bona fide celebrity in Russell Crowe, or Russ le Roq as he was known then. Each of these elements on their own sit at odds with the 80's Auckland of my nostalgia, and all of them combined make the Staircase seem rather out of place in the capital of Polynesia.
Many years on finds me segue waying rather awkwardly into somewhere equally out of context with its surroundings but which also makes a virtue of its stairs - the underwhelmingly named Upstairs Restaurant in Brixton. Fine French cuisine doesn’t just sit at odds with Afro-Caribbean city, it’s a complete anomaly. Nevertheless Brixton has moved on a shade from its drug fuelled clubbing scene of yesteryear (just a shade mind you) and Upstairs has been around since 2005, so maybe it was time to give the place a chance.
And that we did last week when an erstwhile crew of the Northerner, the Rock Star and his other half Betty Boo for a cheeky champers and dinner date. Upstairs resides ‘speakeasy’ style, in a converted town house just off Acre Lane, and the contrast with the street and its surroundings is dramatic. Heading up the stairs you are greeted by a groovy little bar, before ascending once more into the intimate, romantic space that works as its dining room.
Taking in the minimalist set menu (2 courses for £22, 3 courses for £26) three of us settled on the grilled goats cheese and summer vegetable starters, while the Rock Star devoured a divine looking (and tasting apparently) veal and foie gras burger. For the mains we covered all bases, with Betty Boo taking in the Pea and Girolle risotto, the Northerner and the Rock Star choosing the Sea Bream and Sauce Viere, while yours truly settled on the Duck Breast with Cocotte potatoes (whatever that means). Having a sneaky sample of all of the mains I can say that the presentation, portions and most importantly flavours were superb. My duck was the best I’ve had outside of France for a long time, and the fact that we were all equally reluctant to share our food indicates how good it was. And how greedy we are.
Desserts always had a hard act to follow and my choice of Chocolate and Ginger crème brulee was even too rich for a chocolate fanatic like me. However the Vanilla Panacotta was light fluffy and flavoursome while the Summer Pudding certainly looked good – which was as close as anyone was prepared to let me get.
We washed it down with two bottles of French red wine, which the Rock Star chose so I’ll blame him for any inconsistency. Nevertheless they were pretty good nick, and noone wept when we receive the bill, so I’ll assume fairly priced.
Upstairs is a wonderful little place to eat, certainly better then anything neighbouring Clapham has to offer and not as clichéd as other French style bistros in the SW / SE corner of London. And maybe I was wrong to suggest it sits at odds with its location, and perhaps it enhances and complements the surroundings. Whatever - no Russell Crowe no drug-fuelled clubbers (that I noticed) just great food, atmosphere and service. In Brixton even - who would have thought.