I have lived in south London long enough to remember when the space behind Brixton Village and the Southeastern railway arches was just a car park. Then, one day, stacks of shipping containers appeared out of nowhere and a few months later Pop Brixton opened. The 1,400sq m events venue has grown into a vibrant hub and a popular foodie destination. Over the years, Pop Brixton has been an incubator for small ventures that have gone on to become established names in London’s dining scene, such as Kricket and Smoke & Salt. The venue’s latest addition is Roe by Irish chef Simon Whiteside and his wife Cairene, an ambitious restaurant that focuses entirely on fish and seafood.
Whiteside hails from Dun Laoghaire, a small coastal town in County Dublin, and built up his career over 17 years working with top chefs such as Raymond Blanc, going on to co-found a successful street food concept, Bia Mara, and restaurant, Hook, in Camden. Roe is his first solo venture.
Roe sources its fish and seafood daily from sustainable fisheries. I’m told the dishes are constantly tweaked to showcase the freshest catch and to keep the chef’s creative juices flowing. Pick the six-course sharing menu (£25pp) to taste the best of what Roe has to offer.
I visit the restaurant for lunch with a friend on a freezing January weekday, but to my surprise the shipping container is warm and quite cosy. Two long wooden tables with benches take up the narrow space, with a window overlooking the railway and the tiny kitchen at the back. I settle at the table with a glass of Vila Nova vinho verde from Portugal (£6 for a small glass, £25 a bottle) and some bread, although what is brought to the table is obviously more than just “bread”. The Guinness and ink soda bread (£4) with seaweed butter is dense and sweet and complemented beautifully by an octopus terrine (£5) with chimichurri, mackerel pâté (£4) and pickled mussels (£4). The pâté is superb and reminds me of Italian baccalà mantecato, though Roe’s version is far more delicate.
My friend Jo loves oysters, so we continue our meal with an incredibly fresh and tasty pair (£6 for two) with shallot vinegar. When it comes to ordering the starters and mains, however, we cannot make up our minds. The cuttlefish and ink arancini (£6) with pecorino foam is one of the most popular dishes at Roe, alongside the Poitin ceviche (£8) with cucumber and lime, yet we decide to leave both out of our order to try something a little bit different.
Whiteside comes over to our table to assist, presenting the menu and the new seasonal additions for the month. I’m won over by his enthusiasm and agree to everything he recommends.
We love the squid noodles (£7), an Asian-inspired dish with thinly sliced squid in spicy sauce that is served on a bed of blanched pak choi. It’s my favourite dish of the meal. The other two we try – red gurnard carpaccio (£7) with cauliflower purée and pickled shiitake and skate wing (£16) with red wine, Jerusalem artichoke and wild mushroom – are, in comparison, mild with sweet and umami flavours. We take time savouring the food and the wine and it’s a while before we move onto dessert – Earl Grey panna cotta (£7) with clementine, rosemary & biscotti. It’s an audacious combination of ingredients where each plays its own part well, without quite coming together.
Overall, there’s no doubt that Roe is a must-visit in Brixton and I am looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the coming months. Go now before Pop Brixton inevitably gets busy in the spring and summer.
Giulia Mulè is a food and travel writer based in London who is passionate about sharing food photography on her Instagram feed (@mondomulia) and blog Mondomulia (mondomulia.com). Originally from Rome, Mulè has spent over a decade living in London and travelling the world. In her spare time, she organises brunch meet-ups with the @IGBrunchClub and fundraising events with @CreatingForGood – a collective of Instagrammers who share their creative skills to raise money for selected charities.