Food & Drink: Maremma Restaurant, Brixton SW2

One of the most interesting aspects of dining out is the continued education it provides.

I consider myself fairly well travelled but I’m not ashamed to admit to not having heard of Maremma, in Southern Tuscany.

Rave reviews of the Brixton restaurant by the same name peaked my interest further still, and after several attempts to visit –thwarted from both sides – I finally made it down there last week.

Maremma is tiny, so booking is advised, but this makes it exclusive and even cooler. You can pretty much see what the chefs are up to in the open kitchen from every corner of the restaurant.

Maremma, SW2There’s a relaxed vibe, which I liked very much, and a passer-by popping in for a coffee was welcomed with open arms.

Many restaurants, with an eye on the potential revenue earned on each seat, might well have turned away someone not eating and unprepared to spend more money on a busy Saturday lunchtime.

Located at the other end of Brixton Water Lane, I wonder how many locals even know Maremma opened a few months ago. Our host explained the ethos behind this particular segment of the region’s cuisine, which brought the Maremma story alive for me.

Left with very little agriculturally after the Second World War, farmers were on a mission to increase growing capacity and capability, resulting in a very simple, rustic, cuisine.

Today, less continues to definitely be more, and to spectacular effect. Best of all, you can’t help but be wowed by the ever-changing menu, and I think it unlikely to find many people familiar with the majority of the dishes.

It was a breath of fresh air to have such a new dining experience. I dragged my husband and toddler along for company, and for the acid test as to whether Maremma could meet all our differing needs.

Maremma, SW2

No sooner had we sat down, home-made focaccia arrived with extra virgin olive oil to dip. Not on my approved list – I’m trying to lay off bread – the other two wasted no time in polishing it off.

Keen to keep to healthy choices isn’t easy in this job but here, it was surprisingly easy. Mussels Livornese (£8) was one of many antipasti I could have chosen – mussels steamed in a tomato-based sauce with a few extra veggies thrown in for good measure.

It was simple and utterly delicious. My toddler was happy to dunk the remainder of her bread in the broth and even swiped a few mussels.

Like all good Italian feasts, it was then a question of whether we’d indulge in primi and secondi courses, but it was decided that too tall an order at lunchtime.

My husband went straight for a smaller portion of potato gnocchi, with wild boar pepeso (£10), which barely touched the sides.

I was surprised that he went veggie for the main course, but it was a wise decision – grilled polenta, porcini mushroom trifolati (£14) was sensational and a game changer for me. If asked, I’d have previously claimed not to be a fan of polenta, but crisp fried this way, I couldn’t resist.

Maremma, SW2

Whole sea bream al cartoccio (£18) was served in the silver foil it was cooked in, which I rather liked, making it seem somehow like a home-cooked dish. Added chanterelle carrots added sweetness.

Bream is pretty heavy with bones, and not the kind that can be pulled out quickly in one manoeuvre. That would be my only criticism. However, top marks on the flavour front.

We shared among the finest crispy rosemary potatoes I’ve ever indulged in, and a delightful braised chickpeas and charred onions, both of which our toddler couldn’t get enough of. Husband and baby shared a home-made dark chocolate gelato, but youth lost out to experience, it was that good.

Paloma was a guest of Maremma. 36 Brixton Water Lane, Brixton, London SW2 1PE.

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