Time Out says
Posted: Sat Oct 1 2011
The best thing that has come out of the rebranding of the old Granville Arcade to the yuppie-sounding Brixton Village Market has been the unprecedented wave of interesting, independent eateries cultivated within. The small shop units and ramshackle appearance of the covered arcade already had the right sort of bohemian look.
But now on a Thursday or Friday night the place is heaving with a mix of young local Brixtonites and visiting gastro-tourists, who glow with the satisfaction of finding Japanese okonomiyaki or freshly made Italian pasta in one of London’s less prosperous postcodes.
Cynics might brand Brixton Village Market as gentrification by ‘outsiders’, but to dismiss it in this way is unfair on the passionate, creative individuals – many of them Brixton residents – who have opened businesses here. In a time where soul-crushingly conformist commercial complexes like One New Change and the behemoths that are the Westfield shopping centres creep all over the capital, the truly vibrant nature of the Village is to be celebrated, not scorned.
Mama Lan, one of the newest arrivals, takes up a prime corner site near the hopping Agile Rabbit (the location of fabulous live music on Thursday evenings). It’s a proper family-run operation, headed by Ning Ma and her mother. The rest of the family chip in; on our visit, Ma’s father was doing some of the cooking. Hailing from Beijing, the family ran a London supper club serving traditional north-eastern Chinese dishes before opening this café.
The menu is short, with around eight small dishes – three of which are the speciality of jiaozi (dumplings). Other dishes are either salads (sesame and seaweed; wood ear fungus, celery and boiled peanuts) or ‘street snacks’.
From the latter, chilli oil chicken had good flavour but was scarce on the chilli oil; the shredded meat was quite dry, a shame considering the source of the bird (Ginger Pig). Intriguing deep-fried ‘vegetable dough balls’ – a bit on the greasy side – resembling small round bhajias, also curried favour with their umami flavour and a curious note of cinnamon.
But what of the dumplings? We were seduced by the Facebook photos of fat, glistening dumplings with their bronzed, crisp bottoms, but were disappointed by the ones set down in front of us, which really needed an extra minute or two of pan-frying for that essential deep golden-crust.
Best of three styles of dumplings was the beef and carrot, which packed a savoury hit; dill and tofu was interestingly grassy, but low on tofu; pork and cabbage seemed to lack any seasoning at all, an anomaly, perhaps, considering the quality of the beef version.
Chinkiang black rice vinegar, provided in bottles on the table, lended the dumplings some much-needed moistness; a great potsticker dumpling should always carry the risk of deliciously scalding juices ejecting upon first bite, but these were disappointingly devoid of such danger.
Flavourwise, there is some great potential in Mama Lan; we like the sound of the hearty Chinese stews planned for cooler weather. But in terms of execution, there’s work to be done before we can wholeheartedly recommend anyone making a special journey. Brixton Village Market will undoubtedly lure voracious eaters anyway, but whether Mama Lan’s food is good enough to ensure repeat custom isn’t clear.