Published 3 September 2021
by Josh Barrie
On the right-hand wall of Danclair’s, Brixton’s newest restaurant, is a dazzling mural of the late Valentina Castillo Cabellero, a chef from Venezuela and grandmother to owner Brian Danclair. She remains one of Brian’s foremost inspirations, having once taught him the family recipes she used to cook for diners in Port au Spain, Trinidad, the southernmost Caribbean island and the closest to the Continent.
These dishes transcend Brixton, arguably home to London’s Caribbean scene, and go beyond the eminent Trini food at Fish Wings & Tings, founded in 2012 and much-loved since. Instead, Brian says he’s sought to capture a snapshot of what he and his family makes at home, entwining Trini flavours, French influences, and the pan-South American classics from Cabellero.
Even so, the menu at Brian’s eponymous and intimate Brixton Village restaurant is about more than his family. Typically for a casual spot in South London, there is no rigidity at all. Simply, the chef says, he wants to feed people “delicious food, that’s it”, and is markedly unconstrained by any singular concept.
“I want to share the food of Trinidad, of home, but that doesn’t mean famous dishes or what people might expect – this is the food I love and what I make at home,” he tells CODE.
“This is comfort food, but it’s also not as casual as some restaurants here. I’m testing myself and taking things further. Fish Wings & Tings works and people know what they’re getting. There’s a bit more room to manoeuvre.”
The menu at Danclair’s might change but for now there’s a well seared strip of sirloin steak with tangy chimichurri, chicken empanadas – Caballero’s, or “Tina’s”, own – BBQ pork ribs, grilled prawns with tamarind, stew vegetables “with French bread to soak up the sauce”, fish of the day – grilled so the skin is crisp and the protein tender – beef stew, and Provencal-style veg.
There is also a classic potato salad, a regrettably unfashionable dish in London that should be more common in 2021, and Brian’s chicken wings, which are always intensely moreish and probably the best in London. They are the only real nod to Fish Wings & Tings round the corner, though in a similar style, the portions are generous, prices calm (nothing goes above £15), and the drinks weave amusingly between pricey but strong rum cocktails, local lager, and Mirabeau rose at £23 a bottle. A bottle of champagne will set you back £120. It is Laurent-Perrier.
Brian says: “This is Brixton, there is a vibe here. I have brought the wings but we will switch it up. There’s not any particular rules at this project. I’m only trying to showcase the food I love, the food of my grandmother, and of Trinidad as a whole.
“People come to Brixton to eat. Locals come out to eat. I’m lucky to have got this space so I can do interesting things. There’s so much cooking we can do and a lot to offer.”
For Brian, who spent his early years in Trinidad before moving to Washington DC to work under chefs such as Yannick Cam, Jean-Louis Paladin, and Frank Ruta, Danclair’s is an opportunity to better broadcast what he calls “nouvelle Caribbean cuisine”, less defined by ever-popular dishes such as rice and peas.
He adds: “The most important thing is flavour. I’m passionate about that. Here in Brixton there’s a real community. Danclair’s is a chance to show off my heritage in a new way – memories, top produce, the spirit of the place. We’ll see how it goes – hopefully we have a good business.”