Mama Lan's won't win any prizes for the most comfortable dining experience. The same can be said for many of the new restaurants that have opened up in Brixton Village. Under the strip lighting, a lot of the tables are set in the hallway of the Village. Chilly and cramped, people still queue up for tables patiently. There's a good variety though; burgers jostle with Thai food, okonomiyaki with pizza. Come prepared - it's all about the layers - and you'll have a pretty good time.
We visited on Friday night and did a circuit of both sides of the Village and Market Row before settling on Mama Lan's. A short menu holds a choice of noodle soups, a variety of Beijing-style dumplings and a couple of sides. Fried chicken (above) was as good as fried chicken gets. Crisp exterior, juicy meat and a slick of sweet chilli oil, we devastated the napkin box making our way through these.
Pork and Chinese leaf dumplings were fried then steamed, for that all-important crunchy base. Where the insides were a little scarce, the juiciness of them made up for it. My friend squirted me when she bit into one. The skins were obviously handmade - rougher and thicker than gyoza, and typically Beijing style.
Beef noodle soup was generous with the beef, if a little one note, but it was nicely spicy and the meat tender. Wheat noodles were well cooked; chewy and smooth. A little vegetable wouldn't have gone astray.
Tofu and mushroom noodle soup was refreshing and soothing, the stock flavoured with the shiitake mushrooms. Deep fried tofu puffs are so good in soup - they soak the liquid up like a sponge, to deposit it in your mouth under the resistance of teeth.
Service was efficient and friendly, and though people were waiting we didn't feel rushed to finish off our bottle of wine. Someone nearby played Spanish-sounding songs on a guitar (look, music isn't my strong point ok?) and it felt like we could've been on holiday if it wasn't so freaking cold. For a little over £20 a head, it was a handsome dinner.
Casa Morita, in Brixton Market Row is my favourite place for drinks. A couple of mezcal margaritas finished off our evening nicely.
Brixton Village Market
(No reservations, cash only, see website for opening times)