901 U Street, Northwest
Washington, DC 20001
Neighborhood: U Street/Shaw
Open Monday through Friday for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner.
Nearby Metro Stops: U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo
Price Range: Moderate
Dress: Upscale Casual (jeans okay)
Noise Level: Chatty
Samosas; Scotch egg; tuna tartare; shepherd’s pie; fish and chips; leg of lamb.
Starters $8 to $17, entrées $17 to $26.
Special Features: Weekend Brunch, Breakfast, Good Bar/Cocktails
At the Brixton, on DC’s U Street corridor, a wooden bar, shiny as a Beefeater’s belt buckle, anchors the downstairs dining room. Upstairs, a burgundy leather sofa faces a fireplace and an ornately gilded mirror. A heated deck tops the roof, perfect for witnessing the revelry below.
From the get-go, the six-month-old pub—from brothers Ian and Eric Hilton, who also own the District’s Marvin, Chez Billy, and the Satellite Room—was fated to become a go-to neighborhood spot for a frothy pint of Boddingtons or Newcastle. But its promise as a dining destination has been less clear.
The first time I ate there, shortly after it opened, a server couldn’t identify a single cheese on a sampler platter, and an appetizer of samosas showed up looking—and tasting—as if it had come out of a Trader Joe’s freezer. A mixed-greens salad withered under too-salty dressing.
But then something curious happened: The Brixton got good.
Chef Jorge Pimentel inherited the kitchen from Jeffrey Jew, who never returned to the restaurant following a brief stint on the current season of Top Chef. Pimentel has tweaked the menu: Recent additions include an entrée of rosy little lamb chops—irresistible when dredged through creamy tzatziki—and a trio of tuna-tartare towers with slices of pear, garlic chips, and capelin roe. Beer-battered haddock with skinny fries, a terrific malt-vinegar rémoulade, and a side of mushy peas is one of the best fish-and-chips plates in town. And while novelty probably prompts most orders of the Scotch egg—sausage-wrapped, dipped in panko, and fried golden-brown—its lovely contrasting textures showcase the kitchen’s culinary chops. And those lifeless samosas? They’ve been replaced with dumplings as flaky as those at the best Indian restaurants.
Still, flaws remain: Buttery, sesame-marinated grilled kampachi is saddled with a side of soba noodles in a flavor-starved broth, and the horseradish vinaigrette on the mixed greens still delivers too much salt. Upstairs, a surly attitude behind the bar sometimes eclipses the charm of drinking on the roof. And cocktails—such as a wanly flavored Pimm’s Cup—have been uneven.
But it’s hard to grumble when a place that could easily get by on handsome looks and plentiful booze aspires instead to create truly good food.
This article appears in the January 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.