Is it sacrilege to transform a church into a restaurant? Those who paid for the memorial plaques that now adorn the wall of MEATmission in Shoreditch would probably say so, overlooking as they now do tables of lairy people forcing wads of beef, cheese, and chilli through their teeth. The crypt at St Matthew’s in Brixton is a different story though, and I for one would convert to the cult of Gremio de Brixton and their delicious tapas. Hallelujah and praise be to the chef. Besides, upstairs is still a working church, rather than a nightclub.
I expected more of a Christopher Lee’s bedroom feel from Gremio, given the location. A Disney themed restaurant, where dust and bones litter the floor, upturned coffins are used as tables, and the kitchen is hidden behind a wall of cobwebs. Disappointingly, Gremio is a clean well-lit space, with velvet on the walls, and an exposed kitchen showing chefs hard at work preparing various meats. Half the floor space is given over to a lively bar with loud music. The clear segregation worked well on a Friday, preventing the music from ruining diners’ meals and our loud conversation from ruining drinkers’ drinks. Whether our conversation ruined dinner for other diners, I can only guess.
This being a Friday, sangria and red wine were - mistakenly it later transpired - ordered in vast quantity. I know sangria is a summer drink, but it’s warm in the crypt and the lightness of the drink helps clean the palate between dishes, of which there were a great many. Tapas is always hard for the English, we’re not great at sharing - too polite to stretch across our neighbours dinner and take without asking. English tapas generally descends into awkward requests for things we don’t want and the feeling that you’ve not had quite as much as you’re going to pay for. The word sorry reverberates around the table with comic frequency. Of course, the drink helped ease tensions, but so did the order of four sharing platters, bread, and all 18 of the warm tapas dishes on offer - most of which landed on our table at exactly the same time. This was an overwhelming amount of food and more than enough to keep each of us from feeling cheated. Although, we did order another ox cheek once we cleared the last plate, that being the standout dish of the meal. The ox cheek tasted like the velvet of the curtains were it cooked for fourteen hours. The words soft and creamy wouldn’t begin to describe it. This was smoothness I haven’t tasted since I cut a steak with a spoon in Argentina. Unbelievable and worth ordering two, even if every mouthful thrust the dagger of glutton further in to my stomach. The rest of the tapas was equally well cooked, but always limited by not being the cheek. Classic tapas of small succulent prawns dripping in oil, tiny calamari, cheese croquettes, ham after ham, cheese after cheese, delicious warm bread drizzled with a sweet olive oil - the list continues. And, for the accurate Spanish experience a dearth of vegetable, except for the two lettuce leaves served with each dish - purely for decorative use I understand. But who needs anything green though when you have an ox cheek that tantalising and enough wine to keep Holy Communion running for two months.