Friday, 17 December 2010

Restaurant Review: Brawn

'My God, I've got to stop coming to East London.  There's a two year old hipster whose parents have put him in a Steve McQueen inspired skull beenie!!'  Girlfriend turns to look; child's jacket is taken off revealing a red and black striped top with a jolly roger flag on it.  'Oh,' I said' 'he's just dressed as a pirate... well it's not my fault, easy mistake to make, whoever heard of a whooly pirate hat, its stupid, hurumph.'

I could probably be forgiven, Colombia Road is after all a bit of hotspot for those dressed in, skinny jeans, and high waxy hair (as well as being very nice).  The latest edition in the sea of design shops and cafes is Brawn, a new project from the people that brought us Terroir an extremely popular French wine bar and eatery near Charring Cross.  Now you might suspect that by calling this new iteration Brawn the owners are indicating a shift towards gutsy, meaty British food.  Not quite.  It's still gutsy, meaty French (with a bit of Italian) food, they're just trying to cash into the cache of modern British food and offal that St John's made popular about a decade ago.  Mislabeling asside, however, there is very little wrong with this place, and lots to enjoy.

The inside of the building is wooden floors, simple tables and chalk boards.  The outside doesn't even have a sign, because what's the point of being a cool kid and eating in a place people know is there.  That kind of things is for losers!  The wine list is strong with plenty to choose from by the glass and tends to lean towards the organic and sustainable end of the market.  The menu, though focussing heavily on high end charcuterie also takes in some good quality cooked dishes such as chargrilled squid, venison stew with polenta, leek gratin, and brandade.  These are on the small side and -given the word tapas is used in front of nearly everything now in an effort to make people pay more for less -the name of the game here is sharing.

So simple in pleasant in side, efficient service, good bar.  So far so good.  Even better, and most importantly for every restaurant, is the food.  The quality of the produce is exceptional and no one has felt any need to mess around with it.  Good bread and butter arrived followed by an excellent portion of rillettes with cornichons, which provided exactly the kind of rib-sticking porkiness that we all need at this time of year. A small portion of sliced, cured sausage may have been a bit dear at £3.50, but was tasty nonetheless. Representing better value was a large portion of lovely smooth anchovy mayonnaise with breakfast radishes for dipping. With that and the cornichons that's two of my five a day, surely that makes up for eating a large portion of delicious lardo (or fat to the rest of us) delicately flavoured with star annise. Slightly flat was the pollenta with gorganzolla and walnuts. The lovely creamy polenta and crunchy, earthy walnuts were let down by a cheese that, though delicious, overpowered their more subtle notes. Pudding, however, showed the quality that the cooked food here can reach. The thin layer of rich custard with a generous hit of vanilla topped with a fantastic light meringue are what you would expect from any floating islands. It was the burnt caramel sauce, sparsley applied, and slightly bitter crumbled ginger bread biscuit that lifted it to something more by providing a real complexity of flavour from what otherwise can be cloyyingly sweet.

The final cost with a glass of wine each was around £60.  Expensive for the middle of the day, but for me this kind of food represents the perfect saturday lunch or weekday dinner and Brawn does it fantastically.  So joining the ranks of the cool kids and potential hipster babies is after all a price worth paying.

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