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Brawn Review

Drew Smith thinks Brawn is a great little restaurant

Written by . Published on December 27th 2011.

Brawn Review

WITNESS … the smoothest foie gras terrine with golden and black sultanas and bread, a sprinkle of salt, often done but not as reliably as here.

Witness… a hand pulled Tuscan-style steak tartar, no egg notice, no capers.

Witness… a plate of freshest, fresh langoustines simply steamed with some butter and lemon.

Witness… the mushrooms on toast, three big field mushrooms filled with parsley and bone marrow and topped with thin slices of streaky Alsace bacon.

All subscribe to a neighbourhood bistro ethic that is well rooted in the countryside and finding the best producers, so it is in a sense tapas, but euro-tapas, although that sounds ghastly and the cliché does not do it justice.

The menu is broken down into sections – starters, pig, cold, hot, pudding, but it is small dishes which get slightly more treatment as you work down the list, so you might start with just a tiny saucer of shaved Parmesan, or a smooth cod’s roe, then notably well chosen hams and salamis until you get down to properly cooked mains, maybe skate wing à la Grenobloise. The best way to tackle it is probably to pick a dish from each section and muck in.

BrawnfoiegrasFoie gras

The point is the provenance of the impeccable ingredients. Cheeses are from Androuet – whole vacherins were being served at Christmas – the Hackney Wild Sourdough is courtesy of e5 Bakehouse.

It is the second of now three – Terroir off Trafalgar Square and Soif in Battersea and soon four with a Loire project slated for next spring; backed originally by the wholesaler Caves du Pyrene, originally as an advertisement for their bio wines which then only comprised five per cent of the list. Each venue is markedly different, Terroir, post-work pinstripe smart, Soif down at heel Clapham loud, although all subscribe to a neighbourhood bistro ethic that is well rooted in the countryside and finding the best producers, so it is in a sense tapas, but euro-tapas, although that sounds ghastly and the cliché does not do it justice.

In fact what you get at Brawn a schizoid mix of high class restaurant paraphernalia scaled down to an abstract, almost art school décor. Here is a table…


Here is some places we liked… and here are some books we like… and some bottles. The décor is a subtle but wonderful eclectic gathering of odd things, a wooden parrot in a cage, a couple of striking paintings, think art school meets nursery school, which is in fact next door on Columbia Road. There are two rooms – one overseen by the kitchen, one by the bar, which make for different experiences.

Mix into this and serve on bare wooden tables, even on bare wooden chopping boards,  proper cutlery, proper napkins, excellent bread and butter, little white bowls of soft cooked quail’s eggs, peeled with a side cup of mild pepper this. And a team who are both quick and knowledgeable, even under the kind of pressure success has brought. It has a kind of villagey feel, if you go out of hours.

The second point is the cooking, under the overall direction of Ed Wilson – each venue has its own head chef too – is in fact supremely good in that Italian way rather than French in the sense it knows when it has a good dish and leaves it at that. I have eaten here more than a half a dozen times through 2011 without a dud dish. You can find as the menu rolls brandade, snails, trotters, clams, quails – they are very good with quails either romescao or with polenta and gremolata. Dorset clams are a regular. By the end you are into lemon posset or a rice pudding that comes with Agen prunes and Pedro Ximenez sherry.

BrawnquailsQuail eggs

The bio wines – although fashionable – I have found a little more of an adventure, high risk in fact, so best to proceed unless you are familiar with the smaller nooks and crannies of southern French vineyards, with an element of caution, glass by glass until you find what you like.

In the same week I was at another small plates favourite, the no-booking-at-all Barrafino in Soho, but Brawn was almost half price, £65 for three. And where Barrafino is straight down the line, blinkered, modular, if very good, tapas, Brawn has moved on and is testing, exploring, inquiring of different cuisines and rationalising them in a way that has the hallmark of a great kitchen. It does not really have a connection to the Sunday flower market, except you might think that it is gathering in produce from around and putting it up for sale in the best possible condition.

Rating:         16/20
Breakdown:   4/5 service
                      4/5 atmosphere
                      8/10 food

49 Columbia Road
London, E2 7RG
0207 729 5692



Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.


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