The lofty east-end boozers that once peppered Shoreditch have, before our very eyes, been all but replaced by a host of cracking restaurants.
Brawn, the latest opening from the owners of much-lauded wine bar Terroirs, could have easily fallen under the same, abattoir-chic umbrella of its neighbours, St John, Pizza East and Bistrotheque. Though, thanks in part to the reputation of its older brother, Brawn was, upon opening, salvaged from such tar brushing.
A world away from the offices that surround Terroirs, Brawn is a bastion of rustic warmth, hidden away down Columbia Road – as well known for its many pubs and restaurants as it is for its legendary flower market. Though the space is plain, the melamine tabletops and enamel trinkets made us want to sit down and discuss whether the mourvèdre or cinsault is Provence’s best grape variety. Given the choice of the rowdier front room or the more intimate backspace, we went for the latter, which granted an insiders view of the kitchen and it’s saffron coloured tiles.
Primed on a bottle of Chianti, we were happy to allow the friendly – not to mention knowledgeable - staff walk us through Brawn’s eclectic array of dishes. To start: cold meats from southern France and Italy accompanied by a ball of mozzarella the size (and sweetness) of a small pumpkin. “This was made last Tuesday,” explained the waiter, as we nodded with buffalo frenzy. Red rapidly turned to various shades of pink, white and orange as fishy platters were sped our way: the mussels were festively plump, the red mullet was tender, and, as if two fish fancies weren’t enough, a platter of magnificent prawns clinched the deal.
Not wanting to limit ourselves, we loosened our belts in preparation for a pair of meaty mains – crispy, coronary-inducing confit of duck came nestled within a blackened bed of puy lentils (which, though usually a no-no for this reviewer, were a definite yes-yes on this occasion) and a more unusual Tête de Veaux – veal’s head added a disconcerting angle to the meal. Whether it was tender or simply gelatinous remains a mystery, but it was served in a dark, hearty stock, which only added to the density of the dish.
It’s moments like this when you’re allowed to pat your stomach and smile. The chefs kept glancing coyly over the counter to see if their diners were impressed. We were – as were all the other bearded-foodies that had dined that night. In fact, the only disappointment was the somewhat limited cheeseboard, but we’re prepared to forgive that.
Words by Alex Tieghi-Walker