Tuesday, 28 July 2015
Restaurant review: Brawn, Columbia Road
Columbia Road is that most mayflyish of London pathways. A ghost town of boarded up shops sit eerily amongst the cobbles and mosaic throughout the week, their enticing geometric windows totally inaccessible behind heavy, metal grates. Come Saturday morning and the whole place suddenly livens up, the air tinged with the smell of just-ground Ethiopian beans and the sound of heel on brick. And after Sunday’s floral cockney peacock display its back into hiding.
Thankfully there are still some beacons shining warm yellow light and open doors to those who dare walk the streets after hours. The Royal Oak pub is a favourite, showcasing that terrible representation of gentrification; good beer, some pulled, smoked meats and clean toilets. Ghastly. That said, I was genuinely sad to see the turnaround of the Birdcage, whose old-timer’s Saturday night karaoke was a hilarious and entertaining institution. And then there is Brawn. So subtle that it probably took me five attempts to work out where it was. But when I did, I was instantly taken by its charm; a small room (the back room even more concealed again) filled with wood tables and chatter, stripped back but with those simplistic twists of design that brought everything to life. Simple chalk boards and interesting prints hung from the walls and shelves bulged with wine. I had enjoyed a meal at sister restaurant Terroirs, with food led by flavour and comfort. A booking was only a matter of time.
Katie seemed less enthusiastic. “You want to take me to somewhere called Brawn? That’s offal right? So you want to take me to an offal restaurant? Oh great…”. But with a bit of gentle persuasion and upon showing her the menu (tripe only listed once!), she decided that there were at least a handful of dishes that looked “well nice”. I on the other hand thought that it all looked well nice. And I had secretly already made a booking. And there was no online booking thingamijig to silently back out, and I was damned if I was going to phone up with some measly cancellation excuse.
No matter where we go to, date nights are always lovely. And this was a particularly good one. This was the first evening of a two and a half week holiday. We would be wed within the fortnight and still had that energetic nervous excitement of whether we would be able to pull the whole thing off, or whether largely being lazily laid back for a year and flying by the seat of our arses for the last few months would indeed bite us in the bum. But whatever was to happen, we were on holiday. Rain had just freshened up a bright, warm evening and we were off out for dinner.
We sat on a charming corner table musing over the aesthetic joys of the room. We sipped beautifully balanced Aperol from brittle-thin tumblers, clinking delicately as the ice clumsily brushed the glass. Candlelight flickered through the orange liquid, making it appear molten around the edges. Food kicked off with a simple bowl of almonds. But such simple things are encouraging when each nut had been evenly covered with an oily, salty slick. Katie started with a classical combination of mozzarella, Serrano ham and melon. There’s no hiding in these kind of dishes, and the quality and ripeness were on key. What lifted such simplicity were the mint leaves that flecked between the white, pink and orange. My duck hearts however hit the jackpot. Since our visit we have indeed been successfully married and honeymooned. We have travelled around Scotland and eaten some incredible food. But I can still taste those duck hearts. The skewer of charred, yet melting meat sat atop sumac studded, soft chickpeas atop a thin disc of sourdough. Everything worked so well in texture and flavour. It was the kind of starter that you really wished would return for the main course and dessert.
After such a good start I couldn’t wait for the main to arrive. It’s always brilliant to see rabbit on a menu; one of those ingredients so abundant yet so often overlooked. The fact that it came swimming in a sea of tagliatelle made it a must order. I hate turning up to a restaurant with a pre-conceived idea of what I want to eat, but I have to admit that I had seen a photo of this dish previously, and I secretly hoped it would be available. It was a bit of a shame when in real life it didn’t quite match my expectations. The flavours were terrific, and they had really captured the gaminess of the wild meat. The pasta was delicate and thin. I just didn’t think the two came together very well. Instead of a ragu, the pasta was mixed with fairly dry little lumps of the rabbit and other diced vegetables. As I said, it was tasty, and I polished the whole thing off, but there was a level of oozy satisfaction missing.
Katie’s main was the opposite, and was indeed wonderfully satisfying. Five decent pink medallions of lamb neck stood proud out of a deep borlotti and tomato broth. I love this kind of cooking, and I’m so happy that these kind of dishes are coming back into culinary fashion. The one problem that Katie encountered was in the eating. Armed with only a knife and fork, it was frustrating to be left with a delicious slick of inaccessible liquid sloshing about in the bowl.
As so often on these evenings, we were content and stuffed by this point. But as so often we were tempted by one last thing. I couldn’t help smiling as a large wedge of tiramisu was plonked down between us. And like everything else, it was balanced and flavoured with precise care.
Brawn is another tucked away gem that is well worth seeking out, be it for a quick lunch and glass of wine or a long, relaxing dinner. It is certainly worth braving deserted Columbia Road on a school night for.