Brawn, Bethnal Green, 49 Columbia Road, E2 7RG
I live under the illusion (or is it delusion) of being fashionable. I perpetuate this by drinking at the right bars, buying catwalk-influenced clothes and having a partner – the Northerner – who is downright on-trend, stylishly cool. Sadly there are many things about me that give it away. The fact that when I wear those aforementioned clothes I look more M&S then Brick Lane. The music I listen to ranges from middle of the road to naff. And perhaps most shamefully for a reviewer, I never, ever seem to get to a place when it’s at its media-frenzied peak. Fashionably late in other words.
Fortunately along with the Northerner I have a collection of cool friends including the Architect and
Betty Boo who drag me out of my City-based muddle to visit places that are highly desirable. And the other week, after a cheeky bottle of wine at Shoreditch House (see the namedropping I did there) we headed to Brawn - the enfant terrible of Terroirs in Charring Cross.
Brawn is located on the site of an old café which the Northerner thinks used to be a school, on Columbia Road – the weekend home to a flower market and east-London’s cool set. The Northerner is right about most things, and her logic is obvious with the school theme extending to the chairs, tables and windows, albeit with a designer twist and the staff, many of whom seem about GCSE age. But perhaps that shows how old we are getting. However they are charming, fashionable and chatty. Intrusively so opined the Northerner who took umbrage at one particular youngster who seemed to have an opinion on everything of which she was only too happy to share.
The clientele (calling them punters would do them a discredit) are a mix of East London hipsters and well-heeled foodies from across the capital here to check out the Next Big Thing. Some of the older Islington set seemed a little unsure as to what they had signed up for. And I ‘m not sure that the menu made them feel any more comfortable.
Brawn sets out its stall by describing its menu as being ‘cloudy reds, murky whites and loads of pig.’ We were warned by our dining companions that the Tête de Veau, or calf’s head, was exactly what is said on the box. We decided to pass on that little treat. As is the fashion nowadays we ordered separately but shared across the table. Starters included the King Prawns with chilli and Gremolata – fresh, zesty and divine; Shetland Mussels, Leeks & Bacon that were delightful; and Dorset Clams with Lemon & Coriander which were melt-in-your-mouth flavoursome.
Our mains included Choucroute, Montbeliard Sausage & Horseradish; the main component of which is a sausage made of pork (what else) smoked over sawdust. This is a dish that the Northerner said sounded more interesting then it actually was, and the final product was more frankfurter then chorizo. I tried the Boudin Noir (Black Pudding) which was soft in texture and nicely flavoured although it lacked a little bit of bite. A subtle rather then big flavoured dish. The Architect went for the Pigs Trotters which slightly disappointingly were presented terrine style, however according to him was sharply seasoned and crumble like on the tongue. Just how he likes it.
As with its mother restaurant, Brawn specialises in natural or biodynamic wines – they’re unfiltered which according to the chatty waitress enhances the flavour. I had a delightful 2009 Chardonnay, Domaine de l’Ocre Rouge which made me think that she might be onto something. However the bottles of 2009 Ventoux La Gérine, Domaine Ferme St Martin Rhône that we knocked back put pay to that idea. I know that we operate in a greener world and these wines are more environmentally friendly then traditionally produced drops, but I think there’s a reason that they are filtered. The texture rather then the flavour was enhanced. This gave the wine a smoked look, but to my and the Northerners palate, a taste that was well… off.
Brawn is outrageously popular right now and deservedly so as it’s perfectly packaged to meet the needs of London’s fashionable and food set. However sometimes it feels like its trying too hard when it really doesn’t need to. Being fashionable isn’t all its cracked up to be.