City AM reviews Brawn
Eastern promise: a lesson in meat
Tuesday, 1st February 2011
Actually, the menu at this hipster’s paradise has a good deal more than meat to offer people with appetite
49 Columbia Road, E2 7RG
Tel: 020 729 5692
Cost per person without wine: £35
WALK past Terroirs on King William IX Street any night of the week and it’s stuffed to the rafters with what would once have been called Bohemians. Now they’re just Bohemian-looking: hipsters with a good taste in food; theatre executives with bright red lipstick and thick glasses and their menfolk. There’s something about this concept of well-executed, honest French food served in small plates that the glitterati (or is that that the theatre-ati) just love. Just look a few doors down the road at Les Deux Salons for quite a different picture. Good food, but not small plates and the result is a distinctly “bridge and tunnel” crowd (the term snotty Manhattanites use to describe their New Jersey neighbours who journey into the city for a touch of big-time razzle dazzle).
So it’s hardly a surprise that Terroirs’ new outpost, located on trendy Columbia Road in Bethnal Green, is already so popular with the region’s numerous coolsters and taste-makers that it’s difficult to get in even on a Monday night.
Still, it’s a challenge worth surmounting, and so I found myself there last Monday. At first, the taxi drove past, neither of us seeing it. It’s an unmarked room (signs are so not cool) that looks like a branch of the Breakfast Club or Byron’s Burgers – boxy, diner-style, hard wood chairs.
But inside it feels different; far better than some wannabe-cool chain. Pot plants, records and books give the bar a Parisian feel, and the snacks we kicked off with – saucisson and shards of parmesan-like hard cheese – were the perfect way to enjoy what became our only wine of the night: a delicious, fruity but dry Viognier, lots of layers and punch. We had vaguely asked for something dry and along came this beauty. The wine list is one of Brawn’s strong points, so the oenologically adventurous should find a good deal of succour in exploring it.
Dinner was beautiful: maximally rich, meaty and expert. The menu is divided into Taste Ticklers, Pig (terrines, saucisson, some cooked pork), Plancha (clams and some fish), Clean (mostly vegetarian, some fish) and Slow-Cook (stews, slow-cooked meat and game, the likes of tete de veau). From pig we had pork rillettes which, I can’t help but think, always taste of tuna fish and mayonnaise. Onwards and upwards we went, though, with some beautiful mackerel (so very “clean”); a plate of sensationally tender, almost Turkish-style quail with pomegranate; a bowl of astounding sausage and sauerkraut that triumphed even over the great one at the Wolesley, and the dish whose violent garlicky character that stayed with me long afterwards: mushrooms baked with marrow. These mushrooms were so intense we couldn’t finish them. They exploded concentrated juice of salt and fat, garlic and herb and mushroomy gravy. They were a spectacular lesson in how to make a vegetable into a meaty showstopper; how to think outside the box (or the mushroom).
Both of us feared the onset of gout, so refrained from desserts and cheese, lovely as they looked. Still, this was probably the best meal I’ve had in an establishment so hip – never has food exploded with so much expertly-wrung flavour on tables so bare and with a crowd so, well, East London. Hipness aside, the serious energy of Brawn radiates from the kitchen, and its well worth braving the wilds of the East to soak up its warmth.