Brawn, 49 Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG
Brains and Brawn? Who says the two have to be mutually exclusive?
I’ve peaked. I’m at a Shoreditch restaurant with a web developer, animator, stylist and a titan of marketing. Just like the majority of my life choices, it sounds like a setup for a niche joke for which yours truly would normally be the punchline- but for once it’s not the case.
I could’ve guessed that Brawn used to be a workshop as it reminds me of my DT classroom in Filton High, though I assume they’ve kept much of the original brickwork out of aesthetic choice, rather than state-imposed budget limitations. The gated windows glow amber through an inky summer night and you can make out the tops of heads throwing back with laughter and perpendicular elbows of people pouring out more wine. The windowsills are dotted with plates and glasses being tended to by couples between giggles- it’s a hive of activity.
Unanimously, a round of oysters is decided on. Although varying quite drastically in size, they’re the oceanic smooch you always want but don’t always get- even with the runt of the litter that I’ve graciously taken the hit with. The grilled sardines are as bright as a new silver mint and a pleasure from head to tail; dressed in a gremolata equally vivid with garlic and lemon zest.
A salad of Honeymoon melon, Vesuvio tomato, peperoncino & bottarga is the ideal salve for a balmy summer night. Bar the booze, it essentially possesses all the qualities that make a spicy margarita with a Tajin rim so sinkable. Quenching, fiery and piquant, it continues to sing in the back of the throat way past its bedtime, leaving behind a plate practically swirling with a virgin cocktail. Guarding the plate with my body like a keener concealing his test from the class, I await the emergency airdrop of bread and butter for a dish I didn’t even order-I’m only getting a piece of the action because I couldn’t conceal my groaking.
Having slagged off Lisboeta’s chop of their tartare, I realise I was mistaken- yes it was atrocious, but the texture was the least of its issues. Here, it’s pebble-sized chunks of beef that sparkle and slap with bracing doses of tabasco and Worcester sauce, a fine dice of shallots and cornichons clinging throughout. A parchment-thin dorsal of a cracker lay beside, freckled with rosemary, its delicacy accentuating the tartare’s burliness.
An ardent fan of agnolotti since the late Dairy’s bone marrow, chestnut and wild mushroom version years ago, Brawn pack their deftly-hemmed purses with a purée of creamy Mauve aubergine. Laden with the luminous candy that is Sungold tomatoes, they’ve been allowed to stew a little and burst with the goods, emulsifying with the pasta water and olive oil to create a sauce of castrato-pitch purity.
Thickset slabs of pork loin practically gruff the restaurant's namesake; pastel-pink and shimmering with juices are mounted on Badger Flame beetroot- sweet and fudgy. An apricot vinaigrette ties it all together with its mellow acidity, singed and syrupy hunks of which are slotted in and around the plate.
My education continues into dessert- a hybrid of both peach and nectarine, the Nectavigne or ‘blood peach’ is served with almonds in a tart. A sturdy base that’s warm on the tongue with sheer butter content is the foundation for a beautifully fluffy layer of frangipane, topped with glazed slices of the nectavigne that’s a moreish combination of sweet and sour. A quenelle of crème fraîche gives new life to peaches and cream (sort of).
Certain things are irresistible: tonnato, cheap sarcasm and the trifecta of chocolate, olive oil and salt. Brawn has produced something so smooth, so slick that it looks like a slip hazard. Nigh-on sexually viscous, the cocoa content is bitter to the point of dry that has the grassy olive oil come slinking to your aid, with a whack of salt that Rick Stein would approve of whilst doing that annoying thing where he talks about 'The Salt Police’ and then pulling that weird face that's somewhere between a grimace and a smile.
As with so many places to eat that you eventually get to after pining for so long, it can often run the risk of disappointment (see Lisboeta) from which Brawn is a far cry. It’s the perfect storm of food, company, atmosphere and weather that somehow elevate each other in turn, lubricated with the pouring of chilled wine with satisfying abandon, of course. I may have reached the zenith of my now Nathan Barley-like London life, but Brawn doesn’t seem to stock any Dutch wine, so perhaps I’m safe for now.