Brand new Shoreditch restaurant Brawn’s reputation precedes it. Brawn is the latest restaurant from the people behind Terroirs in Soho and so my expectations were high for this natural wine bar and bistro. Arriving at night, the restaurant glowed like a beacon on Columbia road. Behind the barred windows (which felt like a little overkill) bright lights blazed against the white tiled walls. It was great light for food bloggers but not if you were seeking a romantic atmosphere. The restaurant has an industrial feel about it which fits in well with the area, there’s an electric clock hung low on the wall, abstract black and white prints and a huge wooden pig on a shelf above the bar.
Both the name and pig point to Brawn’s emphasis on porky products and the menu even has a whole section simply entitled “pig”, the other choices were “taste ticklers”, “plancha”, “slow cook” and “clean” which appeared to refer to the salad selection. Most dishes were priced between £6 to £14 and were really designed for sharing so since I was eating at Brawn with eight friends we were happily able to share our way through most of one page menu.
We started with the pig, a board of thin white strips of creamy, melt on the tongue, lardo (£8), strips of spicy salami (£6) and a chunky, meaty terrine (£7) served with toasted bread. There was a big emphasis on provenance and the producers were all name checked on the menu from the Hackney wild sourdough baked in London Fields to the Gloucestershire Middle White which was used in the terrine.
From the plancha section of the menu we ordered big bowls of steaming mussels (£7) and extra bread to mop up the broth of Artisian French cider. Fillets of shimmering crisp skinned red mullet (£13) were firm and fresh and teamed with earthy chanterelle mushrooms. Spatchcock’d quail (£8) was a little fiddly to eat, particularly as a dish to share, although I suppose quail always is and it was our own fault for ordering it. The best dish from this part of the menu though was the Cornish squid (£9) which came with seared hatchings on it from the grill and tender, juicy meat topped judiciously with a drizzle of tangy green gremolata.
Our choices from the “clean” part of the menu included the beetroot and pickled walnut salad with Ossau Iraty a French cheese made from sheeps milk (£6). The beetroot was a satisfyingly finger staining deep purple colour and its sweetness set off the bitterness of the pickle and the creamy, smooth slithers of cheese.
Beetroot and pickled walnut salad
The buffalo mozzarella (£9) was a little hard to approach as it was served as a huge ball of mozzarella with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkling of anchovies. That said, the mozzarella itself was just as rich and creamy as it should be.
Polenta with chanterelles
Moving on to the “slow cook” food, polenta (£7) so soft it was almost soup like in consistency was scattered with wild mushrooms to add to some depth of flavour. This was real wintery comfort food eating. The zander boudin (£14) came as our waiters recommendation. The huge, incredibly rich boudin sausage was served in a large bowl filled with a zesty red shellfish sauce. It was an unusual pairing but worked well as a dish to share, although if you ordered it by yourself I think the richness of both the sauce and the sausage would have been over the top.
Despite having eaten multiple courses we pounced on the dessert menu and ordered everything on it. Lemon tart (£5) had a crisp pastry base and a sharp acidity to the tart itself. The chocolate mousse (£5) was simply divine, creamy and smooth to a fault. Pear compote (£5) was almost like a deconstructed crumble with soft chunks of pear topped with a sprinkle of crumbly topping. However it was the floating island (£5) that drew the most squeals of delight from our table featuring a huge dome of fluffy meringue floating merrily on a sea of creamy custard. In comparison to the puddings the cheese (£3.50 a piece) was a bit of a disappointment. There were only three rather limited and unadventurous choices.
Given Brawn prides itself on being a natural wine bar it would be remiss of me not to mention the extensive wine list which is helpfully arranged by varieties and tastes. Natural wine has reputation of being full of cloudy whites and murky reds but we settled on a great bottle of pinot with a subtle berry flavour for around the £30 mark and happily indulged in several bottles between the table in the hope that the natural label meant we would be hangover free the next day.
Both the food and the style of eating at Brawn is very enjoyable. Our waiter was a bit of a space cadet and totally forgot some parts of our order (to the extent that we never got the half dozen Maldon oysters that we ordered) but otherwise the restaurant had a great buzz to it with everyone smugly dining in the knowledge they were some of the first to eat at one of London’s hot new openings.
Details: Brawn, 49 Columbia road, Shoreditch E2 7RG (Ph 020 7729 5692) Tube: Liverpool street
Damage: Pricey. Our bill came to about £50 a head. But we did drink a lot of wine!
If you liked reading this you might like my reviews of other wine bars in London – Vinoteca and 28-50.