Brawn restaurant lunch and Columbia Flower Market- an East End Sunday
Columbia Road: been there, done that? Think again. My Sunday lunch at Brawn – a ‘bistro style’ restaurant right in the middle of Columbia Flower Market- was a pleasant surprise and a reminder that one can still bump into a new good place in this popular corner of East London. Do yourself a favour- if you happen to be there, save a potted plant, spend your money on food and wine.
Ok, we all know Columbia Flower Market and we know what it’s all about. The trendy East End location. The artsy vibe of the shops, the mounds of stoneware and plant pots, the street artists. We have probably all queued at Lily Vanilli Bakery – glancing at the impossibly hipster bearded or red-lipped staff, disguising under the legitimate intent of buying a brownie or a sausage roll. We’ve fought our way through crowds of tourists taking pictures of everything in sight, from the cute to the menial, and not buying a single flower. We have bought bunches of hydrangea- tempted by the ‘three for a tenner’ mantra of the vendors- only to realise, after a complicated journey home with our new long- stem friends, that we don’ really have anything resembling a vase. Hydrangeas, when arranged in cut-out Coke bottles in a cramped flatshare, suddenly don’t look as pretty as we thought in our bucolic fantasy.
Still, even after killing many a potted basil with my poor gardening skills, I often feel like having a walk through the market on a sunny Sunday to work up an appetite for lunch to breathe in the colours and the sounds. Today, in our wanderings, we ended up in front of Brawn and my companion declared: WE MUST EAT HERE. He told me that apparently, Brawn is “Nuno Mendez favourite’s restaurant” – disclaimer before I get a call from some lawyer: I have found no evidence of this anywhere else so he was probably just trying to BS me- and who am I, with my feeble remarks that the weekend before payday AND house moving is not the best one for dining in what looked like some fairly posh French bistro, to compete with the divine maker of Viajante and The Corner Room? Nobody. So Brawn it was. A quick googling told me Brawn is been there since late 2010, and its strong points- in addition to all things piggy, hence the name- are small plates, a killer roast chicken, careful produce sourcing, and great wines (at this point I was thinking really hard of exactly how much was left in my bank account). By the time we were sat down in the airy backroom, we had already learnt that the chicken was sold out, and that on Sundays they only serve a £25 set lunch (sigh of relief), with either pork belly, plaice or a ‘vegetarian option’ (good luck to veggies in this temple to HM The Pork). Brawn is owned by the same folks as Terroirs in WC2, a place I used to love before The 10 Cases opened up just next to my office and became my new “lazy option” for after-work drinks. I found it at the same time similar to Terroirs – the wine list with an emphasis on ‘natural’ and biodynamic French wines, the bistro food- and very different, as different as a East End place can be from one on the Strand.
Our starter was an extensive selection of charcuterie – a delicious pork rillette, a generous portion of duck liver and foie gras parfait, crunchy cracklings and gherkins- plus a mackerel, pea shots and beetroot salad and finally buffalo mozzarella with capers. My favourite was the salad, a surprise as I don’t like beetroot but found the combination extremely good. After the strong flavours of fish and pork, the mozzarella was underwhelming and the capers did not register on the palate. Leaving some behind was no sacrifice as by now we were pretty stuffed.
I will be probably laughed at for this, but I have two pet peeves for restaurants positioning themselves anywhere above Nando’s – bread & butter quality and hand towels in the toilets. Brawn scores well on both points of my silly ranking. The bread was delicious and tasty/chewy enough for the heavy pates – I read later from the website it come from E5 bakehouse in London Fields under the appropriately artsy name of Hackney Wild Sourdough. Not sure you want to know about the toilets so I’ll keep the details on that for myself.
Pork belly, almond tart, sourdough bread
The pork belly had to fight hard against the vision of the last remaining roast chicken being brought to nearby tables in all their golden skin glory, perched on a Staube cast iron tin keeping the chicken upright (yes, Tramshed style, except that Brawn does it better apparently). I stopped longing for the chicken when I tucked into the dish- really good pork belly, crisp and moist, with fresh peas, creamy mash and a the kind of gravy you don’t want to leave on the plate. In fact, it was more like juice, runny and intense- thank god as I loathe gloopy ‘gravy’. Service was friendly and smooth, and they didn’t seem to treat us any worse for only ordering a carafe of a relatively cheap wine – a perfectly lovely Faugeres from Languedoc-Roussillon.
We both struggled to finish dessert- a generous slice of almond and raspberry tart on a caramelized base with a perfect crunch- and found nothing to complain on the espresso (quite a feat for two picky Italians) or the £80 bill (incl.service). Having only been once, I cannot vouch for consistency or the regular menu at Brawn- but we had a magnificent Sunday lunch that could be even better value if you pass on the wine.
My fellow diner was feeling so content that bravely offered to foot the bill- after all, you don’t get to eat at (what he believes is) Nuno Mendez’s favourite restaurant every day – and I left happy, dreaming I was in Southern France rather than windy London. To thank my companion for the lunch, I bought a discounted orchid from a half-dismantled stall…it looked so beautiful. And so we left to another complicated bus journey, with yet another plant going to die of a slow death in a cramped flashare. Been there, done that.