Brawn is a casual neighbourhood restaurant on Columbia Road serving taster sized plates of regional European food to share. The evening had some highs and lows but frustratingly no climactic crescendo.
Oli Barker, one of the charming co-owners of Brawn, took our order and gave us a break down of the menu, explaining that most dishes were starter size and designed for sharing, and that there were a few over £10 per dish that were of main course proportions. The four of us decided to order a number of dishes to share. It is worth mentioning that this is not your typical restaurant. The menu is not divided into starters and mains but rather categories like ‘raw’ and ‘slow cooked’, the dishes come as they are ready, and you may have to holler to get the waiter’s attention.
The starter sized dishes included 2 Maldon oysters, a spiced salami called Finochchiona Cinta Senese, and some grilled prawns. My oyster fiend of a friend was more than satisfied with the Maldons, and the prawns looked fabulous in their coral coloured shells sprinkled with gremolata, but they were quite hard work to eat and we did not experience the promised pep of chilli and garlic. Taking a bite of the finochchiona Cinta Senese, we deduced that finochchiona was Italian for fennel, apparently an old Tuscan flavouring. It is quite an acquired taste and personally I prefer peppered salami, however the delicious Hackney Wild Sourdough that was served with the salami more than made up for it.
Out of the more substantial dishes we ordered, there were a few forgettable dishes including the rather dry venison ragu and the skate wing, which had been immersed in a vinegary caper sauce. The mongetes, however, was a hearty Catalan number full with white beans, pork belly and some excellent sausage. The Tuscan beef was a perfectly seasoned version of beef tartare and the tender quail accompanied with the creamy orange romesco sauce was also executed with precision. Another favourite were the large baked field mushrooms as they had sponged up some pungent garlic flavouring and had been topped with some succulent bone marrow jelly.
We ordered nine dishes between the four of us, which turned out to be more than enough, but as we shared a common love for all things salty caramel we ordered a portion of salty caramel crepes. Crepes are, well just crepes, and the four of us were far more interested in what they were smothered in. Not overly sweet, the salty caramel sauce had a marvellous metallic taste that had us all slowly licking our spoons. Watching them all salivate over the salty caramel I decided that I would be making a trip to Paul A. Young to buy each of them a jar of salty caramel for their stocking fillers.
The bill at Brawn came to £35 per person including two glasses of red wine each. Overall the dining experience was a positive one and the service was friendly. I think Brawn should do well as a local neighbourhood restaurant, and I’m sure that if I pop into the flower market I’ll repay them a visit, but I’m not sure that I would go out of my way to return.
Brawn, 49 Columbia Road, E2 7RG. 0207 729 5692