Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Brawn Wine Bar and Restaurant

Brawn Sample Menu
'Brawn' is the new offshoot from the team who set up 'Terroir' wine bar and restaurant just off Trafalgar Square a couple of years ago. Inspired by Parisian natural wine bars, they proudly offer rarely seen natural wines, some biodynamic, from small producers.  Co-owner Eric Narioo is the wine expert, often disarmingly referring to the wines as "cloudy reds and murky whites".  Their stated aim is to serve food and wine which is natural, free of additives and from artisan sources, in a relaxing, friendly environment.  Terroirs has quickly built up a loyal following for both its unusual wines and its hearty food so a new venture in Hackney was something I had to check out.

Though only a few weeks old, Brawn has been receiving some very positive reviews.  Its location on Columbia Road may prove a bit more challenging than its West End parents' site.  There are certainly plenty of potential customers around on Sundays when the well-known Columbia Road Flower Market, and the interesting eclectic mix of entrepreneurial shops, is in full swing.  Weekdays it is currently rather quieter.  However, with the nearby Old Street area of Shoreditch being talked up as the UK's answer to Silicon Valley, and only a stroll away, maybe it's a smart decision.  Decor-wise it certainly fits right in with the Hackney/Shoreditch style - mismatched tables and chairs and a slightly worn recycled look for this former wood-turning workshop.  Nothing wrong with that if they can deliver, and here they mostly do.  It's a no-fuss, sit where you like sort of place and at a weekday lunch staff were friendly and laid-back (but thankfully not too laid back).  The two dining rooms look out onto lovely London Plane trees across the road.

The name alerts you to the fact that there is plenty of that noble animal, the pig, on the menu and it was reassuring to recognise the provenance of the charcuterie.  It comes via the trader I buy my own carefully sourced cured meats from.  The Jesus du Pays Basque of Pierre Oteiza has a sweet, porky depth and a silky texture spiked with cracked black peppercorns, whilst the Saucisse Seche has a drier, pleasingly chewy quality.  The Piero Montali Prosciutto is, in my view, the best you will find in London.

A commitment to seasonality is clear and careful, and sourcing is sometimes very local, including the bread with a delicious, crunchy-crusted, Hackney Wild Sourdough from the E5 Bakery in close-by London Fields.  With a range of delicious sounding small dishes on offer the difficulty is in choosing.  On a cold winter's day a creamy Abruzzo Bean Soup served with a slug of excellent Valentini olive oil hit the spot.  Baked Field Mushrooms spread with bone marrow, garlic and parsley were juicy and unctuous  - nice to have the earthy flavour of the undervalued field mushroom.  Mussels from the Shetland Isles were plump and tasty served with a leek and bacon broth, and Chanterelles on toasted sourdough were made lipsmackingly good with the addition of a duck egg yolk.  As you would expect, there is Tete de Veau on the menu, served with a classic Sauce Ravigote but that will have to wait for another time.  For pudding, the  Crepes were a little resilient, though the Salted Butter Caramel sauce was gorgeous.  With treacle tart and Yorkshire Rhubarb Crumble currently on the menu, it's a tough choice.

Wines here, as mentioned, need to be approached with an open mind, or as Terroir/Brawn put it regarding the "truly natural" wines they offer, take "a walk on the wild side".  A couple of 175ml carafes of Ferme Saint Martin Cotes du Ventoux "La Gerine" came to £13.00.  The vineyard is certified organic and this Grenache grape wine is an naturally produced one.  The first taste was odd but ultimately rewarding.

The menu changes daily, always a good sign.  On Sunday a set-lunch for £25 per head is offered.  Our bill, with a couple of espressos came to £56 for two including service.  Overall, good value and very good food and I'll definitely be back, though something tells me I may not just be able to walk in off the street for much longer.

49 Columbia Road
London E2 7RG
Tel: 020 7729 5692