It’s all so very now: an established chef pares things down to an essential dichotomy of meat and fish, gives the restaurant an intriguing name and sets it up in Shoreditch. St Leonard’s followed a similar model last year and we weren’t its greatest fans. But there are exceptions to every rule and the general consensus seems to be that Brat is THE place to go. Somewhat late to the party, it was time to check it out.
The word ‘Brat’ has no association with Bratwurst. It is the traditional Northumbrian word for turbot which is arguably this restaurant’s flagship dish. Standing over the coals is Tomos Parry – the sometime head chef of fashionable Kitty Fisher’s in Mayfair. The move eastwards to join compatriots Lyles and Smoking Goat stands to reason, but here the USP is a little different. Although Parry hails from Anglesey, and the food is influenced by Basque cookery, it wouldn’t be accurate to describe it as a Welsh-Spanish fusion restaurant. It’s more like Parry once went on holiday to San Sebastián and picked up a few ideas (not that this is a bad thing).
On arrival you go up the stairs and follow your nose to the smell of the restaurant’s namesake grilling over a wood fire. At Brat, there’s an ambience somewhere between gastropub dining room and French bistro. Due to the wood panelling and hard surfaces, the boisterous chatter bounces off the walls and the hemmed-in, almost communal tables. And as this is on the faultline where the City segues into hipsterland, you’re likely to rub shoulders with a law firm partner sitting next to you on one side and Nathan Barley on the other. This naturally raises the volume of conversation a few decibels. Fortunately though, the restaurant honoured my request for a quieter table on the periphery. So far so good for the service.
Whilst I have misgivings about the noisy ambience, the food and wine at Brat is very good indeed
I had a bit of a re-think about the service during the meal. There was an unexplained delay between the starter and main course and one waiter tried to show off his ability to remember the order without writing it down. Inevitably, a mistake was made. In the words of Shania Twain, “that don’t impress me much.” There’s nothing shameful in jotting down an order. If you write it down then we all have peace of mind. And indeed it’s more impressive to play the long game: if you want to show off your memory, remember a customer’s name and a fact or two about them when they return a month later, and this will have a bigger, more personal impact. Anyway, rant over.
As I waited for my food I quaffed on one of Brat’s fine sherries, then a light Blaufrankisch from Austria before graduating onto the grippier La Stoppa from the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy. The wine list at Brat is excellent – unsurprising really as the wines are supplied by Noble Rot’s trading arm Keeling Andrew & Co. Noble Rot also seems to be a training ground for some of Brat’s staff too as I recognised one or two familiar faces amongst the staff.
And then the food. The “chopped egg salad” with bottarga (£5) – the so-called prosciutto of the sea – was glorious. I would happily have this little pintxos for breakfast every day.
Next up, the velvet crab (£4.50) came with the correct implements and was joyous, if fiddly.
The Herdwick mutton (£18.50) came as a tiny portion but the fat had been rendered well and the cuisson was spot-on. It’s clear that Parry and his team know how to cook meat. And it’s this, fish or waterfowl you come for really (apart from the red peppers and potatoes there is sadly little to offer vegans).
Many an Instagram profile has swooned over Brat’s fabled smoked potatoes (£4.50). It was therefore a crushing disappointment that these didn’t really have the advertised smokiness – they tasted more of garlic and chive than anything else. Perhaps a minor aberration on this visit.
The desserts at Brat really are the apotheosis of ‘less is more’. There are just two. Having heard great things about the Basque cheesecake this seemed the obvious choice. And oh my. This was incredibly light and delicate, without any of the stodginess that can befall a standard issue cheesecake. Served simply with slices of poached pear, it allowed the meal to end on a real high note.
Whilst I have misgivings about the noisy ambience, the food and wine at Brat is very good indeed.
4 Redchurch Street
by J A Smith