Brawn @ Columbia Road: honest, rustic perfection
Columbia Road is one of those bipolar places in London. On Flower Market Sundays, it’s a bee hive of activity: the street overflowing with plants. Epic shouts from vendors of “TWO FOR A FIVER… A FIVAAAR!!!” echoing throughout. And there’s pop-up shops selling all kinds of wares and trinkets from bespoke jewellery to retro watering cans. Any other day of the week though and it’s pretty much a ghost town… albeit a really quaint and serene one. But if there’s one very good reason to pay Columbia Road a visit on an off-market day, its got to be Brawn.
Open back in 2010 by the team behind the popular West End wine bar Terroirs, it’s one of those East End neighbourhood gems that’s up there with the likes of Corner Room & Upstairs @ The Ten Bells in my books. But it’s not stunning plating or innovative combinations that have kept me coming back to Brawn for more. In fact, many of Brawn’s dishes are incredibly old school. Think Pork Rillettes… Cassoulet… Salt Cod Brandade – staples you would expect to find at your typical French bistro. However, there’s a hearty and delicious honesty in the food here like no other. The huge focus here at Brawn on provenance and sourcing the very best of produce doesn’t lie. Every bite from start to finish is perfectly seasoned, full of flavour and wholly satisfying.
With majority of dishes priced under £10 and it’s also incredibly good value. Lunch here during midweek (as I often have in the past couple of months) and it’s £10 for the daily special with a glass of wine and coffee all thrown in for good measure. Hard to believe given a wine and coffee alone usually sets you back more than a tenner in London these days.
Duck Hearts, Braised Carrots & Polenta
For me, it’s all about their Duck Heart dish. I’ve been hooked on these ever since I had them for the first time in Autumn of last year. Braised until tender, then finished on the grill to give it a wonderfully smoky note, the Duck Hearts pack a meaty, full-on punch. There’s still a bit of bite to them given how inherently muscular they are, but all this adds to the unique texture of this rather rare piece of offal. On that note, it’s actually surprisingly less offal-ey in flavour than one would expect. The ever-changing seasonal menu here also means you get different garnishes to the Duck Hearts depending on the time of year, ranging from Autumnal Pumpkin and Kale to Polenta & Braised Carrots during my recent Winter visit. I’m already looking forward to the Spring and Summer versions.
Their Cassoulet – the £10 lunch special that day – was some serious comfort food. The large, meaty chunks of Tamworth Pork throughout had been braised till tender and the hearty gravy had an incredible depth of flavour. Each mouthful felt like a big bear hug from your favourite aunt and I found myself mopping up the last bits of bean-y gravy with their thick-cut slices of sourdough, sourced locally from nearby E5 Bakehouse.
With a well-curated wine list focuses on small, organic and biodynamic produces, attentive service and a wonderfully laid back ambience, Brawn has quickly grown to become one of my favourite lunch spots in all of London. No hype. No gimmicks. Nothing pretentious. Just honest, rustic perfection.
49 Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG | www.brawn.co | Tuesday 28th January 2014