When Brawn opened on Columbia Road in November 2010, it fitted neatly within the Polpo(s)-Bocca di Lupo-St John Bread & Wine-Riding House new wave of achingly fashionable small-plate restaurants. The only one to focus on rustic French cuisine, it was a case of right food, right place, right time. Within a week tables were gold dust. The hype is justified.
The room (which sitcom fans will recognise as the cafe in Pulling) is a take-it-or-leave-it mix of Formica tables, Shoreditch found chairs, whitewashed brick walls and some very Columbia Road graphic artwork (screenprints letterpress a partly smashed plate signed by DJ Andrew Weatherall). On ELLEuks last visit there was some anodyne reggae playing in the background and a stray American businessman projecting like nails on a blackboard above the hum of hip E2 locals on dates, but the ambience is otherwise pleasingly casual the very picture (and soundtrack) of bonhomie. The focus is squarely on the kitchen.
The wine list arranged by style is one of the best in London, but a sommeliers recommendation is wise for those without a fairly solid and up-to-date knowledge of what the French do with their grapes. On a friends recommendation we went for the Arbois Pupillin (£52, but theres plenty more around the £20-£30 mark), a revelatory Jura-region red made from the light as a feather Poulsard grape that comes across a little like a flat Champagne. After some taste ticklers (shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and slices of saucisse) we tried the terrine muscular but still subtle, with pleasingly different textures. A dish of Dorset clams with chilli had bold, salty cubes of ham in it, while we mopped up the remaining pool of butter and oil with the most perfect of sourdoughs. A duck and bean salad was vibrant, if a little salty, and an open toasted sandwich of snails and bacon was a thrilling concoction of garlic and parsley.
We over-ordered, and also wished wed asked the delivery of plates to be staggered. The plate of boudin noir smooth and intense with Jersey Royals was one too many. But we still couldnt resist a panna cotta with blood orange. Though it seemed as if the dish had merely been shown to the Campari detailed on the menu, the panna cotta itself was a perfect, creamy, vanilla-rich finale. Brawn is absolutely one of the best casual dining restaurants in London, even if many vegetarians will justifiably feel they need to pass it at considerable speed.
The ELLEuk Score
Good for: Quick bite after work; pre-theatre; special occasion; first date; group dinner; work lunch/dinner
Style of food: French and Italian rustic
Prices and Other Details at Brawn
Address: Brawn, 49 Columbia Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 7RG
Opening times: 12pm-2pm and 6pm-11pm Mon-Sat; 12pm-4pm Sun
Average price per person for two-course meal without wine: £19
Set menu: £25 set lunch Sunday only
Price of bottle of house wine: £15.50, Côtes de Gascogne, Domaine de Ménard (white); £16.25, Cuvée des Galets, Vignerons DEstézargues (red)
Price of glass of house wine: £4.50 (as above)
Price of glass of house champagne: £6.65, Thierry Puzelat Petillant Naturel
Price of bottle of house champagne: £33.25 (as above)
Private dining? No
Garden/al fresco dining? No
Bar? For cocktails and/or dining without reservations.
Best table? The tables by the Columbia Road strip of windows, in the front dining room.
Who goes? Shoreditch couples on dates, local creatives, serious foodies, and a few stray city types.
Nearest tube: Old Street/Hoxton (overground)