If you’ve read any of London’s food magazines lately (have you heard of our sister title Foodism, by the way?) you’ll know that the most talked about current restaurant trend is ingredient-led cuisine.
Strip away the cheffy fuss, shine a spotlight on independent suppliers of seasonal veg, day-boat fish and farm-reared meats, and this is what you’re left with – a tightly focused style of cooking that, done well, is as bold as it is simple.
Sitting down to a meal at Brat, I get the distinct impression that Tomos Parry is a man on a mission. That might be because the chef brought delicious Galician beef to London’s attention while at the helm of the critically acclaimed Kitty Fisher’s in 2015, but it’s also because he’s spent the last few years filling his contacts book with the UK’s best farmers and fishermen, who now provide much of the excitement at, this, Parry’s first solo venture.
If Kitty Fisher’s was a romantic ode to British bourgeoisie dining, Brat is a flavour-forward, sleeves-rolled-up kind of experience where diners sit on tightly packed tables and eat for the sheer love of it. Close your eyes and the communal hubbub and hungry excitement is like being in a Basque asador rather than Shoreditch’s Redchurch Street.
Dishes like ‘langoustine’, ‘spider crab, cabbage, fennel’ and ‘cockles, liver sauce’ conceal much of their genius behind plain menu descriptions. Those langos kiss the restaurant’s charcoal grill before a fine film of lardo is slathered over their sweet flesh; flecks of pearly white spider crab and fingers of fennel are hidden beneath a canopy of cabbage, but it’s a liberal spread of brown crab meat on the plate that adds necessary unctuousness; meaty cockles are emboldened by a rich chicken liver broth, heady with white wine and shallot.
What shines above all is purity of flavour. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but that’s not the point – these dishes are primed for optimising Parry’s excellent larder.
Food writers will continue to have their say on this, one of the most discussed restaurants of the last 12 months
The restaurant’s turbot namesake is also its piece de resistance, and is delivered with great fanfare. Parry personally delivers it to the table straight from the burning embers of the open-plan kitchen mere metres away. The caramelised and blistered skin glistening from a garlicky pil pil dressing, it’s spectacular to the point of igniting a war of forks over the final few scraps.
In many ways, the turbot is a microcosm for the restaurant’s ethos. Cornish supplier Kernow Sashimi, renowned as the UK’s leading sustainable fishermen, handpick the largest and best fish daily then drive them up to Brat before service: out of the sea, into the fire, onto the plate. Simple.
But there are little food stories like that popping up throughout the menu – gamey Herdwick lamb, the teardrop baby peas, the excellent wine list selected by Noble Rot magazine founder Dan Keeling. It’s the kind of stuff that throws two fingers at big food corporations, cost efficiencies and, er, Brexit.
At its basest form, something tastes good because it’s prepared well and uses the best ingredients – Parry is assured enough in his cooking to leave it at that.
Many food writers will continue to have their say on this, one of the most discussed restaurants of the last 12 months. But Brat? It’s happy to leave its food to do the talking.
For more information, see bratrestaurant.com