If you walk past the roiling busyness that is Smoking Goat in Shoreditch, moving just around the corner and a little bit further on Redchurch street, you come across a narrow doorway with meagre signage signalling the entrance into Brat. It opens up a little, widens into a corridor lit by large hanging globes with bright sections on the wall for sleeping wine bottles.
Up the stairs, a narrow flight of stairs, then across the landing and finally you step into the restaurant: a wide, bright, naturally lit space that makes a magnificent impression. It is lunch time. The place is full and loud, filled with people who seem to have either just left work for a nice meal, are on dates, or are simply Shoreditch locals popping in for some class A nosh.
It has got that familiar countryside look, a space like an expansive artist’s studio with large windows and exquisite lighting. Or indeed a Spanish wine tavern, resonant with the ebbs and flows of conversation over drinks, laughter and debate stifling the exclamatory ecstasy of delicious tapas. Brick walls, light wood tables, a bar to sit at for a drink or two at the centre, brass taps, and a separate open kitchen where a few busy young chefs worked by a sizzling grill and a sputtering wood fired oven.
The staff at Brat all seemed relaxed and comfortable despite the luncheon rush, perhaps it is because of their uniform: a loose-fitting denim blue shirt that looked smart yet unrestrictive. A handsome waiter took us to our table and handed us menu sheets before skipping off to take another table’s order.
All the dishes on offer spoke of an assured self-confidence, a minimalist, unelaborate listing of a few ingredients and solitary proteins, almost as if to say, ‘Our stuff is so fantastic that explaining everything is a waste of time’. While you can comprehend the inclusion of a solitary beef chop, roast duck or John Dory, it is a little perplexing to simply see the word ‘tomatoes’ beside a price tag of £5.5. While a part of me was starting to think it all a little arrogant, I must admit I was quietly pleased not to have to read long recipe lines for dish names.
Oscillating from dish to dish with the indeterminacy of a marble on moving bus, delighting at the thought of a massive beef chop for a moment then being intrigued by soused red mullet the other, tapping on the typography of a Carmarthen ham a few times and then sliding my finger down to the langoustine soon after, we eventually picked dishes completely different, caught off-guard by the waiter coming over and my eyes catching something new. It is a relief to say that in a place such as this, you need not worry about your order as long as you are not allergic.
A small plate of prettily crepuscular, soft disks of food arrived at our table first. These were of minced wild rabbit and blood sausage that were surrounded artfully by a glinting conglomeration of borlotti beans in a tangy vinaigrette. The muted meatiness of the rabbit coupled with the rich savour of the sausage married cleverly with the sharpness of the dressing. Despite how tasty the dish was I might have relished the inclusion of a crispy or even gamey texture to take the dish up a rung.
Then some clams in a light piquant broth, a seafood assembly that reminded Leroy and I of how much we loved them, thinking back to the times my mother used to bring some home by the bagful as a special weekend treat.
The dish of chopped egg salad and bottarga at Brat was special too. An underwhelming portion of yellow-white and orange egg salad atop a charred half-piece of toast, surprises with a luxurious melody of flavour and texture. The light burst of sea-tasting bottarga whose saltiness waltzes with the richness of the egg mayonnaise is completed by the bite of crisp toast that fills you with gratitude for the mouthful.
While we waited for our mains to arrive I watched as the people around me sucked unashamedly on langoustines, sniff playfully at an aromatic tomato soup, separate flesh from fish bone with butter knives and pass over a fork-skewered piece of tomato into the waiting open maw of an eagerly anticipating partner. Brat is a restaurant saturated with an infectious excitement over food that I have only experienced in restaurants truly fantastic.
A large plate of inviting lemon sole, a dish of sliced Herdwick lamb and a plate filled with tempting hunks of toasty sourdough bread arrived after an insignificant wait to bring me back to the goings on of my own table. The full lemon sole, bones and all, tasted fresh as can be, doused in a buttery sauce with a sharp lilt that pleased the palate with its warmth. Pulling fish bones out was a little tedious, especially when you want to consume every morsel of delicious flesh available, but it was a price we were most definitely willing to pay.
Succulent lamb slices accompanied by a glorious charred leaf salad with roasted carrots and courgettes were equally superb. Each individual component warranted its own applause, but when put together on a colourful forkful, one suddenly was made privy to the gastronomic glory that is the Spanish inflected cuisine here. Absolutely divine.
I hadn’t planned on dessert but was convinced into asking for one simply by the sheer number of burnt cheesecakes hovering over my head on the way to other diners. After a few bites of mine, however, I did push my plate over to Leroy. I was not too keen on the texture of the cheesecake, not as smooth as I tend to enjoy, and though I did like its combination with the peaches and cream besides, I did not particularly want to leave with a bad taste in my mouth after a rather wonderful meal.
But things were set right when the bill came around. Four ripe cherries are given gratis to cement the food inspired bliss already expertly provided for. Brat is very much deserving of all the love and hype it is getting at the moment, a restaurant very much on the up and up, a culinary experience that should not be missed.
Location: 4 Redchurch St, London E1 6JL