In a former life, this building was a Shoreditch pub that offered pole dancing with pints on the ground floor. Then some months ago, Ben Chapman, of Smoking Goat and Kiln – not a lasciviously titled pole-dancing club, but two closely-related Thai restaurants – took over the premises, and moved his displaced Smoking Goat restaurant to that ground floor.
Kiln is excellent; the new Smoking Goat I’m less convinced by, and a recent meal there revealed too many lacklustre dishes. Above Smoking Goat, however, up the taupe-walled stairs, Brat has just opened and shows a great deal of promise. Chef Tomos Parry (formerly of Kitty Fisher’s) is behind this chummy venture, collaborating with Chapman. He’s making good use of the new space for his grill-focused cooking.
Shoreditch, a neighbourhood on the eastern edge of the City of London, has seen many waves of immigration (French Huguenots, Jews, Irish, Bangladeshis), and has long been home to many workshops. The room retains the large windows, wood-panelled walls and parquet floors of its workshop heritage. This utilitarian look has been enhanced by wooden counters, bentwood chairs and a cream-painted ceiling. The dining room is up a flight of stairs, with its own entrance on Redchurch Street. There’s a large, wood-fuelled grill in the open kitchen, freshly-baked loaves of bread and (empty) bottles of wine used to decorate the shelves. Simply walk in and wait for a seat at the long bar counter; or book ahead for one of the larger shared tables.
In such a humble setting, the prices can come as a shock. “Whole turbot 55/65” – that’s pounds sterling – or “beef chop 36/42/58”. The cheapest main course costs £16.50. Starter-sized dishes tend to cost under a tenner; desserts, around a fiver. No soup kitchen then.
The starter-sized soused red mullet (£9) was an excellent dish, the vinegar not too sharp to dominate the delicacy of the fresh fish.
I asked my waiter if the Suffolk lamb (£16.50) came with any vegetables, or as is. “As is,” and so he recommended ordering a side dish of vegetables, specifically a dish entitled young leeks with fresh cheese (£6.50). He pointed out it wasn’t just leeks, but a mixture of fresh seasonal green vegetables from Cornwall. So I ordered this, and waited.
The side dish appeared on its own, so I waited. After more than ten minutes had passed, a waiter asked if I’d like it served with the main course; yes I would. So he took it away to reheat it.
After another ten minutes, the main course and side dish appeared together. As you may be able to see, they are both plates of similar vegetables; though one has roast lamb on the plate, while the other has a soft white cheese.
No apology was made for this near-duplication of a dish, or for misinforming me that the meat did, in fact, come with vegetables. Instead I raised the mistake when paying, and the side dish was taken off the bill.
The jus with the Suffolk lamb was excellent, and the Herdwick meat flavoursome. Herdwick is normally an upland sheep breed; along with the Swaledale it’s one of the UK’s main upland breeds, known for its slow-grown flavour. Here it was curiously served off the bone and sliced, and even by “pink” standards, the lamb was slightly underdone and a little chewy.
Desserts included burnt cheesecake, served with rhubarb. They looked pretty on the counter, like sunflowers.
There’s a long and very impressive wine list, with 35 or so good wines available by the glass. The wines are supplied by Keeling Andrew & Co, the wine importers who also run the excellent Noble Rot wine bar in Bloomsbury. Not everyone wants to order a whole bottle, or drink generic wine by the glass, so a really nice touch is the Coravin wine preservation system which allows (expensive) wines to be dispensed by the glass. The bottle prices start high, though, and rise steeply; the cheapest bottles of red or white costs £23, and many mid-range bottles cost £50 or more. Mark-ups are roughly two- to three-fold; not unusual. This is not a wine bar for Shoreditch artists living in garrets; but YBAs on show at the Tate, just maybe.
There’s room for improvement. Brat is a friendly and well-meaning place, but the service isn’t of a professional restaurant standard (or not yet anyway). On my visit the waiting staff were not well-acquainted with the dishes they were serving, and as a result, advice was poor. The restaurant also doesn’t list a phone number, so bookings can only be made online.
Brat is expensive for a casual Shoreditch restaurant that is cooking, essentially, simple food. However, it’s very likeable, it looks cool, it’s in London’s currently most fashionable street, and it has an friendly vibe. Even before opening to the public it was being feted by wellwishers. I expect it will do very well indeed, especially with edgier City types who think nothing of shelling out big money to share good wine and huge beef chops around the big shared tables with friends.
Words and pictures: Guy Dimond
Tue-Wed noon-3pm, 6-10pm.
Thur-Sat noon-3pm, 6-11pm.
Meal for two with wine and service around £130.
First floor, 4 Redchurch Street, London E1 6JL; no phone. Book online here.