Fire and brimstone: Brat restaurant review
Shoreditch’s newest culinary powerhouse focuses on the Basque tradition of cooking with charcoal, fire and smoke
Shoreditch already has a disproportionate number of cutting edge London restaurants, such as the Clove Club, Som Saa, Brawn and Lyle’s. Now, Brat has gatecrashed the club after only a matter of weeks. Not that chef Tomas Parry didn’t have form – after all, he spent time at the River Café, two years at Climpson’s Arch, won Young British Foodie Chef of the Year Award and then solidified his reputation at Kitty Fishers in Shepherd Market, where he showed his talent at grilling old Galician dairy cows.
Located in an airy first floor space, on the site of a former strip joint, Parry still focuses on flame and charcoal for most of his cooking, with the signature dish being whole grilled Turbot, hence the name Brat, which is Old English for Turbot. The freshly caught fish are encased in what looks like the squashed skeleton of a miniature zeppelin and then slowly roasted with all of the juices congealing in a heavenly sticky mess.
It is not just the texture that makes this stunning but also the other edible elements, such as the flesh encased in the head plus even the brittle crunchy dorsal fin. They come in three sizes, priced from £55 to £70, depending on the catch but even the smallest is enough to satisfy the hunger of two greedy people.
This method of cooking Turbot pays homage to Elkano, the renowned Basque fish restaurant, while his grilling of old beef owes more to Etxebarri, just south of Bilbao. Brat does not serveold dairy Galician dairy cows but aged beef mainly from Cornwall in portions costing from £36 to £58.
Parry acknowledges that traditional Basque Cuisine has always been important in his cooking. “I am influenced by their approach to cooking over fire, their traditions, connections with suppliers, generosity and community. I have visited there many times and feel a deep connection, possibly my Celtic connection is there because it feels strangely similar to my Welsh homeland/heritage (language, political, landscape and climate) – proud people!”
All of the base woods used are sustainable - usually oak, sweet chestnut and birch from the West Country and Wales, while seasoning woods such as vines, cherry, apple and plum wood come from old orchards or conservation projects. The high density wood such as oak is used for sustained heat and charcoal while the fruit tree woods provides seasoning. A nearby church provides a spare crypt for storage.
Everything served comes from the grill or wood oven, as he loves the immediacy of wood fire and having to cook instinctively. There is also a more conventional oven out of sight, which is used for pastry, though the burnt cheesecake and rhubarb is finished in the wood oven.
Parry is not obsessed with daily menu changes but will always add a dish when exceptional produce turns up. “I am more interested in creating a balance – tradition and exciting progressive dishes. I love the idea that people come back and have the same thing.”
Apart from turbot and beef, there is a large array of superb dishes done with flair and flame – smoked cods roe laid cylindrically along olive oil soaked fingers of toast or a satisfying smoky mixture of spider crab, fennel and cabbage. Another stand out dish was merely called grilled bread and anchovy but was a cross between a small pizza and a puffed up naan with three large anchovies melted into the surface – a steal at £5.50.
There is also roast duck, lemon sole, John Dory and Hardwick lamb. The portions (and the prices) are deliberately generous, which is chef Parry’s attempt to emulate the philosophy as well as the techniques of the Basque masters.
Unlike some of the other fashionable restaurants in Shoreditch, there is an emphasis on superb conventional rather than cultish natural wines. Not surprising, given that sommelier James Harrison formerly worked at Noble Rot, which has one of the best wine lists in London. For serious oenophiles, corkage is a generous £20 a bottle.
Brat, 4 Redchurch St London E1. Online booking only Bratrestaurant.com