A gem of a restaurant offering good opportunities and great food | Brigade Bar & Bistro, The Fire Station, London SE1
It’s always a bonus to find a good restaurant within walking distance of our offices. It’s even a bigger bonus when the restaurant helps vulnerable people by giving them catering apprenticeships and thus the opportunity for a brighter future.
We often have a twang of guilt when we leave a restaurant and pass a huddled person sat on the pavement holding a scrappy sign saying ‘Hungry and homeless’. We always try to give any change we may have but that’s a simply a quick fix, what Brigade offers is a long-term solution.
Their website says ‘At Brigade, outstanding food does more than just provide pleasure, it also creates new opportunities, new experiences and most of all, new connections.’ and we couldn’t agree more. For more info on the Beyond Food Foundation and if you wish to donate please click here.
Walking towards the historic old, yet modernised, brick fire station we didn’t know what to expect. The signage outside wasn’t exactly subtle – big bright orange lettering. This concern wasn’t eased when we were casually greeted by a t-shirt wearing member of the bar staff. But we needn’t have worried, what we were about to eat and the service provided was good – really good!
Decor wise the restaurant is a little dated, maybe not as much as some other reviews led us to believe. No industrial look here, this isn’t a carbon copy of any of Russell Norman’s incredibly styled establishments. That said it was quite refreshing not to be surrounded by exposed brickwork (there was some in the kitchen). These walls were smooth and painted either charcoal grey or fir-tree green, quite a traditional feel, especially with some of the period features.
The dining area has the slight feel of a hotel restaurant. The main difference being the big open kitchen were you can see all the trainee chefs being put through their paces. I wish we’d sat at the kitchen-side counter rather than tucked around a corner, it would have been fascinating to watch these apprentices at work.
Our friendly waitress had a very in-depth knowledge of the menu and quickly ran through the day’s specials. We ordered a bottle of Italian Fico Grande Romagna Doc for a reasonable £19.95 and looked over the impressive food menu where the prices are pretty steep. It focuses on good produce and traditional British cookery using the ‘freshest and finest ingredients’, sourced locally when ever possible.
We ordered some bread and olives £3.75 and £2.95, in hindsight I really wish I hadn’t. The portion size of what was to come is very generous, so no need to pad out with bread. That said the warm freshly baked trio of rolls were delicious, the swirly tomato bread was my favourite. Followed by the earthy tasting granary (it looked a little like a jacket potato) with the very subtle tasting ‘pointy’ honey bread coming third.
Unusually the olives were served hot, this made them really juicy, I found this out first hand when Saff bit into one and sprayed me! Worth a quick mention is the cute little pat of Netherend unsalted butter, looked good – tasted better!
To start (or from ‘The larder’ section as it says on the menu) I couldn’t resist one of the specials. The goat’s cheese rarebit with beet purée and hazelnuts £7.95, was surprisingly not overly cheesy. The goat’s cheese was mild and was missing that top-of-the-mouth twang that it usually has. That said, this is probably a conscious decision by the chef as it would have destroyed the calm, sweet yet earthy flavours from the smooth beetroot purée. The light honey dressing drizzled over the toasted nuts added yet another level of texture.
Saff went back to basics with the Brigade ‘Beans on toast’ £9.95, topped with broken hen’s egg, cured pork belly. This rustic looking dish was far from basic and big enough to be a main course. The belly was perfect, not too much fat. The tomato sauce has a strong bold flavour whist the pea tops added freshness.
She followed this monster starter with the Seared Sea Bream £18.95, served with Israeli couscous, red pepper essence and baby aubergine from ‘The headliners’ section. The fish was faultlessly cooked with a crispy skin, but the depth of flavours didn’t beat the starter. We also ordered a side of Roasted beetroot with cumin seeds and honey £2.95. We had hoped that it would taste as good as the beets we had in Gjelina whist in Los Angeles. But sadly not, we could barely taste let alone see and cumin seeds and the honey flavour was very weak too.
From the ‘Simple classics’ section I ordered a Petworth steak and oxtail burger, cheesy chips and spicy tomato Relish £15.95. This was a huge, thick steak patty topped with a mountain of shredded oxtail. The rich gravy that had soaked into the multi-seeded bun turned this dish into a burger/French dip hybrid… And that can only be a good thing! I wasn’t 100% sure on the chips. They were cooked perfectly well but the grated Cheddar cheese (that was all congealed to one side) cheapened the course somehow.
By this point we were full and had to ask the very attentive waitress for a 15 minute break to let our stomachs settle. We looked over the drinks menu again. They only have a short and fairly predictable cocktail list. Their strength lies with the wine list which has every base covered (Click here for details of their Wine Club).
This is hardly surprising as the majority of their clientele look as if they come from the nearby More London development. They also have a number of meeting rooms, a PR Club and even a cook school which is geared towards ‘team building’ events.
Even after 15 minutes of rest I still couldn’t face a dessert. I was so tempted by the Baked lemon and lime tart £6.95. I honestly think my stomach would have got up and wobbled off if I’d have had anymore carbs. Instead I played safe and chose from the Sorbet selection £5.50. One scoop of the sharpest lemon sorbet I have ever tasted (basically unsweetened frozen pure lemon juice) and two scoops of intense raspberry sorbet, £5.50. So refreshing! Oh and it came with a shortbread biscuit – result!
Saff’s Grapefruit Posset with Orange Compote £6.95, served with homemade shortbread biscuit was a much more complicated but lovely affair. A pot of shredded orange with grapefruit segments and a sprinkling of crushed pistachio nuts. A kilner jar of tangy but not sour grapefruit posset and a light crumbly pistachio short bread finger. We were offered a coffee but I literally could fit anything else in, quite ironic if you think about it.
So what if the decor is a tad unexciting, so what if you have to put up with a woman with the loudest most annoying laugh ever. So what if the guy at the next table was bragging about his Ferrari… What we were served was some of the best British cooking we’ve had in a long while. Sure the prices may be a little high but if even one trainee chef gets to fulfil their dream of owning their own restaurant, it’ll be worth every penny. Maybe they should hook up with the homeless charity St Mungo’s – their Putting Down Roots project supplies vegetables to the nearby Table Cafe and double the good work they’re doing.
I’m already thinking about a return visit, maybe when the PA Club have their next gathering? (Cue big slap from Saff!)
Monday – Friday – Open from 8.30am – Late
Saturday – Open from 5:00pm – Late
Sunday – Closed
Closed for Bank Holidays
Food is served between the following hours:
Breakfast 8:30 – 10:00
Lunch 12:00 – 15:00
Dinner 17:30 – 22:00
Nearest tube: London Bridge