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4 July 2012
The Fire Station
193 Tooley Street,
0844 346 1225
As The Shard gets higher and higher so does the status of its environs. Tooley Street was once a street of dirty railway arches and grimy warehouses. It is still a street of railway arches and warehouses but they now contain nice bars, clubs and top of the range restaurants instead of butter, sugar and other essential foodstuffs from the colonies.
One of the new restaurants that has cropped up is Brigade, a bar and bistro that also incorporates a cookery school where there is a big focus on recruiting former soldiers and the homeless.
Based in the old fire station, Brigade has ceilings high enough to park a fire engine in, big windows, big lights and white decor to help create even more space, while walls and alcoves separate the bar section from the dining section and the private dining section. There are no great views from Brigade, although a window seat does afford excellent people watching opportunities.
We were first furnished with a Solarena Barrel-Aged Tempranillo. This was fresh, fruity and perfectly light red for the one summer evening we have had this year. Olives arrived and were quickly devoured, The Norwegian and myself finger wrestling in the bowl to get the biggest and plumpest of that tasty crew.
With such an inventive and modern menu we took an age to decide on dishes, even though we had looked online a couple of days prior to our visit. There were the usual classics, though most with a tempting twist, but I was determined to have something that I don’t usually go for, so chose the Coddled Duck Egg that came with toast, Old Spot Bacon and a Westcombe Cheddar Gratin.
Basically it is a baked egg and was like a mini-breakfast. Very nice, and something that would work well as a bar snack. Vi King had a much more adventurous Whitby Shellfish Cocktail which apparently included every shellfish that had ever been through Whitby according to the good lady, who raved about cockles and mussels alive, alive-O like some Dublin fishwife!
It did look the part, though, and I’m sure the Spiced Sherry Mayonnaise had a little to do with her sudden light-headed buoyancy.
Mark Baines, the Executive Chef, came over and introduced himself and gave us info on the ethos of the restaurant and some of his own background.
Mark visits hostels looking for potential apprentices for Brigade’s cooking school, and as he had 5 years at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen he knows all about these hard-to-reach people. He is currently trying to up the intake on injured soldiers to Brigade: ‘I want to see a man with one leg working in our kitchen,’ he says with a Help For Heroes passion. (You can get a few recipes and tips from Mark: www.thechefnextdoor.co.uk)
The restaurant kitchen takes centre stage with bar stools all around its semi-circular space, where people take a drink and a snack and watch the show go on. It is a well-run, extremely organised kitchen where there is quiet and calm and everyone doing their job in a serene manner.
Feeling quite uplifted by Mark’s tale I was ready to take on my main course: Pot Roasted Sussex Fat Hen. I was drawn in by talk of it being ‘broad-chested and succulent’. I magicked up images of Chicken Licken and Foghorn Leghorn giving it the big ‘un round the farmyard and just had to have it.
The chicken was exactly as described, the meat on it was fantastically juicy and I wanted to pick up every little bone and gnaw on it until every last morsel of meat was inside me, as I would at home. But it was just chicken and I wish I had had something more in keeping with fine restaurant dining, of which there is aplenty on the menu.
And that is precisely what my Noskie Neighbour did. I looked with envy across the table at her Steamed Hake with Spinach and Tarragon Farce, English Carrots and Squid Ink Mash. You are not going to get that at home! She said the fish was cooked to perfection and made small murmurs of admiration at the black mash.
By the time we had polished off those courses I felt just like the Fat Hen from Sussex.
Our waitress brought dessert menus but we said we needed time. When we looked at it we realised we didn’t need time to make room but time to choose, because every one is a winner.
Eventually The Norwegian went for the very creative Gorgonzola Crème Brûlée with Roasted Walnuts, justifying her choice with: ‘Crème Brûlée is my favourite, and I’m a cheese demon, so finding them both in one dish is my idea of Heaven!’ I had a spoonful and could only agree; the pungency of Gorgonzola just a subtle undercurrent to the overall creaminess.
I, on the other hand, went for something lighter in Seasonal Berry Salad with Rosehip and Prosecco Sorbet. The fruit was fresh, and possessed the culinary delight of being both sweet and sharp.
We paired these dishes up with a dessert wine each. Pure decadence but a depravity validated by my need to provide the readers with as much information as possible in one visit to a restaurant.
Brigade is a place for celebrations unless you are rich all the time. But, saying that, there is a great bar menu that would pass as restaurant fare in many places, and is much more affordable.
Nevertheless, the menu is outrageously delicious and Brigade needs many further visits to try all that needs to be tried. I’m saving up now.
Strathmore Sparkling Water £1.50
Shellfish Cocktail £8.95
Duck Egg £7.95
Steamed Hake £17.95
Roasted Hen £15.95
Tempura Purple Broccoli,
Roasted Tomato Stew £2.95
Salted Russet Chips £2.95
Gorgonzola Crème Brûlée £6.25
Berry Salad £4.95
Château Loupiac Gaudiet £6.50
Rivesaltes Ambré £7.70
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