The Brackenbury, restaurant review: Can son of the River Café Ossie Gray put his own imprint on the formerly chic restaurant?
Lisa Markwell is the editor of The Independent on Sunday. She was previously executive editor of The Independent, i and The Independent on Sunday and has edited the features pages, and both the Saturday and Sunday supplements. She writes comment pieces for the papers and restaurant reviews for the New Review. Lisa has worked across a variety of newspapers and magazines and can now tick off every publication cycle from daily to quarterly. She is an enthusiastic foodie, mother of two teenagers and drives an electric car. She is writing a book about adoption.
Sunday 23 February 2014
Perhaps it is the fact that I've just been on a tour of a nearby gin distillery. Perhaps it is because it's a double date with the highly entertaining Mr and Mrs Rogers. But something bowled me in through the front door of the Brackenbury restaurant, through an aperitif and to the table without me noticing how dull the space is.
There is, now I think about it, a young man vacuuming one of the two dual-height dining-rooms – but since he stops that to make me a delicious G&T and Tracy a vodka and orange with lovingly squeezed fresh orange, the light housework doesn't register either.
I used to go to the Brackenbury when it first opened in the early 1990s. It was a rather chic date restaurant for us west London singletons, but somewhat lost its way until Ossie Gray took it over recently.
Gray has form. He's the son of the late Rose Gray, of River Café fame – and where he's been general manager. It's a canny move to identify and take over this tucked-away venue; it's in the middle of the smart bit of Shepherd's Bush, where, if you get it right, locals become regulars.
The place certainly fills up nicely during our visit, which is only a couple of weeks in. The rooms need to be busy to liven up the vanilla décor. The steps to the slightly higher level at the back are bordered with wooden balustrades. It's all a bit, well, loft conversion.
Anyway, to the food. Five starters, five mains, so between the four of us we put the kitchen – headed by Kensington Place, Glasshouse and Providores alumni Humphrey Fletcher and Andy Morris – through its paces. Of the starters, a simple dish of smoked mackerel, beetroot, watercress and horseradish (£6) is a delight. Fresh, clean and harmonious.
Certainly not "clean" is my Jerusalem artichoke, endive and thyme soup (£6). It looks a right old mess – clumpy and murky with a blob of crème fraîche on top – but it is a beautifully judged combination, so I'll forgive it. Mr M's bruschetta of braised cavolo nero, ricotta, spiced olives and grilled chilli (£8.50) is a bit heavy-handed, with flavours fighting to come out on top (spoiler alert: the olives win).
Tracy, who orders the mackerel starter, wins again with a main of spiced fish stew featuring bream, cuttlefish, mussels and tomato. At £17.50, it's not the most generous dish I've seen, and there's a huge blob of aioli to bring together the rather plonked-on components, but she declares it delicious and, being a fish specialist, she knows her stuff. Still on fish, which is clearly the chefs' forte, Mr Rogers has roast Icelandic cod, ratte potatoes, and braised celery in porcini and marsala (£16.50). I manage to steal some of the celery – it's silky and rich, the humble stick transformed by slow, attentive cooking. The fish is simply prepared and none the worse for that.
The brace of grilled quail with fennel and radicchio salad and Montpelier butter (£16.50), which I've rather smugly snaffled, is a major disappointment – a bit tough, and feels rushed somehow. The punchy butter helps soften the birds, but I leave rather more than I'd wanted to.
There are other good-sounding dishes – a steak, a meaty tagliatelle dish, a veggie artichoke and polenta ensemble – that round out a surprisingly versatile menu.
On to puds, and they're zingers. My iced Paris-Brest with praline ice-cream inside and hot chocolate sauce (£6) is marvellous. The crisp pastry and rich sauce muddling with the ice-cream – much better than fresh cream, to my mind – disappears with such speed I might have guessed the vacuum cleaner had a role. My Instagram record shows only an empty plate with a few cocoa smears across it.
The wine list has some handsome Italian bottles which Mr Rogers steers us through – I've only just made out "colombare recioto" in my notes, a pudding wine that, coming on top of everything else, was a honeyed goodbye kiss. Ossie Gray was also the wine buyer for River Café, which figures.
If I lived within walking distance of the Brackenbury, I'd be jolly glad to have it. I've heard reports it's packed every night, which is encouraging: Britain's cities need this sort of engaging small venture to fight off the chains.
The Brackenbury, 129-131 Brackenbury Road, London W6, Tel: 020 8741 4928. £80 for two, with wine
Four more things I've been eating this week
Beetroot and carrot in a muesli? Once over the shock, I fell in love with this natropathic, delicious breakfast.
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For my daughter's birthday, I created a multi-layered sponge that – for impact – couldn't be beaten. Use professional colour pastes for gorgeous garish results!
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