We in the West are privileged. Very much so. In global terms, it’s almost obscene how privileged many of us are. We have employment opportunities galore, good quality housing, sanitation, water and praise be, we have plenty of food. Or at least most of us do. There is of course a percentage of people who at some point in their lives will struggle to break even, and may reach as far down as rock bottom. No job, possibly no home to live in, and little prospect of finding housing or work. It’s a frightening thought, and one I’ve personally faced; however I was fortunate enough to have family who helped me to pick up the pieces. Not everybody is so fortunate. So what on earth does this have to do with a restaurant review? To put it simply, Brigade bar and bistro is a social enterprise which trains and supports jobless and homeless people, equipping them with kitchen skills, life skills and jobs in the exciting world of catering. So much more than just a place to eat; Brigade is an eaterie where one can take satisfaction in the knowledge that the proceeds from your dining experience are helping to drive social change and improve the lives of individuals less fortunate than ourselves, it’s a shining beacon in a sea of gratuitously self-satisfied gluttons who make it their business to simply gorge and waffle (I’m blushing by this point, being both gorger and waffler).
The food is outstanding too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the skills these apprentices are taught are somehow sub-standard, or that ingredients are processed to cut costs; this is certainly not the case. As bistros go, Brigade is what you might call high end, with a relaxed, casual feel, and a buzz that you won’t find in a formal restaurant, owed in part to the open plan theatre kitchen and a bar section that runs directly alongside the main space. I couldn’t find fault in any single aspect of the decor, the service, the menu, the food and drink or the prices. The group of fellow writers I dined with had similarly positive experiences with their dishes, and were also enamoured by the venue and principles that underpin the success of the establishment and enterprise.
I piled into South Coast seafood cocktail topped with Cromer crab and Chase vodka sauce, which was nothing short of excellent. The seafood was exquisitely fresh and lightly shredded, layered on a base of smooth and light dressing with a subtle edge of creaminess. For the main I chose the 10 oz ribeye with watercress salad, baked tomato, meat glaze and Hermitage sauce. Not the most adventurous of dishes to choose, considering what else was on offer, but I had a craving and boy was I glad for that craving.
This was the juiciest slab of medium rare ribeye I’ve ever had the extreme pleasure to sink my carnivorous gnashers into. I shamelessly piled whole roasted “dirty carrots” with caraway on my now heaving plate, alongside a mountain of salted crisp and fluffy King Edward chips (I don’t even like chips!) all gleefully washed down with a stunning Argentinian Malbec. This was food heaven. My toes curled. My hair bristled. Conversation and wine flowed more copiously than the Seine and at one point I believe somebody asked me a question and I totally ignored them because, food. Sorry, whoever that was, but food. Gloriously good food.
Last but not least was the sweet spot: dandelion & burdock jelly, sherbet meringue, lime and star anise sorbet. This was a great idea, to resurrect a childhood drink (dandelion and burdock) as a jelly in this fashion. Flavours were divine and presentation made quite a statement. If I had one tiny criticism of the entire meal and experience it was simply that this dish was a little too sweet for my tooth and the jelly could have been more concentrated. So whoopee me, I wheedled out one minuscule flaw in an otherwise faultless experience. Only Allah is perfect. Oh and Monica Bellucci a very close second.
NB: Event bookers and organisers and freelance chefs take note, there are open plan demo kitchens available for hire at Brigade, as well as private dining rooms and event spaces. Enquire with Brigade for further details. Please mention Culinary World Tour when calling.
145 Tooley St, Southwark, London SE1 2HZ
0844 346 1225