IT has been an attritional 2019 for some of my favoured haunts. Gone are Absinthe (omg), gone is Hedone (omg), gone is Duck Duck Goose (omg). I walk the high street with trepidation. Brexit means no restaurants. I could not care less about the chains invested by venture capitalists trying to export some décor and clichés to Macclesfield but the independents I feel for. You don’t recover from a broken business so easily in this country, unless you are very rich. Mercifully Brawn was still there. And pretty full on a Thursday lunchtime.
This is where the fashion for small plates began, but over the years these have filled out to some goodly proportions. Yes, you can still share, but you might not want to. Since Ed Wilson bought the operation out from the natural wine merchants Terroir there has been a shift to Italy. What was previously a French restaurant in microcosm, all technique and subjugation of ingredients, now the Italian influence dominates to the extent that some things are just left well alone: Sicilian Nocellara olives, Cantabrian anchovies (in fact, Spanish) may declare on the menu that they are sauced with lemon, mint and chilli but not very much lemon, mint, and chilli, not so much as to interfere with the purity of the fish.
There is burrata here, piattone there, agretti over there. Only the aged sirloin and some grilled duck hearts (with summer cabbage and pickled cherries) seem to remind of what used to be. Cod surfaces rather oddly too with mussels, peas, fennel and basil.
Two pasta dishes were first class – the ever popular papardelle with duck ragu, slim silky lengths of egg pasta, rough street slow cooked and shredded duck,
and a subtle ricotta ravioli with pine nuts and Pecorino and courgette sliced so thinly that it folds back on itself in imitation of the pasta. Very cute.
Radishes, carrots and smoked cod’s roe in the context is a generous starter, especially considering the bread and butter and (free) water. Another fine piece of fish – fine enough to be served raw – was the albacore tuna, served on tomato squares with capers, and agretti (monk’s beard).
Service has also stopped being service and become someone bringing something carefully out of the kitchen, as if front and back of house have morphed into one, which is a bit of relief. You are not asked if everything was all right, because it is, of course.
Note the web site says it is not open on Sundays (or Monday lunch) when the flower market is on, although I have sometimes seen it operate then.