An oasis of calm and good taste in Nine Elms
Choosing a restaurant isn’t as carefree and fun as it should be these days. Alongside considerations like menu, atmosphere and location, we still have to think about issues of ventilation and crowding. Or at least I do in what feels like an increasingly lonely preoccupation. Phoning restaurants to ask about how well their dining rooms are ventilated more often than not elicits mutters of confusion rather than reassuring details.
While that sounds like an unremitting downer, the upside is that I’ve been eating outdoors more than ever – if the ventilation won’t come to you, then go where this is some. While the Great British weather doesn’t always lend itself to al fresco dining, that can be an opportunity as much as an obstacle. Some restaurants are not only lucky enough to have the space for outdoor seating, but some also have what really matters to complete the al fresco experience – champion cooking, not fairy lights.
The courtyard of Brunswick House in Nine Elms has several tables shielded by individual parasols. While the chandelier-festooned interior gets all the Instagram snaps, the courtyard is by no means an uggo.
Starters/small plates and side dishes at Brunswick House
‘Raw beef’ was a passionate love story between chewy, moreish and coarse steak tartare on one hand and a deeply eggy mayo-like sauce on the other. Despite its richness, the sauce never became heavy or cloying enough to unbalance the dish away from the raw beef.
Part muffin and part farl, the grilled potato bread had a starchy sweetness to it that was especially delicious when slathered with the whipped anchovy. Its roe-like richness, a light cream with hints of oily depth, was a thing of beauty.
A broadly similar spread, smoked roe, appeared at the bottom of a bowl of Kettle crisps. While perfectly enjoyable in its own right, it was all a bit too similar to the grilled potato bread for its own good. When faced with both on the menu, it’s always bettter to opt for the potato bread.
Anchovy fillets showed up in another starter, their bold salty tang mellowed by a citrusy, tangy and umami escabeche. Shavings of gently nutty almond broke apart smoothly, rather than splintering or cracking, adding another layer of flavour to a neatly accomplished fish dish.
Brunswick House’s take on shrimp and grits was fragrantly evocative of the sea. Eaten whole while still in their shells, the prawns were all aroma and crunchy texture though with little actual flavour. The sweet, nutty and gently creamy grits more than made up for this lone flaw.
‘Jesus’ sausage was hardly worthy of the name – these mildly garlicky slices of charcuterie were more likely to induce apostasy than adoration. The moreish coppa marbled with fat was far more worthy of praise.
Although black pudding wasn’t quite earthy enough, its meatiness and loaf-like heft made up for it. It was a decent-enough companion for the firm and supple cuttlefish.
A selection of moreish and sweet tomatoes came dotted with crunchy slices of celery and radish. It only felt like half a starter though, given the paltry non-presence of squash and the wilting miso which was far too subtle for its own good.
A lone scallop, drawn and quartered, had little to offer in taste and texture. Even if it had, it would’ve been drowned out by the sweet and starchy parsnip cream, acidic fruit and crunchy hazelnuts. All of that made for a fine garnish, but the kitchen really could’ve gotten away with a less pricey protein backdrop.
Crisp green leaves came dressed with umami Parmesan and a fruity sweetness. Purple sprouting broccoli made for a heftier side, but was no less accomplished. Firm and crunchy, the stems came pelted with nutty almonds and mild chilli. This unexpected pairing worked surprisingly well, complementing each other and the broccoli.
Main courses at Brunswick House
A pork chop doesn’t sound terribly exciting. But in the hands of the kitchen here, the fillet had been deftly browned with a sweet tenderness matched by a neatly rendered strip of yieldingly toothsome fat.
Despite the accomplished nature of the pork chop, the kitchen managed to severely botch a mutton chop. Underneath the moreishly sticky glaze was a hardened lump that was far too tough, despite its copious amount of fat.
The Galloway rib was a far better testament to the meaty arts. It was not only tender and well-browned, but had a malty moreishness that was almost like soy sauce. The fatty tip provided succulent juiciness. Although the thick hollandaise brimming with the flavour of anchovy arguably overshadowed the beef, it was so intensely enjoyable in its own right that I could almost forgive its bold insolence.
The pasta half of the crab noodles was more like tagliatelle, thin but wide. The bisque-like crab sauce had a modestly meaty undertow, but its real charm was a citrusy warmth courtesy of kampot pepper. The combination was pleasing in a low-key fashion, although it was more ‘pepper and bisque noodles’ than ‘crab noodles’ – the art of menu writing still matters.
Firm, bouncy and meaty sheaves of monkfish cleaved off the bone easily. The enjoyably plump fish came bathed in a butter sauce that wasn’t especially complimentary, not even with the aid of samphire. But it was charming enough its own right – rich, but never cloying, with a thin consistency that didn’t coat and smother my mouth.
Desserts at Brunswick House
A hefty slab of consistently and evenly moist sponge cake came slathered in what almost looked like icing. It was actually a thick cream that never outstayed its welcome. Even so, this would’ve been a somewhat plain dessert if not for the greengage compote which was almost umeboshi-like in its sour tanginess.
A slice of tarte tatin was umimpressively small, but it made up for this with its thin yet buttery pastry that sliced apart easily using just a fork. The overlapping sheaves of apple could’ve done with a bit more caramelisation, but were sweet and squidgy nonetheless and were never outshone by the light and airy cream.
Although verging on dry, espresso cake was tightly crumbed with an appropriately bittersweet taste. This was enhanced further, but almost to this dessert’s detriment, by lashings of Pedro Ximénez. The boozy effect was offset – but only somewhat – by a cream distinctly flavoured with walnut pith. There’s a core of a good dessert here, but it needs rebalancing and refinement.
Pear sorbet captured the grainy crispness of the fruit, as well as its juicy, sugary sweetness – all without a single stray ice crystal.
While the dark chocolate pot wasn’t as bittersweet as expected, it was far from charmless. Its smooth expanse was tinged with caramelish and honey-like notes that melded together beautifully.
There were times during my many visits to Brunswick House that the kitchen not only verged on greatness, but teetered on it. And yet it never fully toppled over into runaway hit territory. Far too many dishes had oddly unsatisfying quirks, while a few – such as the mutton chop – were outright malformed. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t much to enjoy at Brunswick House. When the cooking hits its stride, in dishes such as the pork chop or the Galloway rib, it makes you feel glad to be alive – even if only for a few fleeting moments. When we’ve been surrounded by so much death and dithering for what feels like an eternity, that counts for a hell of a lot.
Name: Brunswick House
Address: 30 Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall, London SW8 2LG
Phone: 020 7720 2926
Web: https://brunswickhouse.london (hey look, someone actually uses those .london domain names)
Opening Hours: Tuesday 17.00-21.45; Wednesday-Saturday noon-14.30 and 17.00-21.45. Closed Sunday-Monday.
Average cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £65 approx.