Everything they send out from the open kitchen at Brat feels like food for a special occasion, which was a stroke of good planning given we booked a table to coincide with the reopening of indoor hospitality and a first meal out without thermal trousers for five months.
And so the new normal, for us, began in a place where every dish seems to be about one extravagant ingredient cooked in a way that will generate maximum flavour. The whole turbot has its spine extracted midway through cooking to release the gelatine. You might also expect the fish to have had its teeth whitened and a pedicure for £100 a serving (for four).
It is actually the much more financially palatable small plates that leave their mark on your mouth and memory – the oily ball of soft anchovy bread that will stretch the point at which you say something is too salty, the langoustine that’s colourful and sweet enough to belong in a treat cupboard, and the throat-warming steak tartare, spiced so expertly that you want to walk up to the kitchen and shake the chef’s ha- sorry, bump his elbow.
For fans of dishes with perfectly juxtaposed names there’s the velvet crab soup. Most of the crab meat has been transposed into the soup but the waiters provide you with a shellfish fork and, to save you from having to pretend you know what you’re doing in front of a room full of strangers, some instructions (delivered gently, as though in passing) as to how you might forage a bit more from the legs.
This is the kind of banquet-fit food to come and enjoy with friends, or at least to tell your friends about in WhatsApp groups on the Tube home, though chances are they’re already on to Brat. Over the last couple of years the restaurant has been lauded by the kind of critics that get invited onto Masterchef, has featured on the excellent Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, and has been awarded a Michelin star.
There was said to have been a degree of surprise, even from chef-owner Tomos Parry, when Brat received the accolade in 2018, because while every Michelin-starred chef will tell you they want the ingredients to be the star of the show, they don’t usually send out their ingredients to perform a capella.
To put it another way: although Michelin have never really been that clear what they go for, they don’t tend to go for places that serve a whole fish carcass with no sauce on the sort of obnoxiously sized plate that Alan Partridge used to sneak into hotel buffets.
An interview that appeared in Forbes magazine last year may have shed more light on things. The interviewee, an anonymous Michelin inspector, revealed to the world that, really, restaurants are judged on just five things: quality of ingredients; mastery of technique; harmony of flavors; the chef’s unique signature; and consistency over time.
Basically, they don’t care about the size of the plates, or indeed anything at all except the food, and knowing this, the star awarded to Parry and his team isn’t really surprising at all. 9/10