I moved to Bethnal Green in 2010 when everyone was having ‘new-age- fun with a vintage feel’. ‘Being a Dickhead’s Cool’ was funny and vaguely informative. Seven years later it’s eerily nostalgic to watch:
Today’s East London feels safer, more established and serious. At its heart though it’s still a glorious melting pot of people from Jerusalem, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Nigeria, Pakistan and Suffolk.
Take Ridley Road in Dalston. This is supposedly where EastEnders’ market was based. There may be more straight shooters here than Albert Square but it stubbornly refuses to lose its vibrancy as East becomes westernised.
Columbia Road began its life as a pathway to lead sheep to slaughter in Smithfield. The sheep have now been replaced by yogis, haberdashers and models wearing shearling jackets. London is full of continuity if you know how to look.
Hang a left to Ravenscroft Street and you’ll find Brawn which launched as the sister restaurant of Terroirs in 2010 (before being recognised as the more gifted sibling.) East London’s restaurant scene at the time was percolating. Brawn turned it up to eleven and put it firmly on the map. It was completely of its time and still is today.
Now fully owned by the oenological don Ed Wilson, Brawn’s concept is to source the very best produce and let the combination of ingredients (rather than the cooking) do the talking. The pared-down menu is always changing and consistently outré; Duck Hearts, Duck Gizzards, Trotters, Andouillette & Brains. A gutsy sybarite’s paradise. There is also pasta.
London has more choice of quality restaurants than ever before. Paradoxically, though we gain in our quality of options, we lose out in what loyalty and familiarity can provide. Good or even great restaurants are ephemeral to our spoilt bastard collective. To keep going back means it’s got to be more than exceptional; it has to mean something to you. It has to be personal.
Brawn represents this rare personal restaurant to so many people I know. My best friend lives near and has been well over 250 times. He’ll soon get his own plaque. Brawn has a knack of making you feel at home and like you’re on holiday. I can’t explain its alchemy. Nick Lander writes about it most recently and best.
YouTube videos aside, it’s difficult to look back in time without using places like restaurants as punctuation and reference points. Many have come and gone and the importance of those that remain grows exponentially.
When a restaurant means something to you it ceases to belong to its owners. It becomes yours. A part of your identity. Brawn is a whole load of East Londoners, my friends and mine.