Brunswick house is a very strange proposition. The building has sat there since 1758, and for four of those years it’s been a perplexing enigma on my daily commute through Vauxhall. The area around Vauxhall’s bus station is a whirl of big, hard-to-cross roads, building sites, and soulless ugly high-rise buildings and offices, and despite the intrigue of this out-of-place beauty, labelled simply ‘Restaurant’ I never made my way across.
But Brunswick House has recently acquired new management, and a flurry of positive reviews from prestigious quarters, and my home has edged closer to it each of the past three times I’ve moved—now it’s just 10 minutes walk away. So I couldn’t avoid it any longer.
We ended up spending £114 between two—so it wasn’t a cheap night—but then again we bought five cocktails and it’s always your own fault for buying cocktails. The food itself is reasonably priced; what I’d call ‘current London restaurant price’.
The menu uses all of the tricks that endear me to a place: a daily cocktail (or in its case, two), limited starters and mains that all sound like they have lots of thought put into them, only a couple of sides and ones that are a bit outside of the regular. I have to say that I am also an embarrassed fan of the ridiculous practice of omitting the pound sign and final zero in pricing. There’s something attractive about 6.2 that £6.20 doesn’t quite have.
The dining room seats about 40, I’d guess, on irregular tables and chairs, mostly with tags indicating they’re for sale. Actually nearly everything is for sale: the chandeliers, fireplaces, and lots more in the adjoining LASSCO.
Of course, none of it would work if the food itself wasn’t very good. Thankfully it all is, to varying degrees. The mullet crudo was firm chunks of raw red mullet dotted about the place—anonymous in flavour but satisfyingly firm texturally—with sharp yoghurt, fairly pointless crunchy bits of red pepper, and a strong herby air which I assume came from the sea purslane (I hadn’t heard of it either).
The squid appeared to be a salt and olive oil delivery mechanism at first, with only structural variation: rubbery squid, crunch, slippery leaves with a bit of watery bite. But in combination with the tangy sweet blood orange and pomegranate seeds the dish takes on a whole different air: more of a balance, albeit one where all of the individual ingredients’ flavours are muted.
The lamb was extremely tender and pink, with a subtler milder flavour than typically present when you roast lamb at home, and came with fragrant sprouting broccoli—a bit like Chinese broccoli, or a mix between regular broccoli and kale with with a herby dill-y edge, as well as soft but firm potato with acidic yoghurt. There was also a leaf, not listed on the menu, that they had deliberately burnt for a strong char flavour, if you wanted to mix it in.
The pork was slow-cooked to something a bit like a drier tinned tuna in texture, but somehow in a good way. It was very solid and meaty. The top and bottom were a perfect consistent brown for optimal Maillard savouriness. Weirdly, it came with a hefty hunk of posh taramasalata on top, whose sharp fishiness nearly overpowered everything else in the dish. I’m not quite sure about the combination, but it’s a very bold attempt.
I didn’t write any notes about dessert; it was good without being exceptional. The goat cheese ‘Innes Log’ was a bit cold, and lacked the warm finely-grained crumble I like—but the crackers it came with were amply seeded and as salty as you could ask for. And combining whole quince (consistency like dense soft cake) and quince jelly provides a lovely gradient of sweetness. The madeira cake was pretty good: a bit like a spicier sticky toffee pudding—not quite so sickly—and it came with a poached pear.
I’m not even slightly against the trend of restaurants having a ‘concept’. Why open a new restaurant in a city where 15,000 already exist if it doesn’t at least try and do something well? Then again, I am noticing a countervailing trend of places that just try and be good, with no frills or gimmicks. They just offer nice cocktails and interesting, well-cooked food, in a nicely fitted room at the sort of price that neither bankrupts you nor them. Brunswick House is one of those.
Score: One medal (for an explanation of our scoring system, see here).