THE BRILL: IT WASN'T
It was about half way through my slightly dispiriting meal at The Brill that I realised what this relatively new restaurant in King’s Cross reminded me of.
Those of us who have been dining out in London for the last twenty years will remember the excitement that surrounded the opening of Alfred’s on Shaftesbury Avenue in the early 1990’s. Its basic furnishings, economic menu, use of British ingredients, including at the time the much discussed appearance of English wine and engaging service made it a dining hotspot for a good three or four years, not a bad run in London.
It's long gone now of course, but looking at the menu of The Brill, much of what appealed about Alfred’s came flooding back. The owners have obviously attended courses on the rudiments of modern British menu construction as all the key elements are there; Crab, ham hock, pork belly, duck and they too, like Alfred’s have set out to provide a casual environment for well priced food, no doubt inspired by the relocation of the hungry employees of The Guardian to the neighbourhood.
Prices are set well with two courses for £13.50 and three for £16, which would make this a perfect place for a casual drop in supper if it were not for one small fact. The cooking is not very good. The dishes are neither hearty enough to match their appealing description nor executed well enough to make the portion control acceptable.
Paul’s starter was a case in point. Given my recent excursion to Cromer, I can appreciate what goes into catching fresh seafood, which makes what they do at The Brill to beautiful Cornish crab all the more inexcusable. It takes an announced fifteen minutes to prepare what is an attractive looking dish and with the texture fluffing up like a soufflé it could be a winner, unfortunately the mismatch of its fellow ingredients, sharp cheddar and avocado over power the crab and leave you thinking that this is just an awful thing to do to a wonderful ingredients.
My starter read well too and a warm salad of bacon, duck leg and black pudding would have been a perfect start on an evening that had turned blustery. What was delivered however was an apologetic plate of underdressed leaves, cold, tough bacon bits, miserable croutons and stringy duck. Worst of all, the black pudding, which tasted very good, was served in wafer thin slivers. The sort of dish it is a chore to eat not a pleasure.
Inevitably there is a steak on the menu and inevitably the menu shrieks out how long it is aged for. I don’t particularly care about its birthday, but increasingly I am beginning to feel that 28 days just isn’t long enough to age beef to get any discernable flavour, even when, as they had here it had been cooked perfectly to order.
To the owner’s credit, the menu promotes chips of the thin rather than the fat variety and for that alone they deserve a huge group hug from London restaurant goers. Unfortunately, they should promote them as “thin and limp” Paul ate the lot anyway, but as he says far more often than he needs to “I’m from Yorkshire”
The Brill’s first attempt at my dish of belly pork with baked apple and creamed leeks was a disgrace. Rock hard meat cut from the end of a roll of belly, an apple that had reduced to nothing but mush and skin and a spoonful of overcooked leeks. Complaint fans will be pleased to know that I returned the dish and that the response of the restaurant was as it should be, apologetic, but you have to question why a dish in that state was ever sent to the table.
They replaced without question, but it still left me watching Paul eat for ten minutes, which is no one’s idea of a good time and, in the end, although the execution was slightly better second time around, all it did was highlight the flaws in the dish. The pork was no longer dry, but in their rush to get a second plate out to me, it arrived lacking any crisp crackly topping, the whole point of a belly pork dish. The apple was slightly cold in the centre and the skin remained tough, making me think that they would do better to remove the flesh and serve as a baked apple sauce. On the whole very underwhelming.
The dessert list read just as well as the rest, but we both felt that the execution would be the same as our previous courses and requested the bill, which with a pint of beer for Paul, a large bottle of sparkling water and a deserved service charge brought us up to £37.50. That strikes me as a lot to pay for two courses of so so food and would bring a normal meal for two near to £60.
Which brings me back to Alfred’s because DH once spent nearly that amount of a blow out meal there and, even looking back to the early 1990’s, I can't help thinking that was better value.