The back stories of restaurants are almost never as interesting as their delicious offerings.
Brigade in London Bridge’s Tooley Street is a fantastic exception to the rule.
Take one dilapidated London Bridge Fire Station, a passionate chef wanting more of his career than just serving up food, a fair bit of financial backing and one heck of a social enterprise. What do you get? A restaurant ethos as transparent as their kitchens where the apprentices work alongside teaching chefs, and a community orientated mission statement as clearly defined as the flavours in the hearty British menu.
In their own words;
Together with their charity Beyond Food Foundation, Brigade offers vulnerable people of all ages catering apprenticeships, giving them tools for a brighter future and has seen huge success since launching. Brigade and the Beyond Food Foundation have inspired over 400 homeless people and employed over 50 apprentices, most of which are still in full time employment.
Disclaimer: We were invited guests of Brigade, but my (many) opinions are only ever my own, and I would never recommend anywhere that I wouldn’t happily visit. And revisit.
On to the menu.
Gluten-intolerant diners are often faced with the worst kind of torture known to restaurant-going-kind. Warm, buttered bread envy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to rip the glorious smelling bread out of the hand of my dinner date. As it goes, the evening at Brigade boded exponentially well with five words little words to make my little gluten-free heart happy: We. Have. Gluten-Free. Bread.
Served warm from the oven, it was bliss to lather the salty, lascivious butter over the oaty offerings. They were accompanied by speared glistening olives nearby. Salt junkie bliss.
Immediate greedy pangs sated, we faced a puzzling conundrum of choosing exactly what to try. The safe option? The risky option? The healthy option? The treat option? P in great great ingredients saturates the menu, and picking just one option is a tough, tough job. Except maybe when you go with the gorgeous Selena, and get to
steal share tastes of everything. I need to spend more time with this lovely lady.
After much soul-deep bargaining a decision was reached and, my starter was presented with flourish in an on-trend mason jar (thingee, I’m clearly not one of the hipster kids) – the South Coast Seafood Cocktail. This wasn’t an iceberg lettuce and thousand island dressing taste of yesteryear, but a mouthwatering infusion of crustacean floating on a cloud of ‘chase vodka sauce’ in perfect proportions.
As good as my starter was however, the belle of the pumpkin ball had to be Selena’s ‘Vitality Salad’. The individual ingredients made for a sumptuous salad, but the chefs somehow managed to infuse the essence of several squash into a dressing that dances sunshine into your mouth.
It was that good that I’ve already been back. For a salad, people.
Our mains were hearty, good fair – my pick was the apprentice’s special of pork saltim Bocca, grilled polenta and cooked nectarine. I found the pork was a little dry for my taste, and could have done with more of a texture or flavour contrast on the plate, though I loved the pairing of fleshy nectarine. These specials dishes change everyday, and contribute towards the apprentices’ NVQs. Not only are they balancing a (at times) turbulent life, but learning many news skill and studying for exams.
Selena’s fish and chips were a hearty, beautifully cooked classic served with rustic tartare sauce, but all thunder was subsequently stolen by the appearance of a gluten-laden delight. The brigade burger. I know everyone chef and their dog has a burger on their menu in this burger mad city, but just look.
French dipped and accompanied by cheesy chips, doesn’t it make your mouth water and your hips tremble?
The almost unilateral crown was a cappuccino crème brulee. Presented once we had rested our groaning bellies, the surprising top layer of foam was a beautifully crafted antithesis to the luxurious crème brulee hidden in the depths of the sweet cup. And just the right size after such a feast.
The interior of the restaurant consists of a ground level bistro, multi-function dining rooms and a bar for the local suits to prop up. On the first floor (next to the teaspoon ‘borrowed’ from David Cameron opening the restaurant) are teaching kitchens and private function rooms, and charity offices over the top floors.
The internal décor is cheeky, funky and perfect for post-work prandials.
What a place, what a foundation, what a fantastic addition to the burgeoning London Bridge food scene. If you need an excuse, think of Brigade as a scrumptious donation towards a worthy social enterprise that really cares about the people it is helping to rebuild their lives.