There are no two ways about it: turbot is an immensely ugly fish. Fortunately for Brat (which is Old English slang for “turbot”) – where this fish reigns supreme on the menu, an essential order for every table – it is also absolutely delicious.
Opened earlier this year by the very fashionable Tomos Parry (the man who put Kitty Fisher’s on the hipster-restaurant map), Brat is in Shoreditch, sitting just above the new-ish location for Smoking Goat. On a hot day, the space – with dark wood panelling, proudly sporting signs from its days as a Truman’s pub – was surprisingly open and inviting, large warehouse windows flung open to East London’s air.
We started proceedings with a taste of the dedicated and extensive Sherry list (excellent to see, although I do fear quite how long it will survive), one glass of Champagne, and a selection of chopped egg salad with bottarga (delicious if not mind-blowing), samphire, melon and Carmarthen ham (a nod to Parry’s Welsh roots – wonderfully fresh, the samphire adding a welcome tang), lobster, beans & trotter sauce (ever so slightly under-seasoned and lacking in lobster, if tasty nonetheless), young leeks with fresh cheese (simply superb) and grilled bread and anchovy (which was by far the highlight – I can see exactly why Nigella, reportedly, had to re-order. Twice).
Glasses of a fresh uncomplicated Etna Bianco and an interesting Macabeu from the Roussillon were showed up by a brilliant rich, saline, mineral Assytiko from Argyros in Santorini. As for the reds, two stood out – Envinate’s trendy Lousas (Mencía at its best) and my first taste of Hervé Souhaut’s Syrah – this an entry-level Ardèche that was nonetheless impressive and elegant.
But it was, of course, the brat itself that stole the show. Raised on high and presented to our table by the chef, the majestic turbot’s flesh is ever-so-gently smoked as it cooks for 40 minutes over coals, doused regularly in its lemon-butter sauce. We dove eagerly into every corner of the unseemly beast, body, forehead and cheek. Its meat was decadently rich, so much so that even I admitted early defeat – seeking relief from sides of sumptuous tomatoes and smoked potatoes.
Afters seemed sensible and somehow we were filled with a second wind facing the refreshing bite of possibly the most perfect lemon tart, a deceptively light cheesecake and a platter of cheese. Onto the bill and out into the afternoon’s lazy heat…
Brat is a superb spot, its cooking (almost, I’d suggest, not chef-ing) frustratingly simple and unattainable, it offers both something different and joyful. And then there’s the turbot. There are few better places to while away a Sunday afternoon than in the company of such a sublime and hideous fish.