It's incredible that I have never set foot in Browns given my recurrent route past its bustling exterior, and the multitude of student types and Cliftonites that frequent it. Consequently, when the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I were deciding where to rendezvous for our forthcoming natter and nosh-up instalment, Browns was settled upon as a mid way point between our varying suggestions (she; Clifton Village and I; Gloucester Road). Cue the evening in question and the highs and lows that comprised its proceedings...
Date and Time: Wednesday 2nd November 2011, 18:15
Name of Establishment: Browns Bar and Brasserie
Location: 38 Queens Road, Clifton, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Timely meet-up with the BFF
Stepping into Browns is really rather impressive; in fact, it made me wonder why the steps that run from the pavement to the venue's front door as well as the external canopied mezzanine are always so well attended (even, it seems, on a drizzly November evening) when its interior proved both spacious and immaculate in terms of its décor. With branches in all of the UK's major cities (as well as a cluster in the capital), Browns proudly occupies a number of 'interesting and often historic or listed buildings' and its Bristol counterpart is certainly no exception! Modelled on the Doge's Palace in Venice, the building has served as the city's museum, art gallery and university's dining rooms and boasts a number of striking features that include hard wood floors, high ceilings and the stylishly orbed lighting which has been hung sporadically overhead. Hanging baskets overflow with vibrantly green foliage and the subtly jazzy soundtrack facilitates a laid-back ambiance as does the candlelight which flickers from within individual rouged glass containers. Tables are thoughtfully arranged so not to crowd the space and servers are friendly, courteous and crisply attired, (think pressed white shirts and ties all round). That said, service is ever so slightly stuffy and depending entirely on your preferred level of interaction with those waiting your table, you will either loathe the distinct lack of banter or embrace the conversed formality.
The BFF and I decided it somewhat appropriate to treat ourselves to a little mid-week tipple and each chose a signature cocktail which, from Sunday to Wednesday from 4:00pm, are reasonably priced at £3.95. I sampled Browns' version of a tried and tested favourite which fortunately, was as good as any I’ve sampled elsewhere. Cue the Bramble which combines Bombay Sapphire Gin with lemon juice, sugar, Crème de Mure and crushed ice with a distinctively bitter-sweet kick. The BFF opted for the Webber Martini which muddles Absolut Citron vodka with crème de cassis, apple juice and lime – a super sweet amalgamation that wasn’t quite punchy enough for my taste but reportedly made for an easy-drinking and refreshing aperitif. Furthermore, in addition to the vast line-up of beverages on offer (including a top-notch selection of beers, wines, spirits and bubbles), I have to mention the novel concept of Browns’ ‘Skinny’ cocktails which, created using Agave syrup instead of sugar and with a lesser alcohol content, are positively saintly – make mine a skinny mojito!
On to the food and the supper menu which offers lower-priced fare before 7:00pm Monday to Friday. I chose the Goats Cheese Filo Parcels (£7.95) which comprised a smooth blend of crushed peas, sweet potato and goats cheese encased in two sizeable, crisp pastry packages. These were attractively plated, the flavours well-balanced and served alongside a lightly dressed salad (which incidentally, had been garnished with the juiciest red pepper I have eaten in a long time). Overall, this constituted a surprisingly filling dish that was both flavoursome and delicious. The BFF’s Chargrilled Paillard of Chicken (£9.95) was simple and healthy though, in my opinion, not quite worth its price tag. This comprised an amply portioned escalope of chicken which although was described as a little dry, had been topped with a aromatic gremolata and accompanied with a fresh salad of chicory, cucumber and cherry tomato – tasty but a little lack lustre to say the least.
|Chargrilled Paillard of Chicken|
|Goats Cheese Filo Parcels|
Desserts at just £3.00 each somewhat justified their indulgent consumption. I chose the pudding of the day - a temptingly titled mocha tart which, cut into a stringent slither, was overwhelmingly rich with a thick, fudgy texture that stuck to the palate (and not necessarily in a good way). The buttery shortcrust pastry base aided its rather heavy disposition but the biggest disappointment I felt was the subtlety of the coffee which made the tart more chocca than mocha I'm afraid. The BFF healthily selected the fruit compote and was somewhat perplexed upon its arrival. As the image below depicts, the BFF was served a small bowl of raspberries coupled with a generous helping of Greek yoghurt. Nice...but certainly not what she was anticipating! For a start, compote denotes stewed fruit; a point which the BFF took up with our server who in turn sought the expertise of the kitchen staff. She returned to inform us that this was simply how Browns served its compote but did offer the BFF a small jug of baked raspberries, “just in case she wanted them” - of course she wanted them, this was exactly what she had ordered in the first place!! Furthermore, the honey advertised as part of this dish had also been completely omitted – a real shame. I once ate at restaurant where the selection of available desserts were showcased on a platter at your table so that, besides heightening the probability that you'll convince yourself that you simply must have a pudding, you also have prior knowledge of exactly what you will be served; a rather obscure practice perhaps but without doubt one that I wished Browns had adopted on this occasion.
|Chocca A.K.A Mocha Tart|
|Fruit Compote (apparently)|
In conclusion, weighing up the flaws of the fare with the modestly totalled bill we had accumulated, it indubitably seems a case of 'what you pay for is what you get' – a notion made even more apparent in light of the considerable element of food envy brought about by some of the à la carte dishes that graced the tables around us! Given this venue’s sophisticated appeal and grand surroundings, I have to admit that I was expecting little more in regards to the quality of its cuisine; all the other aspects of this space seem to capture its intended ethos but I feel that the brasserie part of its namesake needs a little attention. Subsequently, I will not be ruling out a second visit though, for now, I think I’ll focus on the aforementioned cocktail menu and will prop up the bar until I’m otherwise convinced to venture past its well-stocked reaches.
The BFF gave Browns Bar and Brasserie 6/10 and in three words, described the venue as 'stylish’ but the cuisine as ‘plain’ and ‘misguided’.