Everyone should have a neighbourhood restaurant – somewhere they are recognised, accommodated and tolerated.
Second Street Comfort Food is mine. Despite being a sanctuary for my building’s dishevelled middleclass, middle-aged, middleweight men and their offspring’s terrorizing scooters, it never let’s me down. Or, it hadn’t until recently.
Lately, our Friday night table has been reserved by offer-chasing skinflints. The majority of diners now arrive via the discount app, Time-Eat. Such apps are a scourge on dining, reducing the selection of a restaurant to an autistic assessment of price. As a result, the joy of food is reduced to a dispassionate ingestion of sustenance and – with a guarantee of patronage – restaurants churn-out high carb, low price patas bravas. Like sweaty Germans annexing sunbeds in a second rate Thai resort, Second Street’s new diners are not concerned that they’re defiling the aesthetics and atmosphere of the place I hold dear.
So, I’m in search of a new haunt and I’m determined not to walk more than twenty yards from my front door.
Brut! by Pata Negra House, the new Second Street tapas restaurant looks perfect. In the short time since it’s opening, Brut! has enjoyed rave reviews from friends and neighbours alike. So, my Second Street drinking posse and I take one of the high tables on Wednesday evening.
The interior is small, dark and sexy. Though, the atmosphere is anything but. It’s lively, happy and inviting with an air of organised chaos. Fleetwood Mac provides the backdrop around which the wonderful staff perform energetic explanations of the wine and food menus (side note: I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience in a restaurant playing Fleetwood Mac).
A wide selection of cocktails and organic wines are scribbled on the walls. We are happily upsold a very quaffable bottle of red. I couldn’t tell you what it was – the explanation was fired at us like a gatling gun of superlatives – but the bill reminds me it’s the better part of $400. We enjoy a few of them.
Truth be told, having walked past Brut many times since it’s opening, I was expecting the sophisticated, lively atmosphere. However, what I wasn’t expecting was the completely original dishes. The menu has obviously been put together with a great deal of care, built around carefully sourced ingredients and unexpected pairings.
We started off with the Baby Buns of the Day. It would be both accurate but also grossly unfair to call these pulled-beef sliders (anything ‘pulled’ or described as a ‘slider’ should only ever be delivered by scantily clad girls in orange hot pants). And indeed, watching the owner try to explain our dish without using the words was the culinary equivalent of the parlour game taboo. A rich dollop of slow cooked beef, roast tomato and pickled gherkin were sandwiched between perfectly toasted brioche buns. Sliders they were, albeit very good sliders.
We needn’t have worried that our opening dish was a little prosaic as the next two were unexpected and delightful.
The first was milky mozzarella with rich, acidic black olive tapenade and piquant deep fried enoki mushrooms.
The second was pureed eggplant and pickled vegetables. The eggplant babganoosh had a moreish weapons-grade smokiness. To stand up to eggplant’s robust flavour, the veg needed to deliver a sharp acidic judder, akin to your testicles breaking the surface of a hot bath. Alas, they had a mild, raw flavour which was lost upon any contact with the eggplant.
Our main source of protein was Iberico Secreto, a slightly chewy, beef-like cut of pork neck, served pink. It delivered a rich gamey flavour, lifted beautifully by a sweet roast pepper sauce.
A Roquefort mac and cheese was appetizing but unremarkable.
We rounded off our meal with a plate of cheese. Disappointingly, we received three types of Manchego, which were all too similar in taste and texture.
We all really enjoyed our meal at Brut! But, with a little distance and digestion (metaphorically speaking), the dishes don’t quite hang together and combine to a sum greater than the parts. The heavy mac and cheese for example, felt at odds sat next to a fluffy plate of mozzarella.
However, Brut! has really admirable convictions and with a little refinement I think the menu will match the exceptional quality of the experience.
One of the prerequisites of a neighbourhood restaurant is the availability of a table. I see this as one of the few barriers to Brut! becoming my new neighbourhood restaurant.
How much? $4000 for four
Where? 1 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun
Who goes? Sai Ying Pun Scenesters