I have given up meat for January, mainly because I am extremely basic but also because I’ve heard it’s better for the environment, and I usually find that a brief stint of vegetarianism encourages me to experiment with more plant-based recipes, which I can then incorporate into meal plans for the rest of the year. (I just made a steaming pile of these, by the way. They’re brilliant. Super easy to make, about 160 calories apiece and actually even better than the traditional lips ‘n arsehole versions, if you can imagine that.)
That said, there are a few things that would make it hard for me to be a full-time vegetarian, and one of these is a really good steak. Especially with chips, and some sort of obscene sauce, preferably blue cheese but peppercorn will do. One of the best I had last year was at Brigade Bar + Kitchen in London Bridge, which isn’t actually a full-blown steakhouse but if it wanted to could be on a par with Hawksmoor, Goodmans and the other heavyweights of London’s premium meat scene, thanks to top-quality 32-day dry aged Cornish beef from butcher-farmers Philip Warren, a wood fire and a chargrill.
You can actually go and pick your steak – sniff it if you like, even – as you might with lobsters in a tank. (I mean, you might. I can’t, the plight of live crustaceans in restaurants makes me exceptionally sad. I was once at a press night at Lima Floral which had an amazing ceviche bar, and I made a total tit of myself getting drunk on Pisco Sours and BAWLING over a giant crab that was part of the decor but still waving its pincers about sadly. I cried like a mad twat and begged the PR to let me buy it off them so I could take it home and nurse it back to health from the bathtub. I figured it would be fine because in two years of living here the only thing anyone has used the tub for is hand-washing woollens, and it’s a big corner one so has plenty of space for a new crab friend snatched from the jaws of death. The PR seriously looked like she wanted to kill me and/or find a new profession and hasn’t spoken to me since, so, if you’re reading this Amy, I’m really sorry for being a bellend and ruining your pisco party.)
Steak (and crabs) aside, the plant-based options sound a bit wishy-washy at face value, especially when sat next to 700g of gorgeous, nutty Cornish bone-in sirloin (£55 with sides, enough for 2-3 people), but then you remember that almost everything gets the charcoal treatment and once you know that, the ‘wood roasted hispi cabbage, tenderstem broccoli, cauliflower, crispy kale & salsa verde’ actually sounds quite brilliant.
A handsome, roly-poly burrata with smoked heritage beetroot (£9.00) was delicious as burrata almost always is, but the confit pork shoulder with charred gem salad, apple, roast potatoes and sour apple mayo (£10) was something truly special with tart apple slicing through the richness of the pork like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cutting through one of Donald Trump’s dunder-headed global warming tweets. (God, I love her.)
I mentioned yeast butter in my post on 2019’s food trends and this is one of the places you can try it, served if thick, glossy slugs alongside slabs of charred homemade sourdough, although Brigade’s version was a shade on the salty side for me. The wine list is short and sweet, and almost everything is sold by the glass or the litre.
One of the best things about Brigade is its quiet but dogged commitment to the local community, which on close inspection actually borders on a conscientiousness that’s almost obsessive. The soap, for instance, is from The Soap Co, a London-based company that almost exclusively employs blind and disabled people. Everything is seasonal and as local as possible, from the Bermondsey-made Little Bird gin in the Negronis and the salmon from Hackney’s Secret Smokehouse, to the seasoned woods and charcoals from The London Log Company. The founder of Brigade, Simon Boyle, is also the founder of the Beyond Food Foundation, which offers certified apprenticeships to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, to help them learn restaurant and FOH skills that can get them back in control of their lives. I’m not the type to get misty-eyed over this stuff if the food isn’t up to snuff, but when almost everything we ate was so exemplary it’s hard not to feel pleased about supporting something so worthwhile.
There are a few initiatives like this in London but they’re mostly coffee shops and cafes, rather than what I’d describe as top-end casual dining. Often these kinds of do-gooding establishments have an air of one of the more cheerful family planning clinics: invariably bright and airy but slightly on the spartan side, lest any flashiness detracts from the main mission. Brigade isn’t like that at all. To start with, it’s in an old Grade II-listed fire station, the first public one in Britain, actually, and if that isn’t cool as fuck I don’t know what is. It’s a shame they haven’t managed to keep hold of any of the original poles because nothing would please me more than whizzing down a 19th century period feature to get to the lavs, but they have done a lovely job on the interiors with plenty of tastefully expensive House of Hackney fabrics and that moody Farrow & Ball blue (Hicks Blue, possibly?) that’s everywhere at the moment.
I went to Brigade as part of a press dinner, so I didn’t see a bill, but a meal for two with plenty of booze would come in at £70-100 including service. I have also popped in for breakfast and it’s a solid option for all your early morning eggs and avocado-based needs, but you can’t have one of those gorgeous gigantic steaks for breakfast, can you?
Brigade, 139 Tooley St, London SE1 2HZ
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.