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Happy Birthday Browns

January 27, 2013
Browns in Bristol is in a listed building, but as long as they serve Hendricks, I couldn't give a monkey's.

Bristol’s Browns lies within a striking, listed ex-museum, but as long as they serve Hendricks, I couldn’t give a monkey’s about much else.

Jeremy Mogford must be feeling pretty pleased with himself.  Forty years ago, with a mere ten grand, he opened the very first Browns restaurant in Brighton, with the second one following three years’ later in 1976.  More openings followed throughout the country.  With a business model based upon treating the employees well and a menu offering all things to all people, Browns burgeoned.

It was for these reasons that I first heard of Browns, whilst at university in Surrey.  We were conducting a case study on how to open and successfully operate a restaurant and almost every example of what should happen and what decisions should be made came back to Browns.  It was probably another five years until I actually ate one and from then on, I became a monthly visitor, whether it was breakfast, lunch, Sunday lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, or simply drinks – or in one or two cases, a couple of visits in a single day.

For a restaurant to diversify to an extent unlike anything else save from hotel in-room-dining is seemingly suicidal.  I mean, think of the food costs (as my old manager would say) and for god’s sake, quality too.  How could a kitchen bang out brekkie as well as a roast?  It’s not the half of it either; the Browns menu – although leaning towards good old British fare – seems to be influenced by the multinational diet of Mr. Creosote – and is just as vast as the man himself.  The menu changes frequently and (at least in my local branch at West India Quay), is generally influenced by local produce such as fish or butchery.

The cooking is simple but delivers quality where quality needs to be.  Flatbreads to start (dressed either with an Asian, ducky twist or with an Iberican flare of chorizo and pepper) are an unusual  but awesome option, though the mums and dads would be likely happier with a substantial prawn cocktail, a dangerously rich chicken liver parfait or a dose of box-baked Camembert which is pretty much a meal in itself.  Mains are somehow even better.  The Browns Beef Burger is served at whatever temperature demanded and is among the best I’ve tried. The steaks are not by any means massive nor USDA / Angus quality, yet cooked well enough to compensate.  A recent ricotta, beetroot and white truffle tortellini was probably the best veggie dish I have ever dared to eat in a restaurant and one friend recently exclaimed that the fish and chips (a menu regular) was “… better than than, you know, that awesome feeling when you sneeze”.  Weird, but I kind of get what she means.

The breakfasts are decent and cheap enough to be a succulent hangover cure.  The afternoon teas (again, there is more than a tiny choice) are excellent, especially ‘A Most Unusual Afternoon’, served with a Hendricks and tonic on the side.  The roasts are a little too good – get there too late and all but the nut-roast have vanished.  Desserts are abundant and ambrosial, an affliction that Browns recognises by offering trios of the favourite ones -  recently, I tried a trio of cheesecake that in its entirety came dangerously close to topping the one on offer at the JW Steakhouse.

By now, you have likely abandoned this post and are making haste to the nearest Browns near you; and if not, likely wondering about how to wash it all down.  Make no mistake, there is a delightful beer and wine list – all quality and quantity, but the cocktail list comes alive (and I don’t just mean with the generous happy hour).  One recent experiment, the Naughty St. Clement, was an infusion of Chase Marmalade, Gin, apple, lychee and lemon, crashing into my Top Ten Drinks list after the first heady sip alone – and at seven quid, the cheapest of the ten.

Forty years doesn’t change some things like the food, but it has clearly altered others.  Staff service is a little too hit-and-miss to be called superb; but get them on a good night and you’ll be blown away.  On a bad night?  Well, just order a couple extra Elderflower and Cucumber Collins’ and you’ll be fine.

You’ll be fine with the bill as well.  Whereas you could spend the earth in Browns – it is the kind of restaurant where fifteen quid white wines sit alongside £140 bottles of Krug – make no mistake that you could go in, chow down on a £twelve wild boar and chorizo burger, have a glass of coke and have the time of your life.  There are always seems to be a party atmosphere (for me, it’s now hosted one leaving do, one birthday and many team drinks) and the leather banquettes, wooden panels, clouded mirrors and constantly dimmed lights makes the restaurants very winsome places to be indeed.

I’ve not written about Browns before – partly because I didn’t feel that I could do such a vast restaurant justice within the relatively constricted setting of TFT – but also because it falls into the background of trusty, faithful familiarity – not so much a restaurant as a second living room, dining room and bar area combined.  When I heard it was Browns’ Ruby Anniversary, I genuinely had no idea they had been around for so long; I have since been invited to enjoy a meal there at 1973 prices and will no doubt pop along; firstly, to get a cheap meal; secondly, because it will no doubt be a fantastic meal; and thirdly, because I will gladly raise a glass to Jeremy Mogford and this very special company, wishing them well for the next next forty years; and beyond.

Three courses for two with wine would come to about £sixty or £seventy, mains from £ten to £twenty-five.  Wines by the bottle from £fifteen, beers from £four.  Cocktails from £seven.

@BrownsBrasserie / @BrownsWIQ (West India Quay) 

Browns-Restaurants.co.uk | Facebook.com/brownsrestaurants

Mike Dalley, January 2013

 

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