Across London, private members’ bars seem to be springing up everywhere you look. While the bars themselves are generally reserved for members and their guests, the attached restaurants are often open to all. One such restaurant is Brasa, which forms part of Broadway House members’ bar by Fulham Broadway. My dining partner had been a member at Broadway House for the better part of a year, and last weekend we decided it was finally time to sample their restaurant – and give it some publicity with a restaurant review, since the fact that it’s open to non-members doesn’t seem to be widely advertised. The restaurant is sandwiched on the first floor, above a pub and below the main members’ bar. The walls are painted dark, the ceilings are hung with />crimson cloth, and the lighting is low, with the result that the large space still manages to feel intimate, even when it’s just about empty (we were one of just 2 tables when we arrived at 7.30pm on a Saturday evening).
We were seated by a friendly, smiling waitress who was soon back to take our drinks order. Knowing we were likely to order meaty mains, my dining partner suggested we try a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Very reasonably priced at £22, this was a rich, rounded red with ripe fruit flavours and just a hint of spice. It did take a little while to discover this, however, as our waitress first brought the bottle to our table without any wine glasses, and had to dash back to the bar to fetch some before we could settle down to sipping.
In terms of food, Brasa’s menu is fairly short and doesn’t have a “starters” section as such, but the “grazing” plates looked to us like they would do just as well, so we each selected one of those. My grilled new season asparagus with crispy quail’s eggs and pine nut dressing was prettily presented on a black slate plate. The asparagus were well cooked – soft but not fondant, and dressed in a delicate buttery sauce. The quail’s eggs were perfectly soft boiled, enrobed in a light and crispy breadcrumb coating which didn’t feel at all greasy. The pine nuts that were scattered over the dish were rich and nicely toasted, giving a pleasing contrast in both taste and texture, although I wasn’t sure where the advertised pine nut dressing was. The only element that didn’t work so well was the leafy garnish that I took to be baby watercress – their curling sprigs added to the look of the dish but their bitter flavour clashed with the green spring freshness of the asparagus. My dining partner’s plate of huevos rotos, fried ratte potatoes, soft chorizo, jamon and garlic was a monster of a starter, looking more like a fried breakfast than a starter (or even a sharing plate) in a restaurant that seeks to describe itself as luxury. It also wasn’t quite what we were expecting – having googled “huevos rotos” when perusing the menu, we had thought that the huevos would be scrambled rather than fried. It was a very tasty dish nevertheless – the chorizo in particular had brilliant flavour and the potatoes were richly moreish.
When we had first arrived, we had remarked on the pleasant background music, which had been playing at just the right volume to allow private conversation. As we were waiting for our main courses though, a large group filed through the restaurant to the next door function room, and their party soundtrack started booming through the wall. At the same time, the private party in the members’ bar upstairs turned up the volume, and the ceiling began to vibrate to the bass notes of Gangnam Style. When they came, our mains were sufficiently tasty to distract us from the nightclub-esque noise but, as with the starters, all was not as it seemed. My dining partner had ordered a sirloin steak, cooked medium, but was presented with a rib eye steak, cooked rare. It was tender and full of flavour though, so he chose to tuck right in. His side dish of roasted tomato salad had the interesting twist of warm tomatoes, and his other side of triple cooked chips came sadly under-salted. Our waitress happily brought over a salt mill when we requested one but, to my dining partner’s dismay, it seemed to be broken – despite his best efforts, it didn’t produce a single grain. My own main of roasted lamb rump served on a bed of roasted tomatoes and courgettes was not much to look at, largely because everything was drenched in a thin, brown gravy. In spite of appearances, it was quite enjoyable – the lamb was meltingly tender and had a beautiful meaty flavour, and the roasted cherry tomatoes were burstingly sweet. Alas, the courgette was somewhat overcooked, its nutty taste lost amid the gravy. As I reached the middle of the enormous hunk of lamb, I was a dismayed to note that rather than the perfect pink of the outer pieces, there was a raw centre of uncooked red flesh that I just had to leave aside.
Sitting back after polishing off his mammoth meal, my dining partner suddenly gasped in amazement and whispered to me to look over my shoulder at the room behind me. Since the wall behind my dining partner was mirrored, I discreetly checked over his shoulder instead, and was startled to see two women dressed as cabaret dancers, with breasts spilling out of low-cut corsets, and stockings and suspenders showing below their little tutu skirts, making their way to the Ladies. Our waitress later explained to us that the party in the bar upstairs was “pimps and hos” themed, and was the 40th birthday party of the General Manager’s wife. It certainly sounded like they were having fun, but we couldn’t help but wonder whether the General Manager had considered the wisdom of closing the members bar to members on a Saturday night, and effectively turning the restaurant into an extension of a nightclub with the booming bass. Despite all that, we were tempted by the dessert menu and decided to stick around and give it a try. A mere few minutes after we had placed our order, a waiter came towards us bearing two large plates. “Wow,” we thought, “that was quick”. As it turned out, it wasn’t – the waiter was carrying two t-bone steaks, and looked distinctly embarrassed when we told him they weren’t for us.
Twenty five minutes later, when our desserts still hadn’t appeared, the rather sheepish looking waiter came over and explained that the kitchen had forgotten to make them – they would be another 9 minutes, so he would like to offer us a free drink by way of apology. I happily accepted and ordered an Amaretto on ice. My dining partner fancied a bourbon, so asked for the lowest priced real bourbon on the list, a Woodford Reserve (£4.50 per 25ml). He was slightly taken aback when the waiter, apologetically of course, said that Woodford was too expensive to be given out for free, as a double would cost £9. Sighing, my dining partner said he’d take a Jack Daniels instead (£3.30 per 25ml). There would be no point complaining about a free drink, but we did find it curious that the £2.40 difference in price between the Woodford and the Jack would really present such a problem.
Eventually, our waitress came over with our desserts, apologising profusely for the wait. We hadn’t really minded sitting back and letting our mains settle, especially with our free drinks to sip on, but we were so keen to dig in when the desserts did arrive, we forgot to take any photos! Not that you’re missing out on much by their absence: My dark chocolate fondant was fine, with a light sponge exterior and a rich, melting middle, but it did remind me somewhat of the chocolate puddings that you buy in the supermarket and heat in the microwave. The accompanying ice-cream was a real disappointment. Presumably intended to be vanilla, it had such little flavour that it was impossible to tell. It was also anything but creamy, and was frozen so hard that it didn’t even melt when dropped into the middle of my melting middle pudding, or cut when hacked, stabbed, and sawed at with my spoon. My dining partner’s crème catalan was like no crème catalan we’d ever had before. The texture was a bit like a wobbly crème brulée, while the taste was just bizarre – vanilla overlaid with synthetic lemons and sugar – and it came with a ball of the same “ice-cream” that accompanied my dessert.
By the time we finished dessert, it had gone 10pm and the juddering bass from above was getting steadily louder, so we decided to skip tea and coffee and just get the bill. As we were waiting for it, a piercing siren began – the kitchen’s smoke alarm had gone off. Fortunately, they managed to silence it after just a couple of minutes, and there didn’t seem to be any sign of an actual fire. When the bill came, we were surprised and more than a little amused to see that our waitress’s name had been entered on the system as “Sweeeeeeeet”. Given the uneven quality of the food, the haphazard service, and the intrusive nightclub soundtrack, the £44 per head price tag (excluding tip) didn’t really strike us as sweet. Perhaps in this instance, it’s a good thing that few non-members are aware that they can come dine at Brasa. Overall score, a distinctly disappointing one and a half Forks-Up.Brasa 474 – 476 Fulham Road London SW6 1BY T: 0207 610 3137