11 August 2020

At Brat x Climpson's Arch, Turbot-Charged Fireside Dining in Hackney

One of my favourite things to do — on my travels and at home in London — is to eat out at different restaurants, new-to-me or old familiars. What with one thing and another, this has been from difficult to impossible over the past six months, but as London eateries begin to take those first steps towards that elusive 'new normal', I too have now dined out a few times.

But none of these 'first meals back' came with as much anticipation as Friday night's supper at Brat's al fresco summer pop-up at Climpson's Arch in Hackney. I'd never been to the much-acclaimed Shoreditch original, and the pop-up seemed like an ideal venue for my bro's belated birthday treat. The tables are set up, with appropriate distancing, underneath a perspex canopy, prettied up with fairy lights. Our table was right next to the kitchen, which was great for watching the chefs at work. Of course, when we booked a table — weeks ago — at a restaurant known for its Basque-inspired open-wood-fire cooking, we had no idea London would be embroiled in a mini-heatwave, but we had a damn good evening nonetheless.

Brat's name is taken from a Northumbrian term for turbot, so our ordering process was always going to be 'what shall we have before, with and after our turbot?' We started with some margaritas while pondering our next move, which turned out to be the oysters, grilled bread with anchovy and grilled corn with hay butter. All of these dishes were impeccable: the unusual, umami bread was very moreish, while the corn was the taste of summer in a perfect, buttery bite (or two).

A little while — and another cocktail or glass of wine — later, and the headline act made its entrance, introduced by head chef Tomos Parry himself. We had the whole grilled turbot for two, which was epic — there's an even bigger boi on the menu if you're in a bigger group or just very hungry. Parry told us we could eat the whole fish, but I took this rather too literally, accidentally crunching on a couple of small bones along with the crispy skin. The fish was melt-in-the-mouth delicious, though, and we pretty much finished it off. It came with smoked potatoes, which were so long and succulent I initially mistook them for sausages, and a salad. We also had some shishito peppers; perhaps fortunately, none of the ones I ate were too spicy.

We were much too full for puddings, but somehow a burnt cheesecake with peaches and a crème caramel arrived, and it would have been rude not to finish them...

The only problem with going to Brat en deux is that you can't try everything on the extensive, chalkboard menu — the beef rib looked superb, for example, and I'd have liked to try the roast chicken rice. Oh well; we'll just have to go back. And with service as warm as the weather on Friday, the whole evening was a real pleasure, a wonderful treat.

Brat x Climpson's Arch. 374 Helmsley Place, Hackney, London, E8 3SB (London Fields Overground). Website. Instagram.

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