Some years ago, the Lovely Husband discovered a tiny neighbourhood restaurant in the pretty, villagey part of Hammersmith called Brackenbury Village. It was gorgeous, sitting there in amongst the independent delis and complementary health care clinics, hidden away in this small residential pocket with the expensive Victorian houses, just a couple of corners away from the ugly transport hub that is the Hammersmith Roundabout. The ambience at the horseshoe shaped Brackenbury was cosy, and the food quite exquisite, on the one or two occasions we ate there. Sadly, it suddenly closed, was empty for a while and then replaced by a Phillippino restaurant. We often thought of it nostalgically and were truly sorry to have lost our lovely special little dining place.
Much to our delight, we found out only quite recently that it had reopened as long ago as 2014. Naturally, a table was booked immediately and we hotfooted there with huge anticipation and great thrill. Our Brackenbury was back! Whoop whoop!
The website claims that it has recently undergone extensive refurbishment, yet in its new incarnation it presents in that slightly old fashioned, countrified French Auberge style, the walls covered in decorative but not qualitatively impressive art work by local ‘artists’, all for sale, the white linen table cloths protected by brown greaseproof paper, the banquettes that rather dated terracotta colour. Perhaps it is the very dated look that gives it a faintly dusty, sleepy feel. Everything is in its place but somehow the little loving details are missing, the small pavement terrace looks slightly unloved without the cheerful flower pots and outside heaters it used to have, the interior is styled to look vaguely eclectic but fails to garner interest. It almost achieves its goal of looking cute, but just not quite. I think it may lack a woman’s touch!
On the night we were there, the clientele were entirely middle aged and middle class, all of them the local Brackenbury Village types, comfortably affluent and mildly arty and, rather like the restaurant, a little worn around the edges.
The Brackenbury prides itself on its Modern European cuisine, ‘based around the seasons but not dogmatically so’, claims the website. The menu is small with six nibbles, five starters, five main courses and five desserts plus cheese, as well as a ‘Specials’ list with two extra starters and one extra main. I’ll admit freely that I am a bit of a faddy eater, I don’t like this and I won’t eat that, but normally I can always find something that appeals, it was therefore particularly unfortunate that, this time, I struggled to find something that remotely whet my appetite. The Lovely Husband was far easier to please.
We settled for a shared Beetroot, Walnut, Creamed Goats Cheese and Watercress Salad to kick off with. This turned out to be rather anaemic, since the beetroot was the pale type rather than the ruby red vinegared sort which has much more bite and flavour, and the creamed goats cheese was so creamy that it tasted more like Philadelphia rather than offering a distinct goats’ cheese counter balance to the fresh but fairly bland beetroot. Walnuts are walnuts, so all in all the slightly bitter taste of the water cress dominated the dish.
The Lovely Husband chose the Onglet Steak and Frites with a side of broccoli. The meat was nicely cooked and tender but once again, not overly tasty, though the accompanying Bearnaise was excellent. The thin chips were alright, not outstandingly crispy but ok.
After my efforts to find a suitably tempting morsel, I was thrilled to spot one of my all time favourites, White Asparagus, on the Special’s list. It was listed as a starter but I asked for a main course portion which was duly delivered. Now, I absolutely love the stuff! Not only that, but coming from Hannover in Germany, the area where the very best white asparagus is grown, and having been raised with at least a pound of asparagus almost daily on the menu and in a multitude of combinations during the six week season in May/June, I consider myself to be quite the expert. Here at The Brackenbury, it came with Confit Tuna, Spring Onions and Capers. This was beginning to look most exciting and my enthusiasm was finally fired up.
In Germany, white asparagus is almost always eaten hot or warm, often with melted butter or with a nice, rich hollandaise and, cooked properly, it is delicious beyond words. It is thicker, more fibrous and with a more delicate, slightly sweet flavour, than its ‘grassier’ green cousin, and is perfect in combination with new potatoes, Schnitzel, Smoked Salmon or Parma Ham, for instance. Cold it becomes more bland and slippery and really then works best as one of many components in a salad.
What exactly possessed the chef Hugo Fletcher to serve me up a fine looking dish of this fabulous vegetable entirely cold with no sauce to enhance it and with a few chunks of indifferent tasting cold tuna, I cannot fathom for the life of me. How deeply disappointing!
It won’t surprise you that our shared dessert of Almond Tart with Yorkshire Rhubarb and a blob of Crème Fraîche was no more riveting.Too much tart, not enough juicy rhubarb. Desperate for something to thrill our taste buds, we ordered a plate of Roquefort and crackers and a coffee but by then, we’d come to terms with the fact that The Brackenbury simply doesn’t cut the mustard in the culinary department. They try, bless them, but not very successfully. It’s all a bit amateur. From décor to food, everything is short on impact. It’s not awful but it is boring snoring, and that little ‘je ne sais quoi’, that element of love for detail, that sense of being spoilt, that makes eating out an experience, is completely missing.
At £98.16 including a decent bottle of Pinot Gris and service charge, the bill at The Brackenbury was slightly higher than what we had paid for our meal at Rick Stein’s in Barnes the previous week, where, for a lower price, we had been served delicious home-baked bread, two lovely little canapés and a finely tuned and orchestrated symphony of a meal. To quote the Brackenbury’s website once again: “….it (The Brackenbury) is regarded by some people as a hidden gem, so hidden in fact, that very few people ever seem to find it.” In my opinion, it’s probably best left that way.
Perhaps it was coincidence that, on this particular evening, the contents of the menu didn’t really ring our bell all that much, perhaps The Brackenbury is just not our kind of place any more. So many different random factors can influence a review. Fay Maschler gave this restaurant three out of five stars and reviews from many other diners are highly complimentary.
What I wore
Navy Emporio Armani skirt, navy, grey and black Gerard Darel shirt with white Peter Pan collar, electric blue John Lewis cashmere cardigan, electric blue Maison Martin Margiela high heeled ankle boots, navy Miu Miu bag.
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