The Brackenbury used to be a regular haunt of mine until it shut its doors in late 2008. The premises has now been bought by Ossie Gray, who used to run The River Café, head chef. Humphrey Fletcher (who previously cooked at Kensington Place, Glasshouse and River Cafe and was Head Chef at The Royal Well Tavern, in Gloucestershire) and Andy Morris (who has cooked previously at The Anglesea Arms and Providores).
The premises, as before, is split into two dining rooms, each seating a couple of dozen people, with additional terrace seating in the summer. It opened its doors once again to the public in January 2014. The room is brighter than it used to be, with light coloured walls and orange banquettes, though the lighting is quite subdued.
The wine list was still very much in development when I visited, with just over a dozen choices available. These ranged in price from £17.50 to £65, with a median price of £29.50 and an average mark-up of 2.4 times retail price, which is modest by London standards. Example wines were Martin Codax Mara Godello Monterrei 2012 at £20 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £11, Pinot Bianco Terlaner 2012 at £31.50 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £14, and Ata Rangi Crimson 2011 at £42 for a wine that will set you back £20 retail. Corkage was a reasonable £15.
The menu had five starters priced at £6 - £7.80, five main courses from £14.50 to £17.50, side dishes at £3.50 and five desserts from £5.50 to £6. Bread was extra at £2 but was very good, sourdough from the excellent bakery Boulangerie de Paris (14/20); if you are going to buy your bread, then buy it well as they have here.
My starter of ragu of braised beef tagliatelle was flavoured with olives, thyme and tomatoes. The pasta had reasonable texture but the ragu lacked real depth of flavour; it was pleasant but no more than that (12/20). This was better than mackerel with watercress and a horseradish dressing. The mackerel had very limited flavour, though the watercress was fresh enough and the horseradish worked well with the fish (11/20).
A brace of quail were grilled and served with fennel and radicchio salad. The quail were cooked acceptably, and the salad was nice, the radicchio providing a useful bitter contrast to the richness of the birds (12/20). Cod was slightly overcooked, served with ratte potatoes, while braised celery in marsala and porcini was cooked too long, was overly soft and had lost its flavour (11/20). Chips on the side were decent, though I suspect were bought in. Presentation of dishes could be improved, even by the standards of a neighbourhood place.
For dessert, ginger pudding was a steamed pudding that had quite light texture but lacked enough ginger flavour (12/20). This was better than angel pie with passion fruit, whose meringue was too hard to my taste, the lemon cream with passion fruit being pleasant but hardly angelic (11/20). Coffee was fine.
Service was well-meaning but not especially effective. After the starters arrived with unseemly haste there was a length gap waiting for the plates to be cleared, and a further long gap for the bill to turn up, despite this not being a very large capacity restaurant. Our Italian waiter was friendly but seemed inexperienced, confidently placing the wrong main courses in front of us, a fairly basic error. Eventually I had to go up to the bar and ask for the bill. The tab, which was a little lower than might be expected as we brought our own wine, came to £41 a head. If you drank a modest wine from the list then a realistic bill for two including bread and coffee would come to around £55 a head. To be honest that seems to me quite a lot for the standard of food that appeared. Anywhere where the best food element is the bought-in bread is not really delivering for me.
A lunch was rather better than dinner. A starter of watercress and golden and red beetroots with hazelnuts was decent enough, though the watercress could have been of better quality and I was not particularly taken with the dressing (12/20).
Sea bass was topped with, according to the menu, a layer of chilli and mint and came with a salad of orange, fennel and olive. The fish was a touch overcooked, the chilli and mint flavours subdued to the point of invisibility, though there seemed to be coriander present. Although orange is not an unknown pairing with sea bass I didn’t think it worked that well here, and if all the flavours had been fully present then a mix of olive, chilli, mint and orange seems disjointed to me. It was still entirely edible, just not something that I would order again (11/20). The fish tasted farmed to me, although the waiter claimed it was wild; it seems most unlikely to have been wild bass given the price of it, and indeed its size (wild bass have to be at least 36cm to be landed legally). Whatever its source, it should have been cooked a little less. There was no concessionary lunch menu, so two courses with tap water and coffee to drink came to £33 per person.
It was early days here, but as a neighbourhood restaurant the cooking was adequate rather than particularly impressive. I was keen to like this restaurant given my previous positive memories of its old incarnation, but for me it fell some way short of my memories of the previous Brackenbury.