The scene The striking red-brick fire station on Tooley Street (circa 1879) has been turned into a bistro you can feel good about bingeing in, as London’s vulnerable young folk are being offered a chance at a new beginning with apprenticeships to cook in Brigade’s kitchen.
Don’t expect the place to look like a community centre or serve simple staples as a result, however: this is a smart venture that’s every bit as unpretentious as it is stylish. Leather, long-backed chairs, an open kitchen showing off all the action and statement walls of block colours give it a modern, up-to-the-minute feel, while the menu offers more complex mains alongside British classics done with panache.
The grub A quick appetiser of homemade breads is a far more involved affair than my date and I could have imagined: there’s one stuffed with olive and tomato tapenade, one flavoured with fennel and the standout is heavy with black treacle.
Already impressed, we move onto starters of Scotch egg and potted pork belly with apple chutney and crackling (the egg is near perfection, with the outer coating impeccably crisp and the yolk just the right side of runny, though the crackling is too tough for human teeth) and a hoity-toity twist on beans on toast (white cannellini beans, a rustic tomato sauce, soft egg and slightly tough cubes of pork belly that would benefit from more fat).
The flavours are competent and the invention admirable, so I’m buoyed enough to plump for an ‘apprentice special’ of duck two ways with carrot and ginger mash. Honey-glazed breast and fat-rimmed slices of confit are suitably juicy and go great with accompanying baby fennel, but the mash is a drab disappointment.
My date goes for the steak and oxtail burger with cheesy chips which, though excellent, is so rich she can only manage half. A side of deep-fried broccoli gives us the unnerving impression of eating vegetable doughnuts.Behind the bar Pints from £4.20; wine from £4.80/ £18 per glass/ bottle; cocktails £7.95.
Bill please Starters from £5.95; mains from £10.95; desserts from £5.50.verdict Not faultless, but nice ideas done well and with a few moments of brilliance.
139 Tooley Street, SE1 2HZ
Tube | London Bridge