Food sellers and reclaimed furniture are natural bedfellows: out of necessity to scrimp and save, new and independent restaurateurs have always fluffed their sites with second hand knick-knacks; every child dragged, as I was, by their parents to auction halls or car boot sales has been sat on an antique chair or, I dunno, a pommel horse, given a polystyrene cup of scalding hot soup and a hunk of crusty bread and told to be patient – such places are, in my mind, the original pop-up restaurants.
One day, though, there won’t be any more 1970s school chairs and authentic pendant lampshades to go round. Either that, or Russell Norman will furnish a site with sparkly sleek new tables and chairs from Habitat, and everyone will shriek and follow suit. And for a while at least, only the newest and poorest will be scouring the flea markets, wishing people had bought furniture to last in the 90s and noughties, rather than temporary flat packs from Ikea.
But the appeal of eating under assorted chandeliers and spotlights, and among stuffed animals, road signs and miscellaneous tables bearing price tags will remain. Which is why the architectural salvage firm Lassco made a shrewd move by installing cafés, restaurants and a whole row of street food vendors at their site in Oxfordshire, and later in London in Vauxhall and Maltby Street. Atmosphere and charm come built as standard.
I’d drunk many a coffee at the Vauxhall venue, the Brunswick House Café, but for some reason never been near at the right time for lunch or dinner. Reviews were generally good when it opened in 2011, and the dining room, busy with furniture and countless lights and signs hanging from the ceiling, has always intrigued. I finally found good reason (and time) to visit and eat a few lunchtimes ago.
The menu was simple and thrifty. We could take our pick from three or four starters, three mains, and two desserts. None of the dishes attempted to push too many culinary boundaries, and some gave the distinct impression that they were there to use up the leftovers; I suspect this partly reflected that it was a Monday and supplies for the week were just starting to roll in. In any case, this is an observation, not a complaint. The lunch offer generally seems to focus on interesting vegetables and the cheaper cuts of meat, which I’m all for. Add tempting components like haggis crumb, blood orange hollandaise and rumbled thumps, and you’ve the making of a cracking, comforting and inexpensive meal.
I double breasted it: pork belly followed by lamb breast. The pork, as you’d expect, was a tranche of fatty goodness, slow-cooked so that it yielded unctuously, then crisped nicely in a pan just before being plated. A scattering of radishes and cress and a smudge of apple puree added enough freshness and sweetness to cut through the meat. A welcome dish on a cold day. A thick spiral of rolled lamb breast was similarly unctuous (which, by the way, is pretty much only a quality when used in reference to these two foods). It was also full of flavour and, sat on super swede mash and large flecks of haggis, and decorated with vivid orange ribbons of carrot and bright green sprout leaves, it made a really hearty, tasty and colourful dish. If food could be compared to receiving a bear hug and a cheeky £10 note from a large and flamboyant aunt … well, that.
My friend’s cauliflower florets, black pudding and pickled red onion starter was simple but spot on. An enjoyable mix of complementary flavours and textures, and a lighter start to the meal than mine; though she offset that by fairly massive and unilateral consumption of the double helping of excellent sourdough and butter, given to us TO SHARE. Her main was probably the most adventurous of the menu options: blushing pink salmon with a light blood orange hollandaise, farty salsify and leeks. Good dish, nicely plated. I enjoyed stealing crisp sheets of salmon skin. Karma.
Desserts were the weakest course. Lemon posset was too set, too sweet, too rich and too big to finish; a forced rhubarb cranachan missed proper Scottish oats and whisky, so was really “just, like, whipped cream and Dorset, right?” Neither choices were unpleasant, but both could be improved. The rhubarb was gorgeous, mind.
We could have stopped before the desserts and rushed back to whatever false deadlines had been set for and by us, sated by a well paced and priced (£14.80) lunch. But the Brunswick House Café doesn’t really feel like a quick pit stop kind of place, and what started as a single glass catch-up snowballed into an unexpected four carafe sitting. This may well reflect what appears to be the charm and lure of the place. The food seems pretty good, occasionally interesting and keenly priced; I will return for dinner. But I suspect nourishment is often just a side part of a meal here. The room envelopes and the wine creeps up on you, conversation flows naturally, and it’s all too easy to become unaware of time, of everything going on outside and, frankly, of the other tables around you. It’s a proper session spot, an oasis in which you can ignore the bustle of work and salvage your sanity.
The corner of Vauxhall where Brunswick House sits seems the most unlikely place for a grand old building of all sorts, let alone a restaurant. Traffic drones past continually. Commuters trudge wearily to the buses and trains. But the curious and knowing are rewarded when they venture in. The restaurant here is a haven of reclaimed furniture mixed with enjoyable food. On trend for the moment, but unforced and probably timeless.
Brunswick House Cafe in 3 words
Salvage your lunchtime.
2 course lunch is £14.80. 3 course is £17.80 per person. Wine ranges from £18-60, with a healthy spread across the board. Dinner is a la carte and in pretty much a £7; £15; £7 formation.
brunswickhousecafe.com – 30 Wandsworth Road, SW8 2LG – 02077202926