Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
Archive review: Brawn’s has now closed.  The Royal Family’s junior members have always courted controversy. Who can forget Princess Diana and her lively chum...

Archive review: Brawn’s has now closed. 

The Royal Family’s junior members have always courted controversy.


Who can forget Princess Diana and her lively chum Sarah Ferguson dressing up as policewomen and partying in Annabel’s nightclub back in the 1980s. More recently some of you may have clicked onto TMZ to see Prince Harry’s… er ‘billiards’. However, these titled youngsters could learn a thing or two from the teenage Princess Elizabeth. Who? You know, HM the Queen. When she was just seventeen she got the nation’s attention by spinning around the dancefloor of London’s trendy Bagatelle restaurant to the Latin beats of Edmundo Ros. But what’s all this got to do with a new tapas bar in Cowes? Nothing really. Other than when Matt and Cat entered the intimate venue they soon found themselves tapping their feet to Edmundo Ros’ rumba music.

But let’s unravel a bit. M&C had already scoped out Brawn’s during their preamble to Cowes Week – and they thought the venue looked promising. However, as they’d already stuffed themselves that day with crab and chips they only had room for a nice cup of tea. Yet, salivating over the menu, they vowed to return.


Having built up an appetite trotting around Wolverton Fair, Matt and Cat bimbled off to Cowes to finally do Brawn’s justice. The cosy interior had been given a well-needed spruce up but, unlike some venues’ makeovers, it’s not all white walls and canvasses of smooth wet pebbles. Brawn’s has embraced a sort of rustic, yet Edwardian chic. There was florid wallpaper, old prints and photos, and even a domestic standard lamp in the back room, all illuminated by flickering candles. The candles themselves were pushed into old wine bottles, bistro-style; their thick waxy accretions almost hiding the glass underneath. It all made for a very intimate atmosphere – bordering on the gloomy though, it has to be said.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Lamb tagine £5.50
Figs and blue cheese £4.50
Pork tenderloin £5.25
Blanche bait £4
Tart aux pommes £4.50
Chocolate tart £4.50
Cobra lager £3.50

Far from gloomy was the waitress; a very friendly and enthusiastic member of staff who, at the time of Matt and Cat’s visit, was running the front of house single-handed. She was patient with her indecisive charges, and seemed to know the menu and bar-list very well. Matt and Cat found it tricky to make a choice from the good selection. They decided that, with its myriad of low-priced yet varied dishes, having tapas is a bit like the Yo! Sushi dining experience but without the conveyor belt and waving Maneki-neko. ‘Yo! Tapas’ if you will. Helpfully the menu was loosely divided into breads, meats, veggies, fish and so on. M&C both chose three dishes each and awaited their assortment with interest. While they waited for the kitchen to rustle up their dinner, Matt and Cat were delighted by the Tijuana brass and Cuban-style tunes, interspersed with Edmundo Ros. The Cat, who’s a big fan of lounge music and cheesy listening, thankfully managed to resist whistling along to Hernandos Hideaway.

Apple tart

The venue was pretty full; it was a great place for a romantic liaison and there were several couples including M&C enjoying themselves. On both of their visits Matt and Cat have also noted that Brawn’s seems to be popular with families, maybe because it has child-sized dishes – pleasingly, proper food and not a patronising kiddie menu of meat-shapes and carbs. Despite the lone waitress having to attend to a dozen or so customers, there was no conspicuous delay in getting the meal. All six dishes arrived together and a handsome array they made, enhanced by the vintage crockery onto which M&C spooned their tapas.

Chocolate tart

The highlight for Cat was oven-baked figs stuffed with blue cheese. The fruits were juicy and soft and their sweetness was excellently tempered by the cheese. Matt’s favourite dish was the pork tenderloin marinated in tarragon with caramalised apples. The meat was fabulously soft and lean, infused with garlic and herbs. He didn’t get much of a look in on it though as Cat snaffled most of it. Pork is usually the last choice for her; Brawn’s did well to make it so desirable. The moist and meaty lamb tagine was nicely flavoured with North African spices and the chips and patatas bravas were great to mop up the stew’s juices. The only disappointment was the whitebait; it was fairly typical breaded fish – not a patch on Blacksheep Bar‘s seasoned and floured whitebait – but tasty enough.

Having cleared their plates and enjoyed their main courses so much, Matt and Cat thought they’d have desserts. Now, M&C are experienced enough diners to know that some chefs need a bit of help in the kitchen and may even buy in some of their dishes. However, it was still a surprise that Cat’s chocolate tart was branded with a chocolate disc, on which was scripted the word ‘Chocolate’. If it was the work of the chef, then his expertise is assuredly in patisserie. Matt rather dismissively compared this production-line pudding to Punky Penguin. That may have been a bit harsh; Cat enjoyed its crisp pastry case and the smooth chocolate but would have preferred something more home-made looking. By contrast, Matt’s apple tart looked fabulous; glazed chunks of apple on a pastry case with a ramekin of cream. It was deliciously tangy and moist.

As they were leaving, Matt and Cat bumped into as couple of friends who’d been pre-emptive enough to book one of the two tables in the window. Having finished their dinners, your reviewers sat down with their new companions and enjoyed a complementary amaretto. By now, they were the only ones in the restaurant but it was a relaxed enough place that they felt comfortable just drinking and gossiping. Brawn’s is that sort of venue – one where you can have an intimate dinner or perhaps just a boozy chat with friends. Matt and Cat liked Brawns very much: it scores well across its ambience, food and service and is recommended.

  • Sean says:

    I said they were not tapas but were nice!!

    Matt & Cat intervene: we have edited the punctuation in your original comment to make your meaning clearer, Sean.

  • Si says:

    Sorry are you saying that Hummus and pork with apple sauce are tapas ?( or even Spanish ) , bit confused ….

  • Sean says:

    I do not understand the Hygeine rating system that well, so a 2 means its not clean and has bacteria?

    I understood a low score ‘could’ be down to training, processes, facilities, procedures and records, and not just a place being dirty? (If its dirty it should be shut down until clean)

    M&C mention this under FAQ’s.

    Tescos has a 5 Rating and people are currently questioning some of their processes!

    I stand by the enjoyment of our night, and meal, at this establishment, and will return.

  • Sean says:

    We have taken a while to get to Brawns and from recent comments did not know what to expect!

    The starter sharer board for 2 with antipasti, homemade hummus and stuffed peppers was great, we shared 4 tapas for mains, the ‘rib-eye and pimento peppers & red onion’ delicious, ‘garlic mushrooms’ just wow and ‘pork with homemade apple sauce’ outstanding, the spanish tortilla as nice as I have had anywhere, to finish panna-cotta, and a good few glasses of wine…a lovely evening, great atmosphere and surprisingly good food. All real Spanish tapas? No, not even close. All good and really really delicious? Yes! And that’s what counts!

    Give it a go, we booked to go again later in the month, and take friends, you can’t get a better recommendation than that!

  • Georgeous says:

    It’s a nice place with great atmosphere for a drink. But a tapas bar? It ain’t. When we went in the summer, the barmaid didn’t know what sherry was (in a tapas bar…?!) and when we went back again earlier this month they had only one type of sherry, a simple fino. It doesn’t exactly conjure up images of Seville. The tapas is poor – underseasoned and unremarkable. The MET bar in Ventnor is a lot better at this.

    A great atmospheric place for a (non sherry) drink. Don’t bother with the food.

  • da yw wyth says:

    Thought I’d take a visiting mainland friend here, to try the £10 three course Sunday lunch.

    Service was obliging but so brisk – difficult to understand a word being said. Great starters, nicely presented. Vegetables great, and superb deserts. Just one drawback – apart from one slice, all if the meat was rather tough – and some of the slices were more like hacked-off chunks.

    The clue is in the price label I suppose – £10 must suggest something not quite 100% – a shame though as it was nearly so very good.

    And a great environment of course. I do hope things improve – I would really like this place to succeed!

  • Rachel says:

    Try Brawns in Cowes. I am always very leery of tapas bars as I think all too often it is just an excuse to give tiny portions at great expense. But was pleasantly surprised at Brawns. Loved the lamb meatballs in tomato sauce and a chicken wing dish. I was disappointed with the cheese stuffed chillis- it was just the regular stuff you can get now in supermarkets (for some reason I thought it would be baked in the oven) but all in all I really enjoyed it. The portions are quite respectable.

  • da yw wyth says:

    Brawns of Cowes – a beautiful and authentic conversion of the much-lamented Primefoods, shop. Minimal change in the shop area at the front, subtly smartened up. The parlour area behind is simply gorgeous, with a feint whiff of Frenchness, and pictures of the Butchers shop as was, various shots of old Cowes, and a stray one of Ryde Esplanade! The food itself? Well, I’m no expert on Tapas, so am not well-equipped to judge. The sauid rings were nice and tender, and the sweet chili dip complemented them nicely. The samosa pastry was of the hard flaky kind, with gristly beef inside. As for the paella – the seafood element was great, but the rice was stodgy and over-oily. But how would I know – perhaps this is the authentic style? The salad in each case was crisp and nicely-presented. Overall, I’d say well worth a visit, if only for the environment itself and the attentive service. As for the food, I’d be interested to have an alternative view!

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