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.
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.
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.
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.