Founder and chef Simon Boyle has a book of stories of the lives the Beyond Food Foundation and The Brigade Bar and Kitchen have changed. From giving a sense of purpose to saving lives - the formula is tried and tested - inspire and support, give trust and ambition, allow room for growth and nurture along the way.
It is easy to get swept up in the glitz and glamour of the restaurant and bar scene, especially in the bright lights of London town. The quest for the allusive star, the perfectly plated tasting menus, the wine lists to rival encyclopaedias but strip it all back, go back to how it all started and you will always land in a similar place - food brings people together. Whether it is eating it, cooking it or both, it offers a sense of community, stability and familiarity and I believe along with Simon’s guidance, it is these building blocks that help lay the foundation to a new life, one that has now supported over 6000 homeless people.
Frustrated with the notion that not only people become homeless but stay homeless and exasperated with charities handing out blankets but not actually solving the problem at hand, Boyle knew he had an opportunity and a duty to make a difference. Utilising his skills, contacts and first hand experience at seeing what devastation can do - Simon was on the ground following the 2004 tsunami - the charity and restaurant were born.
On a bustling Tooley St, moments from London Bridge station, under the watchful eye of the Shard sits the weekday brasserie with an emphasis on fire cooking, an unfussy, sleek dining room and good, honest food. Hold the foams. As guests are shown to tables by an enthusiastic and passionate front of house team, licks of flames cast gold glows across the space via the open kitchen. The vibe is bustle, in keeping with the fast moving world outside. A sanctuary from the city this is not, more a dance partner - the plates come out fast, the chatter is loud, the energy high. The passion from the kitchen and wait staff alike is palpable and I wonder if it is a direct trickle down notion from Boyle, a man so determined to see change that a fire was lit within him.
We took in the classics to start - potted ham hock and a smoked chicken caesar, given the promise of a kitchen led by fire the chicken could have been a little more bold, I was hoping for almost acrid back notes balanced by sweet lettuce, instead the flavours were subtle - not unpleasant but not the punch in the face I was expecting. The mains are where the kitchen shone - sirloin steak with a smoked lemon aioli, covered in well made chimichurri and spatchcock Suffolk chicken smothered in a sour cherry harissa, doused in cherry molasses, accompanied by charred corn. The fiery heart of the kitchen can be felt in every dish, be it the light smokiness of a sauce, a char of a vegetable or the down right blackenedness of a piece of meat - the welcome burnish of blistered skins and rendered fats tantalising tastebuds and nostrils alike.
I’m not sure I have ever experienced the flavour combination of chicken and sour cherry, when my friend ordered it I eye rolled, knowing he was doing so because he is one of those cross fitter types and a spatchcock chicken was probably the most suitable thing on the menu for his gains. How grateful I am for his need for grilled chicken because this was sensational. An absolute flavour bomb. The chicken so juicy and tender it fell off the bone, pops of sweet corn cutting through the sour cherry. My steak was good, well licked by the fire, a zingy chimy and punchy aioli to boot. Neither of us being desert people but wanting to try the full menu, we opted for chargrilled rum soaked pineapple and grilled peach melba. I find fire kitchens sometimes run out of steam when they get to the desert portion of the menu, dishes have a wisp of smoke as an afterthought or the fire is forgotten all together. Not the case here, slices of pineapple taking on caramelisation as the char alchemises the fruit sugars. Plump peaches having sat on a hot grill, take on a whole new flavour profile, the warmth still being held in their flesh, marrying perfectly with the mascarpone ice cream, that welcome sensation of hot meets cold.
The Brigade Bar & Kitchen is balancing the two worlds of social enterprise and modern day eatery perfectly. It is well priced, well thought out and well received. This is your sign to go and eat some food and feel wonderful in the knowledge that you are contributing to a difference in someone's life.