EATING OUT: ‘Bratva’ – “Hits you like a rubber cosh.”
Brasserie Bratva, Castle Square, Brighton. ****
RFN’s restaurant critic Jay Savoir enjoys solid soviet fare.
Nestled into a quiet corner of central Brighton and constructed inside the former St.Thomas the Hardy church, Bratva is a new take on an old recipe. Built to resemble those wonderful Moscow communal kitchens of the Stalinist era, right down to the roaring oil drum fire by the main door, it manages to successfully capture that long lost magic of fear, hunger and the wish to be anywhere else but there.
After passing the forbidding doorman and receiving the customary three whiskered kisses from Maya, the babushka greeter, one is immediately struck by the simple beauty of the interior. Stark and impressive, New York designer Kirsten Albeeno’s creation hits you like a rubber cosh.
With bare wooden tables, a scorched earth floor and seating that can only be described as painful, the attention to detail is amazing. Ambience is dialled down low and both the Blonde and I marvelled at the sheer lack of charm and heating. Tableware made from recycled tank parts and melted gold tooth fillings feels as authentic as a trip to Siberia and almost as welcoming. Our expectations rose high.
If you could eat a horse
Once seated at a table near the garbage disposal and using the glow from the Blonde’s phone to pierce the gloom, we took stock of the menu. It was short and enticing. The Roast Skirple, a dish of Russian sitting duck and boiled chok sounded original, as did the fried Belly of Stoolpigeon and the encrusted Filet de Putin – apparently a dish best eaten bare-chested whilst riding a horse.
However, even though these offerings tugged at the tastebuds, I opted for the rustic Borscht Gulag, a hearty cold soup served with weevil potatoes and ash-blackened bread, whilst the Blonde went for more exotic fare, choosing the Confit of Peasant garnished with Potemkin parsnips.
Borscht to tears
My dish arrived the standard 60 minutes after the Blonde had downed her extraordinary straw-flecked plate. My borscht was served at the correct frigid temperature. The bread was glue-like and chewy. The potatoes were simply alive. A three-part narrative that successfully weighed on my stomach for many hours afterwards.
No visit to an authentic Russian salon is complete without a sampling of vodkas and we both settled on the taster trio, with distillations from various parts of the old soviet empire. Notable standouts where the Blonde’s Perestroika ’87 which she gaspingly described as tart and itchy, and my Zhukov ’45, which carried a petroleum fragrance and hit the throat like a flamethrower.
Dessert came in the shape of a Stasi sorbet, which had all in the room stealing sideways glances. It was hard, uncompromising and demanded answers. Everything a cold war custard really should be.
Chef Denisovitch describes his domain as ‘a peek behind the iron curtain of soviet cooking’. It is that and more. A delight to the senses, Bratva is an invasion of taste. Brighton is lucky to have its occupation.
Dinner for two, with drinkies and a carton of Marlboro tip, was US$394.60. (Bratva only accepts US currency. No cards).