Brat has captured the imagination of customers and bloggers alike with its theatrical wood-fired cooking. Neil Gerrard finds out what makes chef Tomos Parry tick
The first time Tomos Parry tried turbot, cooked over charcoal at Elkano restaurant in Getaria in northern Spain, he knew it was something special.
“There are moments in your life when you eat something and you say to yourself: ‘That’s it. That’s the flavour,’” he recalls. “It’s simply a whole turbot cooked over fire, but in order to achieve that, people have been cooking this piece of fish for hundreds of years and learning to understand it.”
Parry, 32, is so taken with the fish he has used the colloquial Northumberland term for it as the name for his newly opened London restaurant. Anglesey-born Parry, who graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in history and politics, has gained a name for his wood-fired cooking ever since his time at Climpson’s Arch in London. Starting out at Le Gallois in Cardiff, Parry moved to London in 2010 and worked in a succession of top restaurants, including the River Café and Kitchen Table. Climpson’s Arch was where he won the Young British Foodie Chef of the Year title and met his friend and now business partner, Ben Chapman, who runs Kiln and Smoking Goat with Brian Hannon. The latter is located in the same building as Brat, on Redchurch Street. But it was his time as head chef of Kitty Fisher’s that brought Parry to wider public attention, winning a slew of favourable reviews.
Bring up the subject of grilling and the passion that drives him is clear: “I love cooking over fire. I love the feel it brings to the room, the fact that it engages all of your senses before you have even eaten. It realigns the focus of the kitchen. We can go into detail on three key things – the produce, the grill and the restaurant.”
And go into detail on the grill he does. Parry has become a wood-fired expert, learning about how different densities of wood throw off heat and flavour foods. He uses up to seven types of wood, predominantly oak for the oven, but tends to cook over lumpwood charcoal on the grill as it burns hotter and more consistently.
“You have a charcoal base of lumpwood, then you throw in lighter wood like applewood, cherry, sweet chestnut – lower-density woods that burn quickly but give off fragrant smoke. It’s about seasoning the fire,” he explains.
Parry has changed his style as he has gained more experience. While it used to be about leaving char marks on the food, he now steers clear of that method, favouring slow cooking.
Parry is keen to stress that the restaurant offers more than the turbot. He is interested in expressing the parallels he sees between his native Wales and the Basque country.
“Climate-wise, Wales is a bit separate from England, as the Basque country is from Spain, and both people are so proud of where they have come from,” he says.
And so Carmarthen ham is combined with baby peas from the Basque country (£7). Carmarthen ham is said to predate Parma ham, with the Romans supposedly copying the curing method they first saw in Wales. The Basque teardrop peas are celebrated in Getaria during the short season in which they are available.
Elsewhere on the menu, he uses vegetables from former Fera executive chef Dan Cox’s Crocadon farm in St Mellion, Cornwall.
Whereas at Kitty Fisher’s, Parry used Galician beef, he has chosen to use UK-reared beef at Brat. The beef comes from cows reared on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and on moors in the north of England, where the cows have access to a varied pasture, lending a complex flavour.
But it’s back to his native Wales – generally the Menai Strait – for oysters roasted with seaweed (£3.50 each), accompanied by laverbread.
Parry’s friends, Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew at Noble Rot, who have started their own import company, Keeling Andrew & Co, are responsible for the extensive wine list. A collection of seven sherries are also available by the glass.
The restaurant, which has 60 seats, plus space around a large barrel where 15-20 people can eat standing up in the style of San Sebastián bars, is currently turning out 70-80 covers a night, with three or four chefs from the brigade of six working at any given time.
Having just opened, Parry is still getting to grips with his first solo venture, but he hopes one day to look at opening another site. He says: “I want the staff to feel like they can grow. I want them to feel excited that we are moving forward.”
From the menu
• Smoked cod’s roe £3.50
• Grilled bread and anchovy £4.50
• Langoustine £12
• Young leeks with fresh cheese £6.50
• Wild mussel soup £8
• Spider crab, cabbage and fennel £9.50
• Moorland beef tartare £9
• Herdwyck lamb £16.50
• Roast duck £17
• Whole turbot £55/£65
• Beef chop £26/£42/£58
• Burnt cheesecake and rhubarb £5.20
• Brown bread ice-cream £4.50
• Chocolate ice-cream £4.50
First floor, 4 Redchurch Street, London E1 6JL