Writing a food blog means occasionally, nice people invite you out to eat. Which is why I found myself at Brigade, a restaurant carved out of a former fire station on Tooley Street in London. (get it….fire….brigade…!)
Brigade stands out from the myriad restaurants in this part of town (the much lauded Magdalen is just across the road) for one reason; it’s not just a restaurant, it’s a social revolution.
The brainchild of Simon Boyle, Brigade-with his social enterprise Beyond Food Foundation- offers homeless and at risk people professional training in restaurant and kitchen skills. On the job training, mentoring, and qualification certificates make sure all on the apprenticeship scheme will find sustainable employment after their training is over. With youth unemployment high, homelessness figures rising and job prospects bleak, schemes like Brigade should be rolled out in every restaurant across the nation.
Apprentices work in the Brigade kitchen alongside professional staff, and are responsible for preparing two dishes per day, chalked up on a specials board.
So what’s the food like, then?
The menu is a bistro-influenced affair with added élan. Stand outs like Ravioli of Samphire and Golden Cross Goats Cheese, and Petworth Steak and Oxtail Burger elevate the offerings of seasonality and originality. The menu, printed on eco-friendly brown paper, reminds diners what is in season with a special “At its best” section.
The selection of homemade breads was dynamite, especially the fennel and pumpernickel, served with silky-salty Netherend butter. A dish of mixed olives was gently warmed- a thoughtful touch.
My starter of goats cheese rarebit was enough for a lunch main course. I quickly learned the portions at Brigade are very generous; perhaps Stateside expansion (pardon the pun!) is in the plans?
Luckily I found room for a chicken caesar salad, which again was enormous; the leaves were reconstructed to look like a giant head of lettuce, surrounded by tender pulled chicken- an admirable free range mix of light and dark meat. In my opinion, caesar salad is at its best when preserved anchovies are blended into the dressing, not when white marinated filets are limply laid across a leaf. I love anchovies; i left mine behind on this occasion.
Our sides of roasted beetroot with cumin and honey and blanched kale with hazlenut butter went practically untouched not through anything other than portions being overly generous. We ate so well- and so much- that I didn’t have any room for dessert.
With a heap of special events like cookery classes, blind wine tasting quizzes, a menu big on choice and plate size, and offers for families at the weekends, Brigade seems to have placed itself as a restaurant with wide appeal. While Jamie Oliver’s ‘Fifteen’ restaurants may be the high-profile version of social responsibility, Simon Boyle and his brigade of apprentices are quietly changing the world without a TV crew following them around. Eat here and help him - and his apprentices- achieve their vision.
Brigade | The Fire Station | 139 Tooley St | London SE1 2HZ
0844 346 1225