Brat x Climpson’s Arch 

374 Helmsley Place

Hackney, E8 3SB


The Food:

Sourdough with anchovies

Roasted oysters

Young leeks with Bottarga

Pollock crudo with radishes

Whole turbot with roasted potatoes and salad

Burnt cheesecake with rhubarb

The Wines:

2007 Rolly Gassmann Pinot Gris Rottleibel de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives   94
2018 Danbury Ridge Wine Estate Pinot Noir Octogan Block88
2018 Busi-Jacobsohn Brut Cuvée English Sparkling Wine90

I love a good carpark. As a kid, I was obsessed with Southend-on-Sea’s multi-story carpark, all grey brutalist architecture and one of those spiralling entrance/exits, the kind that drives up at hair-raising speeds in car chase movies. Sadly, this multi-story became a sodium-lit no-go zone, the rendezvous for drug deals and the occasional suicide. The spiral entrance/exit is still there though. In Tokyo, I found that carparks are the size of matchboxes, wedged in the city’s nooks and crannies, cars stacked one on top of another with a Transformer that picks up your vehicle and puts it out of reach, like a parent confiscating a child’s toy. God knows how you get them out, if ever. The best carparks? Underneath the city of Bordeaux. They should be a tourist attraction. Hewn out of the bedrock, they are like cavernous fairy-lit grottos and unlike their U.K. equivalents, these are clean and do not permanently smell of wee. They even have Mozart piped through speakers to make reversing into that tight spot a relaxing experience.

Roasted oysters

The best use of a carpark must be Climpson’s Arch in Hackney, East London. With the U.K.’s restaurants currently restricted to outside dining, ever-resourceful wünderchef Tomos Parry of Brat basically turned a small, grotty carpark, that fronts one of London’s premier coffee suppliers, into the hottest restaurant ticket in town. Unsurprisingly, it was fully booked. People are tired of microwave dinners. They crave to be waited upon, peruse menus and choose something unexpected; savour the culinary handiwork of a skilled chef, relish communal dining, the bustle and the noise instead of chewing away in silence with your bored husband or wife, and not least, sending back the natural orange wine the sommelier promised was drinkable. I’m jesting. The list at Climpsons is pretty marvelous, leaning towards artisan/organic producers from around the world. 

Young leeks with Bottarga

Parry is, in fact, returning to his old stomping ground. The chef worked here from 2013 to 2015, during which he won a Young British Foodie Award, then transferred to Kitty Fisher’s before opening Brat in 2018. The rest is history. Parry seems to relish the idea of going back to his roots, both figuratively and literally relighting the fires to rustle up his celebrated Basque-via-Wales inspired dishes cooked over open charcoal fires. And, of course, it is a way to reintroduce furloughed staff back to the coal face, keep them sharp for when Brat reopens. Everyone wins.

Pollock crudo with radishes

Climpson’s Arch is located in proper East End London between a garage (possibly owned by Phil Mitchell from EastEnders) and The Bread Station, one of the finest artisan bakeries in London (if you are dining in a top-end restaurant, there’s a good chance your dough was kneed here.) The fact that the restaurant is basically a repurposed car park makes it sound awful. Trust me, it’s not. The entire space is covered by a clear awning, one side housing a bustling fiery grill, and a cocktail/drinks bar on the other. The rear connects to the coffee house, piled with sacks of coffee beans and grinders. Overhead heaters meant that even on this nippy Wednesday night, there was sufficient warmth and together with the lighting it fomented a cosy ambiance - some achievement given that technically this is classed as “outside”. You cannot fail to be caught up in the excitable atmosphere that stems not only from having a much sought-after table, but also the sheer joy seeing friends, socializing and dining.

Whole turbot with roasted potatoes and salad

I spoke to Tomos Parry before things got really busy. I had assumed that this was a temporary residency and that he would soon be relocating back to Brat (which does sound like an AC/DC album.) But he told me that this is intended to be a permanent expansion, a sister branch that will eventually offer a slightly different menu. He will install permanent fixtures and fittings in the future.   

With regard to the food, as expected, it was exemplary. Straightforward, honest, perfectly cooked and packed full of flavour. We shared three starters after the entrée of sourdough bread topped with slithers of anchovies. First were the roasted oysters served on a bed of seaweed, perhaps a little small in size, but delicately cooked so that they retained their flavour. Then came the pollock crudo served with radishes and vine tomatoes. Pollock is one of those underrated fish that people turn their noses up at, yet enjoy when they do eat it. The fish was clean and fresh with just the right amount of acidic bite, the radishes crunchy with the bitterness to keep the dish balanced. Best of all were the stunning leeks with Bottarga. This was an inspired combination, the leeks charred and counterbalanced the sweetness of the Bottarga to wonderful effect.

Burnt cheesecake with rhubarb

For main course, after so long away from any restaurant, we had to share a whole turbot, from waters down in Cornwall. As usual, the slight caramelisation of the skin lent a heavenly umami sensation, the depth of flavour stunning whether you were eating the cheek, the main body or the fins that had a texture like scratchings. The side order of potatoes was perfectly seasoned, and the sharpness of the salad dressing meant that even this fussy eater ate his greens. To finish, the burnt cheesecake with moist and sweet rhubarb was thankfully not overly rich.

Brat wünderchef, Tomos Parry

We had three interesting wines and funnily enough, we drank them in the reverse order that received wisdom dictates, commencing with the sweet and finishing with the bubbles. It worked brilliantly. The 2007 Pinot Gris Rottleibel de Rorschwihr Vendanges Tardives from Rolly Gassmann serves as a timely reminder that sweet Alsace is one of life’s great pleasures. Iridescent in the glass, the bouquet is utterly seductive with scents of wild honey, caramelised pear, blood orange and a light rhubarb note. The palate feels slightly more viscous than a bottle I enjoyed last year, but still beautifully balanced with honeyed fruit, Clementines and quince. There is presence and weight from start to finish, counterbalanced by a killer line of acidity that ensures that, despite its sweetness, it is never tiring. Incidentally, it partnered the burnt leek spectacularly.

Next is a wine I thought that I would never see, let alone enjoy when I started my career - a Pinot Noir from my home country of Essex. In fact, I spent many a weekend in Danbury Woods when I was a kid, so presumably the 2018 Pinot Noir Octagon Vineyard from Danbury Ridge Wine Estate is close by. According to their website, they planted just under 15,000 vines on sandy gravel and silty-clay loam soils. And it is a wonder why not more are planted since Essex is the sunniest and driest county in the UK. Limpid ruby in colour, it offers red plum and crushed strawberry on the nose. The palate has plenty of plump red fruit, juicy and rounded in the mouth, quite sweet on the finish. Perhaps my only criticism is that the oak impedes a little on the finish but otherwise, I would happily sneak this into a line-up of Pinots from traditional wine regions. How long before I publish an entire report dedicated to Essex?

Finally, an English sparkler. I love the 2018 Cuvée Brut from Busi-Jacobsohn. With a lively petillance, the nose is vivid and well defined with apple orchard and pear scents. The palate is well balanced, full of tension with good weight on the finish. With energy to spare, I could imagine this ageing well in bottle. 

Rejoice! Restaurants in the UK are (sort of) open again. I could not have chosen a more perfect reintroduction to fine dining. None of the pomp or pretentiousness, no frills or froufrou, just top-quality ingredients served with care and passion, the kind of cuisine that more people want these days. So slick was the operation that you easily forget that you are ostensibly dining in a carpark. The evening at Climpson’s Arch reminded me that life is about going out and meeting people, interacting and conversations. It is also about devouring amazing turbot washed down with fine wine.