Browns - Covent Garden
82-84 St Martins Lane, Covent Garden, Central London, WC2N 4AG
There's a great buzz in Browns on Friday evenings, with customers dropping by for afterwork drinks and bar snacks, and parties of hungry individuals staying longer for the full dining experience. In fact, Browns rarely has a quiet moment, as it offers a breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner (including a pre-theatre menu) service, as well as a crowd-pleasing range of Old and New World wines, cocktails and Champagnes. This all-day hospitality draws in young professionals, families, tourists and theatre-goers alike to sample its delights. There are 14 Browns restaurants in all, six in London and others in major cities like Brighton, Bath, Oxford and Cambridge. With its elegant 30s brasserie decor, subdued lighting and white-apron-clad waiting staff, it has a reassuringly old-fashioned feel. Our visit to the flagship Covent Garden restaurant commenced with pre-dinner cocktails in the bar area, busy with customers shaking off the cares of the week with a relaxing drink or two. Once ready to eat we moved to our table in the dining area, which is capacious but manages to retain an intimate feel. The extensive menu - which changes seasonally - is a pleasure to browse and features a variety of dishes to appeal to even the fussiest diner. Dishes are initially trialled in the Covent Garden restaurant and once found successful, are rolled out to the other branches. Our starters set the bar high - my Oriental-inspired smoked duck salad was colourful and light, featuring a variety of textures, while my companion's pan-seared scallops provoked food envy due to their melt-in-the-mouth delicate deliciousness and the accompanying velvety pea risotto. For mains diners can choose from the main dishes, signature dishes and specials of the day. The tiger prawn and chorizo linguine courted my affections and was a light but filling dish - perfect for a spring evening. The other main we sampled was that brasserie classic: the rib-eye steak. This was served with Bloody Mary butter and, of course, golden chips. This, like the previous dishes we tried, more than lived up to expectations. To round things off we ordered Eton Mess, a lovely way to end the meal; the addition of cherries, hazelnuts and white chocolate pieces provided a dazzling twist. Sublime. Many Browns restaurants are housed in old buildings, lending them an historic air, not to mention a great deal of charm. The Bank restaurant is on the site of (surprise, surprise) an old bank, and the Covent Garden branch is located in a former courthouse, with the original courtroom still upstairs. Functions, including weddings, are held here and guests can even sit in the judge's chair. And this judge's verdict on Browns' Excellent location, fabulous service, great atmosphere and, most of all, delicious food.