“I’ve been looking forward to this for some time, old boy,” Larman intoned as we met in the lobby of Brigadiers, “did you see Coren’s write-up yesterday?” I don’t think I’ve seen Larman as excited about one of our evenings out. He’s a man who knows his onions when it comes to decent dining but his enthusiasm had been spilling over for days beforehand, my phone popping with messages of mounting excitement as the hour approached, suggesting this was to be quite the event. And not since a distinctly memorable evening at Cinnamon Club had we indulged in Indian cuisine, so the anticipation was palpable.
As expectations go, the building’s not what I would have thought being all glass and brushed brass, but inside it’s far more befitting its name and culinary promise with a labyrinth of moody claret, marble and mahogany, dotted with military portraiture and relics of the Raj. The geographical centre, remarkably, is not a bar, nor a kitchen, but a games room with pool table and Premier League playing on wall-mounted screens. For all the promise of Calcutta, the City, it seems, is still nearby.
We’re early so a drink is in order. I turn to what I glimpsed was the bar but we’re ushered instead to a ‘standing bar’ of sorts, a small anteroom with not a table or stool in sight. We’re alone save the waiting staff scurrying to and fro with various confections such as ‘punch fountains’ to tables. It feels more like we’re in the pass. A row of draft taps is a pleasing sight, offering a selection of beers, some exclusive to the restaurant such as the intriguing Tropical Cyclone Mango IPA. “Rayner recommended this,” Larman suggests, so we order two. It’s a beer as punchy as its name suggests. And I spied two chalked labels at the end of the tap row; Nitro Espresso Martini and Cask Old Fashioned. Cocktails on draft? And two firm favourites? Brigadiers was beginning to win me over.
We’re seated in a small, convivial enclave of no more than a dozen tables, each designed to accommodate many, many dishes it seems. Over a Vetuvier and a Bamboo Martini, with an early foray into some fantastic pre-appetisers of masala chicken skins and mini ox cheek samosas, we perused the menu. Well, I say menu; it was more like the Magna Carta. Half a dozen sections suggested multiple courses, with too many temptations in each. Larman was vexed, “It’s awful, old boy, it’s like planning a military campaign.” The music thrummed, the conversation hummed, and we drummed our fingers on the table, deliberating.
A conference with the waitress ensued. Eventually we ordered and, in something reminiscent of Eli Wallach’s crimes in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the list was rattled off thus: BBQ butter chicken wings, Afghani lamb cannon kebab skewers, Amritsari fish paos, beefchuck bonemarrow keema with chili cheese kulcha, Nepali lamb belly ribs with sesame cucumber raita, Sikandari kid goat shoulder and lacha onions, pudina lacha paratha, the Brigadiers house dahl, an aubergine raita…and rice. And we’d barely made a dent in the menu.
When the butter chicken arrived I didn’t get anything out of Larman for several minutes, bar the occasional “Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes.” Lifting his glass with a “happy days, old chap, happy days” he turned back to the campaign at hand. I don’t know what was in that sauce but it was delicious, so much so that in spite of the gargantuan order I had taken to gnawing the bones before the next course arrived.
Past the paos and midway through the skewers, I struck alarm. “Good heavens, we’re out of wine.” “We’re not, old bean,” Larman reassured me, “it’s just out of sight.” He chuckled, “You had a look of fear in your eye then!” Well, when it’s a light, crisp Michele Chiarlo Gavi that goes so well with your seventeenth appetiser, you’d be concerned if you’d run out.
With the beef and bone marrow keema still burning tracks across my tongue the mains came, and we knew then we’d over-ordered. “It’s okay,” our waitress said, “you want to try everything”. “I don’t normally go in for FOMO, but tonight I’m guilty,” Larman apologised. These mains were our fourth course, and the preceding three had had various components. We soldiered on, fortunate that both dishes bore similarities so only required a sample.
I wished I’d saved more for the kid shoulder. Coupled with parathas, aubergine raita and the house dahl it was delightful, and if I’d eaten just that all evening I would have left sated and satisfied. As it transpired, guilt set in that we couldn’t clear up. However, it didn’t stop us saving room for an exceptional banana and butterscotch kulfi, that espresso martini on tap, and a Bombay whisky. Well, we needed something to aid digestion after all that, didn’t we?
As we sat back, sated, a pair of suited City boys sat down opposite, replacing the dating couple that preceded them. One said to his colleague, “You’re gonna love this,” and rapped on the table gleefully before going to the bar. We nodded at each other, knowingly.
Rayner, Coren et al have all swooned over this new offering from the maestro behind Gymkhana, and it’s easy to see why. There’s inventiveness in droves, flavours one never thought achievable, and too much to try in one sitting. To over-eat here can catch you out and we left on the cusp of pain, wincing our way back to Bank station and the underground, but applauding what had been an epic epicurean feast.
Brigadiers, 1-5 Bloomberg Arcade, City of London EC4N 8AR. For more information, including menus and details of their Big and Beast Feasts, visit www.brigadierslondon.com.
Every Sunday from 12th August, ‘Free-flowing Sundays’ at Brigadiers offers the ultimate Sunday social with a 3-course Indian roast, free-flowing drinks, live sport and a dedicated Campari spritz bar on the terrace. Priced at £30 per person, tickets can be booked via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.