“This,” my tour guide said as we turned the corner from University Lane onto Queens Road, “Is Browns. Everyone wants their parents to take them here when they come to visit.”
Browns is an English chain restaurant that sits at the edge of the Bristol University precinct in a gorgeous Palazzo Ducale inspired building. It used to be the university refectory, a fact which I find wholly unfair. Part bar and part generic chain restaurant, it’s has a generic rah atmosphere. I had to go, I thought as we walked by and continued on to Wills Memorial building on my first tour of Bristol three years ago. Yet, getting ready to leave Bristol formy year abroad, I still hadn’t been. Something needed to change.
During my search for Bristolian croissants, I discovered that Browns had a brunch menu. It seemed a tad un-English but I decided to roll with it and suggested a celebratory post-exams meal to my brunch-loving housemate. She readily agreed and we found ourselves entering the venetian building mid-morning on a rainy Saturday.
Browns is huge inside. Although I wonder how they could ever fill it, I’m pretty sure they manage to regularly. Brunch takes place in the small front corner giving the meal an intimate feelin a room that could otherwise feel large and impersonal. Despite the imposing size, Browns is dark and cozy, almost like a club room. It’s The Dutch gone English.
We sat down, getting comfortable in our large leather seats and examining the menu. Most people around us seemed to be eating the classic English breakfast, but we’re too girly for that. I ordered a croissant and a cappuccino. My friend ordered the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon on rye and a latte. We sat back and relaxed, chatting about everything and nothing.
The service was slow and precariously leisurely. If I hadn’t been with someone, I would have complained that they were too slow; however, having company allowed me to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. You aren’t going here for food, you are going here to feel, well, rich.
My friend’s meal came out before mine. Neither of us are really sure how this happened. My only guess is that they are freshly baking pre-frozen croissants to order. This could be a brilliant idea—remember the theory about croissant warmth—but could also end up in a disastrous, squishy mess.
I didn’t know what to think as the waitress placed the pastry in front of me. While it was plated beautifully, I felt that I was being handed dessert instead of brunch. The powdered sugar was too much (anything served with powdered sugar should come with a warning) and the preserves and butter worried me. Were they there to cover up for the taste?
As I ripped off the edge of the croissant my fear of a doughy, quasi-underbaked croissant was confirmed. The warmth enhanced the doughiness and created an unpleasant gummy texture as it cooled. Luckily, only the centre had this unpleasant consistency. The outside bits that weren’t coated in sugar were pleasingly crispy and flaky.
There was the sweetness. The croissant, excluding the addition of powdered sugar, was borderline cloying. I wanted to scrape my tongue after eating. While it could have been much worse—I appreciated the presentation—I’ve had better. Head to Browns for the experience, and perhaps the cocktails, not the food.
Do you enjoy eating brunch in nice restaurants, or are you usually disappointed?