Brera Riverside, Canary Wharf: Italian Classics By The Thames
When I first started working at the Evening Standard in the 90s, the long, boozy so-called ‘Fleet-Street lunch’ was still in force despite the paper having relocated to High Street Kensington (and Fleet Street itself to Wapping). I marvelled at my editor nipping out for lunch at midday and sheepishly phoning in at 5pm to ask me to ‘fill the hole in the page.’ Then when I joined those lunches it felt slightly thrilling not to go back to the office and with no repercussions. Those days are long gone as budgets, job losses and the digital era have pared back the hedonistic side of journalism but they’re preserved in history (and in addled memories).
Conversely, when I met my ‘little’ brother Ben for lunch in Canary Wharf recently, the timer was ticking on his lunch break from the minute we met. Despite his managerial position, like millions of office workers, an hour is all he has for lunch. He found my surprise at this amusing. The venue was Brera, a revamped, rebranded Italian restaurant at Westferry Circus on the banks of the River Thames. The restaurant has been there for 28 years, pretty much my brother’s entire life, but it recently reopened with new decor and the addition of a delicatessen with branded food, anti pasti and pastries.
They’ve thrown some big names at this unassuming, from the outside at least, restaurant. A new executive chef, Andrea Cirino, who’s previous kitchens include Locanda Locatelli, Zafferano and Massimo at the Corinthia has been installed and they've not stinted on the interiors either. Daniel Monk, protégé of Martin Brudnizki, the uber famous designer behind restaurants such as Daphne’s, has created a cosy, authentic Italian neighbourhood restaurant look and feel with lots of pink marble, floral banquettes and candles offset by rustic wooden tables without cloths. One main room neatly divides into a 45-cover dining room plus bar and deli area.
The menu is pleasingly simple with a handful of choices per course and all on one page of A5. Who wants to flick through a heavy encyclopeidia just to choose three courses? We started with a pear and gorgonzola salad, £9 (pictured, above left). It was a gorgeous combination; the endive leaves were slightly charred, the pear paper thin with soft blobs of strong cheese and crunchy walnuts served on a prettily glazed blue plate. In fact all of the crockery here is notable, from a rustic, handled bowl for the other starter, a smokey porcini mushroom and truffle soup, £7.50, (pictured, above right) with a kind of toasted bread bridge balanced across it, laden with edible flowers and yet more mushrooms. It was memorable.
Next came a cheerful pinky-orange chestnut and pumpkin risotto, £11, which was rich and creamy, harking back to the chef’s childhood spent on his family’s chestnut farm (his Grandfather was a pastry chef in Naples) and for Ben a simple plate of spaghetti with pecorino and black pepper. Such a beige dish could have been boring but it was so simple it was perfect. By now we were full and time was ticking on but I forced him to stay and share a Baba Napoletano, £6.50, aka Naples’ ramped up answer to the rum baba, a huge sugar-soaked sponge stuffed with rich, creamy marscarpone, (pictured, right).
Ben had gone over his hour by a few minutes but I think it was worth it, spending time with his sister gorging on regional specialities from across Italy, although maybe in future he can save stress by nipping out and grabbing something from Brera’s deli instead.