Picture this: You’re in a familiar place, there’s a quaint cobbled street, a beautiful deli, a plethora of fantastic restaurants and bars. You can see the tide is gently rolling in to the picturesque harbour and you’re all set to visit a restaurant that you’ve never been to before. This was my experience recently as I was walking with a friend into Bracewell’s restaurant in St. Aubin.
Whether it has been my lack of attention over the years or just the fact that St. Aubin has so many excellent eateries; I have neglected Bracewell’s, which has sat, slightly hidden, on the old high street for over 7 years now. I love the idea of finding old restaurants that I’ve never been to. They hold a certain edge over newly-opened places, for me, due mainly to the fact that they have had the time to smooth cracks and establish their menu, clientele and staff. So often a grand opening can have a touch of calamity or mishap which can give a false impression, either good or bad. No, a nice, proven restaurant is always a good find, and that’s how I entered Bracewell’s.
I called a few days before and made a reservation, as the website advises. A kind and friendly voice answered my request for a table and after a few laughs and some positive small-talk my table was reserved! As I was on their website, I thought it best to have a little snoop around and a browse of the menu. Less than 2 minutes after hanging up the phone from booking, I had chosen my order. The menu effectively covers the international spread that is clearly promised by the website; everything from French to Japanese, American to Thai. It’s lovely to see this diversity in cooking and really says a lot about the ethos of Bracewell’s.
Whether it was due to my unfamiliarity with the restaurant or due to the relaxed dining room, from the moment I walked in, I felt as though I was somewhere different. Bracewell’s could very easily be a quaint café on the side streets of St. Malo or a cosy Italian Trattoria. We were lead to the table by the lady of the house, and it was nice to see the restaurant buzzing at 7pm on a Thursday. A full restaurant is always an excellent sign! After not bothering to read the menu (you’ll remember I had made my decisions long before actually arriving on the premises) our orders were taken and we were left to enjoy the ambience.
The kitchen at Bracewell’s is almost fully in the dining room, a lovely feature. This gives you the opportunity to watch Chef Daniel Bracewell hard at work cooking for 25 covers, apparently unaided. The tables beside us started receiving their food, and first impressions are excellent. Each dish looks lovingly prepared and wonderfully intricate. After no time whatsoever, a first course arrived at our table, but not one we’d ordered. A freshly baked (and still warm!) sea salt Focaccia was a lovely little introduction to the evening and shows a lot more love and care than just dumping a microwaved breadbasket on the table.
Starters were next, my dining partner and I had, in fact, ordered the same dish, despite my failed attempted at trying to persuade him to order something different for me to try… two beautifully presented plates of beef carpaccio were delivered, topped with fresh rocket and shiitake mushrooms – this was an excellent way to prepare ourselves for the main course. The beef was incredibly soft, well-seasoned and worked perfectly with its aforementioned accoutrements. Mr Bracewell certainly had my attention at this point.
In the interval between the plates from our starters being cleared and new plates arriving for main course, you are afforded the opportunity to just enjoy the room. It is pleasantly decorated with a number of nautically-themed items, but what drew my attention more than anything was a large map on the wall, covered in pins. These pins, and indeed their locations within the map, indicate a selection of Bracewell’s diners and the locations they had travelled from. This was a nice little feature and only adds to the international presence that the menu serves.
The time had come; The main event.
Our main courses were brought to the table accompanied by 3 orders of side dishes that we had naïvely ordered, and yes, they were all chip related. Our two main dishes, slow cooked ribs and duck breast, sat proudly next to plates of sweet potato chips, zucchini fritti and fries with rosemary & garlic salt. The ribs, which I’d not realised were served with chips already, were wonderful. They had been slow cooked and had a pleasing spice rub and thankfully weren’t dripping in sweet BBQ sauce as they so often can be. I did have a problem with this dish though, and that was the I am convinced the fries were frozen. This was really disappointing as the Bracewell’s website states ‘All food is freshly prepared’, and when you’re paying £16.50 for a dish and what you are essentially given is ‘pub-food’ it can be a little disheartening. The zucchini fritti, on the other hand, were perfect. Crispy, salty and soft in the middle and everything they should be. The fries with rosemary and garlic salt unfortunately fell into the same category as the rib chips, and I’ll be honest I couldn’t bring myself to try the sweet-potato fries. Not due to any fault of Bracewell’s, just due to my own personal distaste for the starchy orange nightmares. The duck dish, which could’ve been served pinker (again, a personal choice more than anything), was a return to form. Served with French beans, parsnips and fennel; this dish was a delight.
After we had enjoyed our meals, our plates were taken away from us with, and I’ll be honest here, quite a lot of chips remained. This was more down to our own over eagerness at ordering as many sides as we could fit on the table.
I left Bracewell’s with a positive feeling. Now, I hate the idea of frozen chips being the be-all-and-end-all of a dining experience, but when you have a clearly capable chef, producing some really delicious food that you are paying a solid amount for, it just detracts from the overall experience. I think maybe this hidden gem could do with a polish, but you must remember that an unpolished diamond is still a diamond…