The folks behind this new Croatian restaurant, filling what was once Eurotrash nightclub in Chinatown, are the same quirky individuals who once promoted the opening of their luminous tequila-filled Mexican bar House of Maximon through the medium of branded toilet paper, snuck into the loos of other bars. So it should come as no surprise that Brutale is a little different.
There’s a crazy pastiche of army helmet light shades and huge pictures of broads with the faces of pigs. Above the bar hovers what looks like a cross between a sea mine and a disco mirror ball, and the music vacillates between ‘Mack the Knife’ and the theme tune to Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom.
What is less outlandish is the food. Croatian-born chef Daniel Dobra (ex-Aylesbury) is behind the burners here, passionately banging out home-style Croat classics.
The Balkans don’t mess around. You’ll be starting with glass vials of rakija – rocket fuel liquor distilled from plums and other fruits – and they just can’t get enough onion. It’s in everything from salads to the soured cream kajmak dip that's served with bread, while skinless pork sausages (cevapi) come with a rough chopped and raw fistful of nature’s sex repellant. Hhhhiiiii there.
Don’t expect modern. Everything comes on daggy metal platters including an ancient Dobra clan recipe of a whole snapper roasted in an oily caper sauce with a bunch of grapes on top. It looks like something from a 'Let's get Continental!' cookbook circa the ‘80s, but it tastes delicious – all sweet flesh and burnt toffee grapes.
Don’t even question getting the suckling pig. It’s non-negotiable unless you don't do pork. A tiny swine goes on the kitchen spit every day and is served in tender hunks impaled by glassy amber shards of crackling with jugs of apple purée and roasting juices.
The crew here are a fiercely patriotic Eastern European bunch which is charming and useful when they're deciphering the Croatian wine list – and intense when they're delivering your pig with big silver knives and crazy grins.
Dessert-wise, skip the bowl of generic Neapolitan ice cream unless crumbly fig pastries and a short, bitter shot in the arm of Croatian coffee. Bring it home with rakija if you want to finish on a high five.
Brutale is an unusual beast, but if you’re after a kitschy good time, you’ve found it.