A New Breed of Hospitality
by Caitlin O’Sullivan
The three of us were walking through Reading, catching up, starving, and enjoying the sun. It was already 8 o’clock and in the main hub of Reading there were several bars to choose from; All Bar One, Slug and Lettuce, Las Iguanas…
We decided to go for somewhere to eat on the walk down, before drinking the night away, and it was about that moment when the most incredible smelling risotto happened to waft past us in the arms of a waiter.
We stopped, looked up, and there was Browns.
Nestled between two other restaurants, TGI Fridays and Miller & Carter’s Steakhouse, Browns stood out like God’s thumb.
There may have been a look exchanged, or more than likely the three of us just zombied into the Brasserie without a word. Browns is spectacular to look at, despite our rumbling tummies and alcohol cravings, we paused to take it in. From the grand piano in the foyer, with a crystal chandelier illuminating the keys, to the wide spiral staircase leading to an upstairs seating area.
“Man if this was my house,” I murmured, because if I lived in Browns I’d be sliding down that banister everyday while my butler (Gerard Butler) played the piano.
A lovely waitress showed us to a table near the back, and close to the bar. I admired her sensibility, three young adults, one of whom was wearing a giant pink badge reading “Birthday Girl”, were best kept away from the innocent dinner guests. We immediately headed to the bar, not only to check out the menu but also to examine the incredible collection of spirits at the back. The lay of bottles was impressive, but all three of us were sceptical as to whether the barmen actually knew what they were doing with all that choice.
We each ordered a different cocktail, and there was something for everyone on the menu; a Negroni for the bitter souls, Charleston Sours for the sour puss, and a little Royal Summer Sparkle for sweethearts and royalty.
I’m a sour puss, although my favourite of the cocktails was the Gin Berry Fizz. I admit, I may have drank more than I intended at Browns, but in my defence, I just had to try and get through as many of the cocktails as I could. The bar staff were delightfully engaging, offering conversation while they whisked up concoctions, and had spot on insights when I asked them ‘What would you recommend?’ always their reply was, ‘Well what kind of flavours do you like?’
Each cocktail was made from scratch, no pre-made mojito or margarita mix and despite this, the bar staff were impressively fast. They even tasted every cocktail to make sure it was perfect before passing it to the customer. Being made of cheaper stuff, this small gesture was a mark of real quality to me.
Now, I can’t talk about how much I enjoyed Browns without mentioning the food. I could write a novel about how good Browns’ food was, but it would be “yuuuummmmmmyyyyyyy” over and over again. I ordered the vegetarian tart, and it is arguably the best thing on the menu. My boyfriend got a steak, and Ms. Birthday Girl had the roast chicken. The tart was soft, flavourful, with crisp pastry and fresh salad; and I am a tart connoisseur. My man likes his steaks rare, and oh man, was that steak the softest, most melt-in-the-mouth sirloin I’d ever tried. I didn’t try the chicken, but the pure scent of the roast won it the best smelling plate on the table.
If I hadn’t been so hungry I’d have spent a few minutes bent over photographing the dishes’ best angles. The attention to detail is fantastic, in the presentation of the food, and in the staff’s care and consideration when delivering it. Browns is a tight operation, everyone knows where they have to be, and do their jobs with precision. Despite the control, every member of staff works for the customer, everyone has time to listen, or for service.
Our evening was interrupted by three firetrucks making their way past after the new Lebanese restaurant caught fire. I took the opportunity to go out and film the incident, although when I returned I saw that not many of the customers took interest – maybe this is a regular occurrence in Reading, or maybe they were just enjoying their food too much to notice.
Talking to some of the employees, Browns was described as a new breed of hospitality; the management is trusted and listens to new ideas, open to the staff and respectful. One big happy family, and unlike most restaurants I didn’t get the vibe that all of them were just waiting to get home or go out afterwards. The friendliness and relaxed atmosphere was clear with just a look, and the rapport of the barmen showed that.
Browns opens that lovely piano on Sundays, 2 ’til 5, and bubbles at Browns every Friday means cheaper champagne; setting the scene for an impressive first date, a celebration, a classy lunch with the girls, or a more refined night out with the boys. We took off after that to sample the wares of Be at One and Coconut, although the aftertaste of Browns lingered all night in our acidic mouths, and we knew we’d return again some day, especially since we skipped dessert.