Isaac At Review

The concentrated number of eateries in Brighton & Hove never ceases to amaze me. And yet, in the six years I have been dining out in our seaside town, I have never had a culinary experience quite like Isaac At.

Serving up contemporary British food, this new fine dining concept offers so much more than just dinner. Eating here is an entire food event. The brainchild of 23-year-old head chef Isaac, the restaurant popped up on Gloucester Street last year. The focus is provenance, with a menu that showcases seasonal, fresh ingredients. The label attached to each menu describes the food as “inspired by the agricultural bounty of the Sussex Downs and beyond”, and if the food mileage list provided is anything to go by, they’ve totally embraced this ethos.

The restaurant space itself mirrored the food that we were served. Small, elegant and yet un-fussy, the minimalist décor was light and modern. At the centre of the 32-seat space is the open kitchen. Food is prepared in front of diners, giving guests and chefs the chance to interact. In keeping with the intimate and informal environment, each course is announced to the room by the chefs themselves. Upon arrival, the wonderful restaurant manager Sophia showed us to our seats at a communal table. Although we were a little hesitant about this ‘social’ aspect at first, it actually worked really well. Given that all of the guests are enjoying the same dishes from the set menu, chatting about it with other foodies made for a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. The effect was akin to being at a fabulous dinner party.

We started the evening off with an aperitif, a glass of the local Ridgeview Merret Bloomsbury Sparkling Brut (£8.50) for myself, and a Silly Moo Cider from East Sussex (£4.90) for my partner. Both were light and lovely. When the time for wine came around, the assistant chef himself, George T, came to aid us in making our decision. He suggested the Sedlescombe Biodynamic 2013 from East Sussex (a very reasonable £31, considering that’s the priciest white on offer), which turned out to be an excellent choice.

The pre-starter was one amazing mouthful of pure deliciousness. Isaac’s take on a mini smoked salmon sandwich – complete with miniature cubes of cucumber – was delicate and expertly executed. Also worth mentioning was the freshly baked bread, served with slab of Ringmer butter.

Next was the asparagus, egg yolk, pork scratching and locally foraged scurvy cress. The crunch of the pork scratching offset the richness of the yolk, and they both made a great accompaniment to the British asparagus.

The cuttlefish, smoked apple, bok choi and cauliflower that followed was, I must admit, not really to my taste. Call me a philistine, but I like my squid-like fish battered and fried. However I can appreciate that the dish was very refined, beautifully presented and definitely rather different. Isaac At is all about showing diners new ways to enjoy unusual ingredients, and it was good to see the dynamic young chefs embrace experimentation.

The main course of pork neck and belly, ratte potato, smoked broccoli and goosefoot was also a delight. We were a little disconcerted when we first saw ‘goosefoot’ on the menu, but actually it was tasty cress, also locally foraged. The pork neck was cooked to perfection, beautifully pink and velvet soft, whilst the belly was salty and crisp, reminding me of a fantastic bit of bacon.

The palate cleanser of blackberry and cucumber ice that followed did just that, as even after four courses we were still able to find room for dessert. The lavender ice cream, chocolate, lime and rapeseed was a pleasant surprise, given that lavender has the potential to taste like potpourri. However this was very subtle, and paired with the aerated chocolate it made a refined yet relatively light ending to our meal. I say ending, although it actually wasn’t, as we still squeezed in a final course of two charming little petits fours.

All in all, this is the type of fine dining that even the most hardened of sceptics could get behind. The team had clearly meticulously considered every aspect of the evening and aside from the food itself, the service was outstanding. What makes Isaac At unusual is the pairing of high quality food with a casual environment; something Brighton had previously lacked. At £45 per head on a Friday evening and £47 on a Saturday, a night at Isaac At is also unlikely to break the bank.

This piece was published in the June 2016 issue of BN1 magazine.

www.isaac-at.com

Brighton’s Best Beer Gardens

Surprisingly enough, it can be a tricky process trying to find the perfect pub garden for soaking up the sun in this seaside city. Brighton & Hove may be famed for their beaches, but the relatively small number of south-facing gardens means you can often end up spending a warm afternoon chasing the sun around the city.

This summer, we’ve done the ‘hard work’ for you, and have compiled a handy list of Brighton & Hove’s ultimate pub gardens, for when only a cold pint in the sunshine will do.


THE SETTING SUN

This little gem on Windmill Street in Hanover has arguably the best beer garden in the city. The small, low-walled garden provides breath-taking panoramic views of Brighton & Hove and the surrounding area. On a clear day you can see all the way to Worthing Pier, 12 miles away. The view also includes a lot of ocean, so much so that on a hot day with a glass of rosé in hand, you’d be forgiven for feeling as though you’re sat somewhere in France. With a friendly, intimate atmosphere and good food to boot, it’s well worth hiking up the hill to visit The Setting Sun. Just make sure to get there early, as this local favourite fills up fast!

1 Windmill Street, Brighton, BN2 0GN


THE CONNAUGHT

Situated just up from the seafront in Hove, The Connaught Pub & Kitchen boasts a beautiful, secluded beer garden with plenty of cute picnic tables. Far more spacious than many of the more central establishments, The Connaught’s garden gets plenty of sun and has a chilled out vibe. There’s both a patio area and plenty of grass, as well as lots of lovely plants scattered around the edges. The pub is dog friendly too, so you’ll often find a couple of adorable pooches catching some rays alongside their owners. Aside from the garden, the real clincher is that The Connaught does fantastic food, most notably the mountainous roasts served on a Sunday. Be sure to book in advance though, as they do get very busy.

48 Hove Street, Hove, BN3 2DH


THE CRESCENT

This lovely pub in Seven Dials boasts a brilliant sun trap out at the back. The paved garden is spacious and ideal for larger groups. The space is furnished with wrought iron tables, umbrellas for those rare occasions when it gets just a little too hot, and plenty of seating. The Crescent serves locally sourced food every day, and has great selection of world beers. They also have an impressive range of spirits, especially gin and vodka, perfect for those days when a beer just won’t do. Situated on Clifton Hill, The Crescent is out of the way enough that it rarely gets rammed, but also central enough so that you can pop up there from town in a matter of minutes.

6 Clifton Hill, Brighton, BN1 3HL


13220610_940424139388372_8624335300180148278_oNEIGHBOURHOOD

This Kemptown institution on St James’s Street has a big paved garden perfect for a summer of revelry. Neighbourhood is staunchly independent, which explains why this popular spot has such eccentric décor. Inspired by dive bars with a strongly artistic vibe, this two-floor venue is bursting with mismatched furniture, locally produced artwork and vintage nick-knacks. There’s plenty of seating outside and, although walled on all sides, the garden still gets sun all afternoon. You can even book one of their cabanas, should you and your friends want to make like you’re in Miami for the evening. Well, not quite, but hey there’s palm trees! Live music means that the garden – complete with BBQ and brightly coloured furnishings – is an ideal place to kick back and relax on a warm evening.

101 St James’s Street, Brighton, BN2 1TP


HOVE PLACE

Hove Place is a casual ‘bistro pub’ in the heart of Hove, just off Church Road. A firm favourite with locals, their stunning Italian garden is a welcome sanctuary amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. Their modern British food comes highly recommended and, separated into bistro, pub and deli menus, caters to all sensibilities. The garden is beautifully furnished, complete with heaters for those days when there’s no choice but to submit to our typical English weather. The garden is lovely at any time of day, but if it’s hot and sunny it’s best to head there early as once you’ve got a seat you won’t want to leave! They even have an outdoor TV screen for those of you who just can’t miss out on the summer’s sporting events.

First Avenue, Hove, BN3 2FH


THE BRUNSWICK

The Brunswick is an independently owned pub in Hove, just off the seafront on Holland Road, known primarily as a live music venue. The pub itself is huge – there’s the main room, the basement and the music and arts room dubbed ‘The Venue’ – but so is the garden. This space is undoubtedly one of the biggest and sunniest in all of Brighton & Hove, with plenty of picnic-style benches and larger tables perfect for groups. They do a good range of drinks (including some great craft beers) and serve food by Gorilla Grill & BBQ, which features American-style pub grub such as burgers and hotdogs. Word on the street is that the garden may be refurbished soon, so keep your eyes peeled, as it may be even better!

The Brunswick, 1-3 Holland Road, Hove, BN3 1JF


hampton-arms-brighton-02THE HAMPTON ARMS

The Hampton is a cosy pub just a few minutes from the centre of town in the Clifton Hill area. This little place has a good food menu and a nice selection of cask ales, ciders and wines. The pub is fabulously intimate and makes for a great winter watering hole, but The Hampton can also be an ideal summer spot as the south-facing garden gets a lot of sun. The little courtyard out the back is compact but as the pub is hidden away behind the back of Western Road, you can often get lucky and find the garden rather empty.

57 Upper North Street, Brighton, BN1 3FH


THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR

Just up from Brighton Station on Guildford Road, The Battle of Trafalgar is a great back-street spot for pub traditionalists and sun worshippers alike. A world away from some of Brighton’s more pretentious establishments, it’s the locals that largely frequent The Battle of Trafalgar. A real hidden gem, from the front you’d never guess that this pub boasts one of the loveliest beer gardens in Brighton. It’s surprisingly large with lots of seating, and although rather urban in feel, there’s a still lot of greenery. This old-fashioned pub has a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and serves a range of ales. Lynsey’s Kitchen is responsible for the traditional pub grub served here, with a focus on providing vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

34 Guildford Road, Brighton, BN1 3LW


1371044877_good-companion-42-625x417THE GOOD COMPANIONS

The Good Companions on Dyke Road is another pub in the Seven Dials area that boasts a large garden. Recently refurbished, The Good Companions has both a paved front area complete with enormous benches and a large decked courtyard out back. The back garden is kitted out with panelled booths (each with a very handy heater) and plenty of picnic-style benches, should you be unlucky enough to miss out on a booth. The Good Companions serves great, locally sourced food and offers a combination of real Sussex ales and world beers. The pub tends to be at it’s busiest on Friday afternoons, and thanks to the buzzy, friendly atmosphere, it’s an ideal spot to meet mates for an after work drink in the sun.

132 Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 3TE


REVOLUTION

Formerly known as Vodka Revolution, this is undoubtedly the nicest place you’ll find on West Street. Although not strictly speaking a ‘pub’, this bar boasts Brighton’s biggest outdoors drinking area (with the exception of the beach of course!). Beyond the courtyard space used primarily by in-and-out smokers, you’ll find a sprawling area filled with plush sofas and wooden spaces, ideal for parking yourself all night long. With a giant drinks menu and a mouth-watering food menu to boot, you could spend all evening here after the sun goes down. As well as the nicely finished garden and the main room, there are bars both upstairs and down, meaning there’s never a dull moment at Revolution.

77 West Street, Brighton, BN1 2RA


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATHE SIDEWINDER

The Sidewinder on Upper St James’s Street boasts not only one but two huge beer gardens, giving you ample amounts of room in which to catch those precious summer rays. As with the majority of venues on this list, those kind people at The Sidewinder have very sensibly kitted out both gardens with heaters, for those days when even in the sun it’s a little chilly. The kitchen is run by Smokin’ Gringos, serving up Mexican street food every day with the exception of Sundays, where roasts and a build-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar take centre stage. Oh, and there’s also a multi-award winning hair stylist running a shabby-chic salon upstairs, because you know, it’s Brighton, after all.

65 St James’s Street, Brighton, BN2 1JN


PATTERNS

OK so admittedly, Patterns is also not technically a pub, and nor is their terrace a beer garden, but it’s a bloody great place to have a drink in the sun. Open all year round and with views of the pier, the terrace is kitted out with wooden panelling and furniture so brightly coloured it screams ‘summer’. Line your stomach with hot dogs and chips from The Dog Haus whilst enjoying one of Patterns’ many cocktails and by night, if you’re still standing, head inside for tunes provided by a live DJ. Also worth mentioning is the weekend brunch, which includes unlimited Bloody Marys and Prosecco. Need we say more?

10 Marine Parade, Brighton, BN2 1TL

This piece was originally published in BN1 magazine- July 2016

My Top 10 Brighton Restaurants

 

Brighton undoubtedly has one of the best foodie scenes in the UK. In fact there are so many amazing independently owned restaurants that I have made a pact with myself never to dine in Brighton’s Carluccios,Côte Brasserie or Café Rouge again. The sheer number of wonderful places to eat is staggering, but I have done my best to condense five years worth of dining experience into a list of my top ten favourite places.

FYI, there are quite a few places that usually appear right at the top of these kind of lists, but I have chosen to pick firmly based on personal experience, and so have had to leave out a couple of Brighton institutions. Most notably perhaps, I haven’t included La Choza, the Mexican joint that is practically local legend, just because the few times I’ve eaten there, I didn’t think it was all that. I have also decided not to rank or rate the restaurants in any specific order, as they are all so different  and all lovely depending exactly what it is that you’re looking for.  The list below is simply an honest reflection of those places that, tried and tested, I would recommend to anyone wanting to munch on some fabulous food when in this lovely seaside town.

The Ginger Pig

Part of the local Ginger Man group, The Ginger Pig is a lovely modern gastro pub,  that serves some of the most consistently delicious food in the city. In fact The Ginger Pig, situated just off the seafront in Hove, has been awarded Best Food Pub in the Brighton & Hove Food Awards for the past 3 years running and is the restaurant one everyone’s lips the ginger pigwhen asking around about local crowd pleasers. The modern European menu- all sourced locally- is seasonable, but always features a fantastic rib-eye steak (the butter it is served with changes on a regular basis, from blue cheese to habanero to wild garlic, to name just a few) which comes with beef-dripping chips.  The kitchen always seem to go that extra mile, when I dined there with my grandparents for example, the chef painstakingly filleted the whole lemon sole special especially for my Granny, who wouldn’t have been able to see well enough to do it herself. They also do great cocktails and nice draft beer, if you happen to be luckily enough to visit on a line cleaning day, then expect a complimentary lager or two with your meal. It’s more upmarket sibling- The Gingerman– is definitely worth a mention, as the food is sublime, but the menu is a little more inaccessible than The Ginger Pig, which makes it a place one would only visit on the most special of occasions.

The Salt Room

Situated in the bottom of the Hilton Hotel right on the seafront, British restaurant The Salt Room specialises in seafood and steak and has become one of the city’s IMG_3506hottest food destinations since opening last year. As with The Salt Room’s sister restaurant The Coal Shed,  you wouldn’t come here if you wanted a cheap eat, but the food really is excellent quality and priced within reason given the standard of the menu and the wonderful ambiance. In the summer, I would always (always!) opt to sit outside on the terrace so that you can listen to the sea whilst enjoying your meal. But, the airy restaurant space, complete with exposed brick walls and minimalist lighting, is also lovely as the glass fronted windows mean you can still get a great view of the West Pier from indoors. The Salt Room is all about the charcoal grill, but the cocktails are pretty special too; there are twelve gins alone to choose from! The lunch menu is extraordinarily good value for money at only £15 for two courses. The fish soup with rouille and croutons is sublime, as is the mackerel with peas and pancetta. If you’re dining in the evening, I’d recommend a steak or  the lobster and regardless of time, be sure not to miss out on the salt cod fritters. If you can fit it in after all of that, save room for the fabulously kitsch Taste of The Pier, a nostalgic desert complete with candy floss, chocolate pebbles and ice cream cone.

 

 

Food For Friends

Brighton is known for being home to some of the country’s best vegetarian restaurants, and picking between the extremely well known Terra Terre and the lovely Food For Friends for the purposes of this list was a tough. In the end I decided to go souflewith Food For Friends, firstly because I think it is slightly better value for money, and secondly because I prefer the ambience at FF as a whole. Food For Friends was runner-up as Best Ethical Restaurant in the UK in the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2015 and ,situated in the South Lanes, serves modern vegetarian food that is anything but boring. I love meat but here you genuinely do not feel as though you’re missing out; the feta stuffed mushrooms with sweet-potato boulangère are a dream, as is the open ravioli and the double- baked soufflé. The atmosphere is relaxed and the menu is affordable (between £12.50- £13.50 for a main) but the decor and the attentiveness of the staff is such that dining here still feels like a treat. The restaurant has even shared some in-house recipes on it’s website, which is really handy for those of us who like to eat in style from the comfort of our living rooms.

 

 

The Curry Leaf

As with Food For Friends, when considering the best Indian in Brighton for this list, I have decided to go with a lesser known but in my opinion more delicious establishment, which may or may not surprise some people. The Chilli Pickle is almost always featured in

IMG_4051
Chicken Makhani Curry

any piece on the Brighton food scene, but it is my contention that the Curry Leaf Cafe– which was set up by one of the chef’s from Chilli Pickle- is far more deserving of attention, and it’s consistently buzzing atmosphere is testament to this. Curry Leaf Cafe specialises in South Indian Street food and craft beer, and for when you don’t fancy beer, their house made Indian lemon and lime drink tasted as good as any I drank in Mumbai. They have a great lunch menu (on Sunday’s they even do Indian brunch) and are known for their wonderful thalis, but the starters and mains on the al a carte menu are outstanding. The menu is varied and changes often, but the street food style starters, with dishes such as pakodi, the samosa and the unbelievably good lamb chops, would put your local Indian take away to shame. The mains are largely made up of curries;  each main comes with a few different sides – pilau rice, naan, mixed tomato daal yogurt raita and pickle – and all the food is served on beautiful traditional trays in ornate tin bowls. And as if it couldn’t get any better, you can enjoy Curry Leaf Cafe in Temple bar (Western Road) and now even in the station, for those times you want a chicken tikka naan wrap on the go!

 

Al Fresco

Al Fresco serves really good, authentic  yet modern Italian food in a spectacular

IMG_5117
Cannelloni & Pizza

contemporary glass setting. It’s situated directly on the beach front just opposite the West Pier, so you get gorgeous views of the coastline whilst dining. I especially like al Fresco during the day when you can sit outside and enjoy the sea view, but it does have a romantic evening vibe which is nice. I usually sit on the rotunda, but you can sit directly by the shore line only a couple of metres away from Brighton beach’s iconic pebbles should you wish too. Highlights include giant puffed up calzones, sumptuous pastas (I love their bolognese) and traditional ‘primi’ meat and fish dishes. It’s on the ever so slightly pricier end of the spectrum, but the food is great so you do feel as though you are getting good value for money. During my most recent lunch visit we dined on truffled cannelloni and smoked chicken pizza, both of which were excellent. The Italian maitre de is light hearted and friendly and the staff are great at accommodating a large party for special occasions.

 

64 Degrees

64 Degrees was the winner of the 2015 Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Awards and has been receiving rave reviews since it opened a couple of years back. This modern British restaurant has an open kitchen, so you can watch the chefs hard at work whilst 64 degreesenjoying an aperitif or two. The venue is very intimate, a little cramped even- the restaurant is premised around a concept of ‘social dining’, so don’t be shocked if you end up eating your dinner at a kind of sharing bench- but the food is outstanding. The menu is made up of small plates which are separated into meat, fish and veg (four of each), and which are all designed for sharing. The food is beautifully, painstakingly presented and despite the relaxed vibe makes you feel as though you are eating at a michelin star type of place. Head chef Michael Bremner offers up dishes such as pork shoulder with pineapple and chilli, risotto with fennel and lemon and scallops with kale and lemon grass. All in all, despite the cramped setting, the atmosphere is lovely and the staff are really wonderful. They’ve recently opened a second restaurant in London, which I am yet to try.

Silo

Silo is a zero-waste restaurant which, based around what they call a ‘pre-industrial food system’, advocates a ‘primitive diet with techniques modern and ancient’. They’re all about respecting the environment, saving energy and engaging in minimal food siloprocessing; a mantra I’m totally on board with. Everything is made on site, their freshly baked bread (made from flour milled in their bakery) and smoked butter  literally equals carb heaven. They even have an on-site brewery, where they make all of their own drinks, most notably a delicious fermented cider. The space itself is testament to this stripped back attitude, the furniture is made from materials that would have been otherwise wasted and the plates are formed from re-cycled plastic bags. The Silo breakfast is fabulous; I’d recommend the espresso mushrooms with slow-cooked egg and Silo baked beans.The dinner menu is split into ‘omnivore’ and ‘herbivore’ (four dishes in each), you can order the whole set or order a pic n mix or individual dishes. Silo is another venue with an open kitchen, which adds to the utilitarian- but nevertheless welcoming- aura.  A must try for anyone interested in ethical approaches to eating.

 

Moonstone

The fabulous Sri Lankan, family-owned restaurant Moonstone really is a hidden gem (excuse the pun). Situated in Hove, this lovely little establishment serves food to rival anymoonstone I tasted whilst in Sri Lanka, and is a firm favorite for locals in the know. Moonstone is extremely reasonably priced and the food quality is excellent, the staff go above and beyond to make you feel welcome and the service is exemplary. If you’ve never had Sri Lankan food, think Indian with a South East Asian twist. The curries are much lighter than your traditional Indian and the food tastes healthy and fresh, and there is also a strong emphasis on vegetarian food. Must try dishes include the South Coast Special Lamb, which although hot, is so goddamn tasty and really unusual and the traditional meat curries, flavored with curry leaves and coconut milk. The sides are also excellent, we love the stir fried noodles and the yummy little roti .All of the food is homemade, although the curry powder is made in Sri Lanka and has been handed down through the family for generations. You literally could not get any more authentic than this, and Moonstone is the only Sri Lankan restaurant in Brighton & Hove. They also have Lion Beer, which if you’ve ever visited Sri Lanka, you’ll know is a seriously local good lager. And as if I couldn’t already sing Moonstone’s praises enough, they now offer delivery, meaning you can enjoy a curry in front of the TV whilst slobbing out with a Sunday hangover. 

Coggings & Co.

Coggings & Co. may have been awarded best burger in Brighton, but I’d say it’s pretty much the best burger I’ve had full stop. Coggings serve British-rather than American- style burgers, all of the ingredients are locally sourced and the Sussex beef

IMG_5064
Cheddar & Bacon Burger

used in the patties is so delicious that one can expect meat juices to literally run down your arm after the first bite. The cheese and bacon is my personal favourite but they do a really great selection of slightly more unusual toppings, such as the scotch bonnet chilli sauce burger which comes with mango salsa and provolone cheese. The triple cooked chips are fried in beef dripping (although the faint-hearted can opt for vegetable oil) and the whole thing is served with a lovely little salad garnish and an exceptional home made mayonnaise. The sides are delicious too, from red cabbage slaw to buttery corn on the cobs, the mouth wateringly crisp onion rings, so do squeeze one in if you dare. I have it on very good authority that the milkshakes are also fantastic (in fact this authority is my own greedy self as there has been one or two occasions when the bf and I have ashamedly, but admittedly, taken one home for ‘dessert’). Coggings may be at the end of my road, but I would travel bloody far for what the Sunday Times have cited as one of the best meals under £20 per head in the UK.

 

Giggling Squid

Ok so I’ll admit it, despite my earlier dismissal of chains, the Giggling Squid is in fact a chain and yet I still believe it’s worthy of a place on this list. With only 16 restaurant branches in four southern counties, it’s hardly a conglomerate, and it really does serve the best thai food in Brighton. Giggling Squid is known for it’s ‘thai tapas’, and the variety of giggglingdifferent dishes really do make for an excellent sharing meal. Despite this ethos, the food is still authentic, one can expect all the thai favorite mains to appear on the menu. The panang curry is particularly good, and I love the duck spring rolls more than words can even describe. The salt and pepper squid has become somewhat of a cult classic, everyone who eats here raves about it, and they also serve a huge array of fresh seafood dishes. There is one in central Brighton and one in Hove, but the little cottage in the Old Laines is really lovely; if you can do book one of the private booths that make for a super romantic setting. You can expect to pay about £25 per head including drinks (they have a great wine list) and you will likely leave feeling as though you need to be rolled home.It’s usually pretty busy, so I would definitely recommend booking, despite the fact that it is laid out over two floors, and has outdoor seating.

 

*All photos without captions have been taken from the relevant restaurants website; the others are delicious dishes all enjoyed by me personally, on an occasion where I actually remembered to get a good picture.