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

Battle of the Bottomless Brunches

Saturday and Sunday are days of rest, or days to brunch, or days to drink away the night before’s hangover. London restaurants appear to have answered our prayers and now more and more establishments across the city  are offering bottomless – as in, drink as MUCH as you possibly want – brunch deals to entice us out of our beds and into their banquettes.

Over the last couple of weeks I have tried not one but two of these wondrous inventions, each for a different friend’s twenty-fifth birthday (yes, turning half a century means that we are now sophisticated ladies who lunch – rather than club – for birthdays). Both restaurants are classic British/ European, and both offer up unlimited prosecco alongside their Saturday lunch menus. I compared the two in an effort do decide who, out of Almeida in Islington and One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, ultimately does bottomless brunch best.

The Almeida 

The Almeida was recently listed in the top 150 restaurants in The Daily Telegraph’s Good Food Guide and having eaten there, it’s not difficult  to see why. The space itself is fantastic. The room is light, airy and sophisticated, with contemporary wooden furniture and a semi open kitchen. Plus they have white table cloths, which I’m a total sucker for. It’s chic but welcoming; the ambience is improved even further by the tinkling of jazz that wafts across the room from the grand piano. At the Almeida the vibe is bottomless ‘lunch’ (rather than brunch); you pay £20 for two courses or £25 for three and then unlimited prosecco is £15 on top of that. Given the quality of the food, I’d say this is very reasonable. The kitchen is run by Tommy Boland- before the Almeida he was head chef at Tom Aitken- and his experience is reflected in the food. Starters included roasted pumpkin soup with venison sausage roll, salt cod bavarois and scallops, whilst mains range from crispy piglet belly to steamed pollock. I ordered the pan fried sea bream fillet with onions, which was excellent. Although I could not even contemplate a desert those who could said they were delicious, in particular the baked cheesecake and the chocolate and hazelnut pave. Aside from their wonderful food, Almeida boasts an amazing wine list and they do a fabulous espresso martini to boot. The service was excellent, and in all honesty there wasn’t anything really to fault.

        One Canada Square

Now on to One Canada Square, situated literally in the lobby of the sky scraper that is One Canada Square, a stones throw away from Canary Wharf. Despite the rather unorthodox setting, the interior decor is very nice (it’s done by the prominent architects David Collins Studio), with a heavy focus on dark wood and green marble. It felt both art deco and yet contemporary at the same time, and this together with the loud buzz of voices typical to a French brasserie made for a very atmospheric experience. There’s supposed to be live piano here too, but sadly the grand piano remained untouched for the duration of our lunch. The Saturday menu here is actually billed as a ‘bottomless brunch’ and the dishes had a distinctly more breakfast-y feel to them than at the Almeida. As with the Almeida, you pay £20 for two courses or £25 for three, only here the ‘bottomless’ aspect is extended to include bloody Mary’s, wine and mimosas, as well as prosecco, for £20. The menu was more brunch-like and also more informal than at the Almeida; starters included soft shell crab ‘Benedict’ with jalapeño hollandaise, leek and sweet potato rosti with avocado and poached egg (which was amazing) and cured trout. The mains were lovely; most of our party ordered the squid ink linguini with crab, although the cep tortellini looked spectacular and my fishcake- whilst entirely predictable- was very tasty. The deserts also erred on the side of ‘classic’, the  sticky toffee pudding with corn flake ice cream was definitely the best of the three choices on offer. My only complaint would have to be in regards to the service, which was OK. The staff were perfectly nice, but our waitress looked at my vegan friend as though she had three heads when ordering her food (despite having phoned up a week before to let them know of her requirements) and asked what vegan ‘exactly means’. All in all I would say that the vibe definitely was not as welcoming as at the Almeida.

Verdict

Whilst I had a fabulous time at both establishments I would say that, all criteria considered -food, ambiance, decor, price- the Almeida did the best bottomless brunch. Not only was the Almeida ever so slightly cheaper, it actually had a far classier and more authentic feel to it than One Canada Square. That being said, whilst the food at Almeida was certainly more exciting, I have to say that it was not necessarily better tasting than the brunch menu at OCS. Ultimately, I would recommend both to any avid bottomless brunch hunter, but I’d certainly head back to the Almeida first, if only for those beautiful white table clothes!

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

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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

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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

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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.