The Graphic Foodie was launched in 2008 by Fran, a branding designer with Italian heritage, meaning a built-in passion for food and professional level ability to eat. It is a Brighton food blog and guide to the best restaurants, popups, supper clubs and food news in Brighton and Hove.
Easy Tiger is one of Brighton's latest successful pub kitchen pop ups, and we have quite a few to choose from to be honest. I don't think any Brightonian will put up with your average pub grub any more; we're spoilt rotten and the only way is up - eradicating every frozen chicken goujon in the city by 2025.
Still, I have to say it does take a bit to drag me from the dining comfort of restaurants, old woman I am. But headed up by chef Kanthi Kiran Thamma this is one to take particular note of. Kanthi, formerly of Curry Leaf Cafe, is quite possibly one of the most passionate chefs for all things Indian you'll ever meet. The man practically levitates when talking his craft, even orchestrating his own chef-led food tour, The Spice Circuit.
The Hampton has had a full makeover from the same team behind the successful The Pond. A superb selection of small brewery beers, cool interiors, great design (the murals by See Creatures are ridiculously brilliant) and really good food. If you haven't had the bao buns at The Pond, where the hell have you been? Their eye for creating modern pubs for the modern market and demands, whilst retaining an authenticity of what the pub stands for is unparallelled.
Easy Tiger food is inspired by street food and rustic dishes served in southern Indian Toddy Shops - bars selling fermented coconut palm sap and brutally hot food to encourage more drinking. But all we know is that spicy food and beer go hand in hand and the menu has been tailored for the pub environment very well. With no coconut palm sap on offer (actually I didn't check) a pint of local Burning Sky Arise did the trick nicely.
You could easily just upscale your pub snacks here with some marsala chips or Peanut Pakodi - fried peanuts in a spiced batter or there are some filled Ceylon parotta (an Indian style wrap) that would make an ideal lunch on the fly.
A toss up between the KFC (Keralan Fried Chicken) was the Tandoori Tangdi which didn't disappoint. Grilled pieces of tandoori spiced marinated chicken leg had a coating so crisp, that I'm surprised it wasn't fried. There was an optimum level of heat for the spice layers to come through which is the smart way to do spicy. This was excellent chicken to maybe rival Bincho Yakatori for the best in town.
Really enjoyable was the Gobi Manchurian, a dish of cauliflower pieces in a light batter, deep fried and slathered in a soy, ginger, garlic, and chilli sauce. If you thought cauliflower was boring, you haven't tried this.
Of the big dishes, a vegan Biriyani or Keralan vegetable stew are your bets, but for the meat eaters there's Jaffna Lamb Curry, inspired by Kanthi's trip to Sri Lanka. The Jaffna spice mix lends itself to rich, deep favours; coriander and cumin seeds form the base with sweet notes from cinnamon and cardamon, absolutely perfect with the slow-cooked lamb. You can order rice but this came with Malabar parathas, another Indian flat bread, pineapple chutney and a sour raita.
They don't over-look the details here. The pickles, chutneys and accompaniments really make the dishes, not least when ordering poppadoms - worth ordering for the mango and coriander and pea, mint and coconut chutneys alone.
The food was unquestionably good, my only negative was that foods were served on environmentally friendly plates and bowls made from some sort of plant or leaf. Pretty and far from the common paper plate, but they started to go soggy toward the end of the meal. Also, is there anything more environmentally friendly than washing up the damn plate?
Still, the menu offers so much more that I want to try and if you're bored of the traditional pub Sunday roast, then this is just the ticket.
What’s good about pizza? Ooozing creamy buffalo mozzarella, affettati like salami, prosciutto and everyone’s favourite sausage du jour n’duja…but Purezza offer none of that, being a 100% plant-based pizzeria, the first in the UK none the less.
For all the many, many pizzas I’ve eaten in my time, the menu here is unlike any other pizzeria I’ve been to. They even make their own cheese alternatives, headlined by the all important mozzarella. Their version is made, somehow, with Italian brown rice. I tried to read up about it, something to do with rice sprouts to make rice milk..micronutrients..animoacids…blah, blah, blah. But does it taste good? It actually takes ok. I wouldn’t want to eat a block of it but melted on the pizza it was just fine and I bet most people wouldn’t even notice the difference.
The bases, it has to be said, are phenomenal. Although you can go for a Sussex-grown hemp flour base (could this be any more Brighton) or gluten free, I stayed safe with the traditional wholegrain sourdough. Beautifully crafted, super light, fluffy and pillowy, the base really was one of the best I’ve had. The cornicione was enormous but fully cooked and airy, you would easily eat the lot and not feel over-full.
Topping choices have been well considered, the Margherita and Marinara the only instantly recognisable ones amid some really interesting ideas. A good mix of both white and red sauce bases are on offer and only half have alternative meats on them although they can be added as an option.
The Green Supreme that I finally chose is just a reinvention of a classic friarielli (broccoli/spinach hybrid) and spicy sausage pizza I know and love. This being vegan the sausage was some sort of alternative meat and truthfully, I did miss the texture and taste of the real deal a little, but the combination with the mozzarella and bagfuls of spice from the chillis it was a great eat.
The slice from the other side of the table, a Season 4 Pizza 1 with mozzarella, artichokes, kalamata olives, beautiful trumpet wild mushrooms and a smoked beetroot carpaccio was also delicious. Sweet, piquant and well balanced and actually, a picturesque pizza if I ever saw one.
Not all the toppings work, on a separate visit I tried the Telling Porkies with marinated pulled BBQ pieces which I found dessert-like sweet, and truffle head I am, had great expectations of the Here Comes Truffle. This was fine, if slightly too earthy and muddy, and the generous wild mushrooms on top actually made it a tad sloppy.
For all the grown up Dominos weirdos out there that like dips for their crust, there are plenty to choose from including some interesting options like banana ketchup. This was so bizarre I had to try it, definitely a Marmite-love-or-hate thing, it wasn’t for me with the sweetness, but my dining pal happily polished off the lot.
Again sides are not something I order with pizza but looking round the restaurant I know I’m outnumbered on this too with diners supplementing their carbs with carbs (I always empathise with the chef in the film Big Night on this) with pots of mac’n’cheese, dough balls or getting their greens in with a salad or courgetti dish.
The wine list is ideal for pizza with a line up of the Italian classics but there are good fresh cold-pressed juices and soft drinks available. I also noticed diners knocking back cocktails with their pizza. Why the hell not, eh?
Desserts are a vegan and gluten-free choice dream, with Purezza’s take on tiramisu, Lemon cheesecake, gelato and even an Oreo pizza. The "tiramisu" was a slop of cashew cream and a single cheesecake style base that was lost on me - texturally and taste-wise. I am just not able to smash a dessert pizza after a pizza meal, so I found the oreo pizza stodgy and sickly - but give me a coffee and a slice of this mid-afternoon and I'm all in. However, the salted caramel brownie was rich and fudgy. A perfect semi-sweet note to end on.
Service was very good, fun and friendly. There naturally needs to be a bit more explaining with some of the foods served here and staff are well versed on the menu. You can’t book for two but I suggest putting your name down and heading over the road to La Mucca Nera gelateria for an aperitif.
The restaurant itself is now beautiful and on-brand. I remember when it opened with school-caff seating and scratchy plastic tables that didn’t get the ethos of the food across at all. Luckily that was skipped in favour of natural wood, warm lighting with a little industrial edge and the pizza oven in pride of place.
Worth noting is that kids eat free with each paying adult and I’ll definitely return with my pizza mad mini crew in tow.
I dined with my die-hard Vegan friend who raves about this restaurant and the fact that it is packed to the rafters on most days, lunch and dinner, is a clear sign they are doing it right. Whatever your diet, and this is a particularly good choice for those that are meat, dairy or gluten-free, there’s plenty to love about Purezza.
Lucky Khao is the evening offering in the Instagram worthy Red Roaster cafe, having taken over from Pike and Pine. In place of edgy fine dining you'll now find more casual, vibrant Northern Thai Barbecue. Although, the concept does fit a little better with the eclectic location I expect it will still need to work hard to attract diners to that neck of the woods and appease the uncomfortable feeling of a day/night cafe/restaurant hybrid venue. The awkward, slightly wonky, bolted on neon signage to the front isn't the best first impression.
However, once inside, the beautifully designed menu (massive back pat for the person putting together the intricate dietary matrix on the back) makes for hard choosing to be honest; there sure is plenty to crave on it.
Mike's Party Wings certainly brought it. Sticky, sweet, messy and succulent chicken wings that you have no option to get down and dirty with. The caramelised fish sauce coating really is the one.
The Som Tam salad is big slap across the head of heat and flavour and comes with a necessary menu and verbal warning. This is a classic Thai green papaya salad, refreshing, pungent, crunchy, sour, a little sweet but brutally hot. Occasionally this dish can arrive limp and soggy but not here. I loved this and it's a must order.
Another good one were the mussels in a deep, fragrant, warming coconut broth. Lemongrass, citrus, fresh herbs, garlic and kaffir zing out of the broth and the mussels were plump and luscious.
It was a shame the crab salad had lots of irritating bits of shell in. You had to crunch your way through the whole thing so you missed the textural benefit of any sweet, soft pieces of crab meat. Overall this lacked the punch and depth of the other dishes however the egg on top was a nice touch with a perfect yolk and fine crisp casing.
Slap bang in the middle of the menu, highlighted in red and just shy of £10, was the Northern Thai BBQ Chicken, dressed up to feel like the headline act. Sad to say it failed to excite, not having that deep smoke or tenderness I expected. And unless I had been desensitised by this point, the spicy jaew sauce could have had more pout.
The Drunken Noodles sadly had to be returned, charred fresh fire noodles sound like the most exciting noodles on the planet but arrived woefully overcooked and claggy enough to sort out my dodgy garden walls with. Such a shame as the dish boasted the meatiest of prawns, chunks of shredded smoky pork and big, fat seared scallops.
Talking of drunk, there is a good list of sharing cocktails pitchers to wash down the spice with. Having had a big evening the night before, the Thai Bloody Mary made me feel right as rain again but I wasn't in the capacity to make a decent dent in the rest. I'll leave the Khao San Bowl, that's a whole bowl of Jagermeister, to the rest of you to dive into.
As you can see this is small plate sharing style - restaurant speak for "you're potentially going to rack up a massive bill". Diners are encouraged to select six dishes amongst two and although most of the menu is well priced, a few dishes are about £2-3 too keen in reality. £16 for three chops? I know goat is pricey but that's post Brexit level. However, they do offer a 33% discount on Friday and Saturday from 4pm - 7pm which makes for an exceptional deal.
The environment is as loud as the flavours here, if you want a quiet meal, this ain't it. Music is pumping to the point where even the waitress had to yell a bit, but it works with the youth vibe and the food. The neon signs, letterboard menus and head chef Luke Larsson's trademark green mohawk zipping across the open kitchen add the edge. And if you don't like racing spice or are due to be kissing someone new after, this isn't the restaurant for you either. But where we have more dining choice than ever in Brighton, I admire their effort to be putting out something different and there certainly is a place for it here.
Lucky Khao really does have the potential to be very good and the style of food on offer here is very appealing. The strong start shows the level of great cooking possible but such a shame the last few dishes let the meal down. Also, a few of the menu items are the wrong style to share, or awkward with the BBQ dishes, like the curries, so you probably need two visits to do it justice. Saying that, would I return for them? Probably.
Respect to the restaurants that weather the decades, rent rises and diner demands and fashions. Gars is one of the few still going strong after such a long stretch, opening in '83. In fact, I remember one of my very first dates there (shout out to Jim) where faced with a bowl of exotic-for-me-at-the-time lychees, I downed the lot, stone and all, to avoid admitting I had no idea what they were - eyeballs? Shows how far I'm willing to go to impress I suppose. Lucky for me, the spiky skins had been removed. As I said, it was a LONG time ago.
Gars is has some Asian fusion influence to the menu and has more Anglo appeal than some of the other Chinese restaurants in town, so depending on how gung ho you are with a menu, may be more to your taste. I'd like to think we are more adventurous as diners but am sad to hear it when great dishes like the incredible Iberia Pork Presa at Pabellón recently was removed as diners couldn't get their head around pork being served pink. Me? I'm happy to throw a dart at one and if it lands on the duck tongue dish, bring it on. Most of the dishes here though you'll be familiar with; chicken satay, Wonton soup, sizzling meat dishes and fried shredded beef.
Prawn toast an inch thick was the best I've had. Soft, squidgy and crisp at the same time and their enthusiasm for BIG didn't wane throughout the starters; the fleshy, meaty garlic prawns struggled to fit on the plate and the pork ribs in a sticky Peking-style bbq sauce were Flintstone-esque. Best of this good bunch was a soft shell crab in a light batter and enough firery pepper to wake you up from a minor coma. In a good way.
A self imposed rule I have is to never to order the same dish when dining out but it's virtually impossible not to order the aromatic duck pancakes isn't it? Shredded tender meat, rendered of all that natural fat to make it juicy still, cucumbers, thinly sliced spring onion and paper thin pancakes. I loved them when I tried them as a kid and I love them just as much now. Hang on, let's go back to that paragraph about being adventurous shall we?
The table was then laden with Kung Pao prawns, sizzling steak in a black pepper sauce, Singapore noodles (actually a Cantonese creation) and egg fried rice to fill your boots with. A mix of heat, sweet, saucy, rich and spice that is heavenly to gorge yourself on.
Gars is a very modern Chinese in presentation, all bright, glossy finishes in black and red and I think there's a karaoke bar in the basement for when you've made a good dent in the sake.
The day time and dim sum menu is something also worth looking up; the stuffed crab claws, asparagus hot pot, pork dumpling soup, and the fashionable bao buns will certainly have me returning. If you want to try some of the more unusual or regional traditional dishes from this cuisine, with parts of animals that make most Western palates quiver, then there are places that cater for this in town. But if you have a craving for accessible Chinese food and need to scratch that itch, you can't go far wrong here.
Gars 19 Prince Albert Street Brighton I dined as a guest of Gars. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.
Hero are the restaurants that thrive in difficult locations. And they do...look at Chilli Pickle from their original nook in the back and beyond of The Lanes, Coal Shed just off of Brighton's nightclub strip, the mighty Bincho Yakitori in the street that was notorious for mediocre grub. Even Pabellón's original restaurant, Senor Buddha (renamed Circo) in the arse end of London Road. But build it and they will come, forks in hand.
When Pabellón revealed their location, ok, in a prime spot near the Pavilion (see what they did there?), the location still jarred for me. A pass through, a nowhere...home of newsagents, banks and bus stops. Surely not a home to prop up the bar with a glass of fino? But hat off, the fit out is a beaut. Once inside this temple to Hague Blue you forget all about the outside world. And they've added to Brighton's growing portfolio of Instagram worthy loos, reclaiming the beautiful wood panelling from the previous owners.
This is Circo's sexier, glossier sister, retaining the modern Spanish tapas with an East Asian vibe that, somehow, they've made work so well.
And they’ve made it almost impossible to choose from the small plate menu, divided neatly into plant, fish and meat. The rain can howl outside all it likes with the holiday-vibe going on on the plates here; gambas a la plancha, sardinas al ajillo, patatas bravas, albondigas…Brexit? What Brexit?
A must order is the Iberia Pork Presa, the pig version of Wagyu. Served pink (don’t freak) it’s evenly marbled so tender throughout with a rich, juicy flavour. All other pork is ruined now and this is sure to become the signature dish here.
The tender Pulpo Pabellón tentacle arrives dramatically curled around the plate. The char on this alone makes it another must order dish, the braised fennel working with the sweetness of the beast so well.
The volcanic chicken was a good dish to eat texturally; fire, crunch, sweetness and softness. Chicken isn't often the most inspiring meat to order but this had been given a worthy make over.
I fondly recall the spicy mojo potatoes from visits to the Canary Islands and have a lot of love for these little spuds. But these lacked the blood pressure bursting dried, salt crusted, wrinkly skins I remembered. Also, the mojo sauces could have also had more, er, mojo - with the heat being turned up a few dials.
The scallops with Iberico ham and an Asian wasabi pea puree is classic for the mash up style here that is so bizarre on paper but works so well on the plate. Heat, salt, sweetness...it was all there along with some scratchings made with the Iberico fat that were a clever textural detail.
The soy-blackened cod was another highlight. Sticky, sweet and unami rich with lightly pickled vegetables, seaweed and sesame seeds; just a lovely dish to eat.
The style of food here is a big hit with me, it's different, slightly quirky, sexy and intimate. It offers something unique to Brighton's food scene and the small team hit the mark on the service front too.
Drinks have also been well considered; you'll find a new love of a fino sherry and tonic, a brilliant list of Spanish gins and that's before you've hit the exclusively Spanish wine list.
I did return for the express menu for lunch a few weeks later which was also hugely enjoyable, but one little niggle, that I found with dinner too, was that potions were a little mean in places (scallops sliced in two, I'm looking at you), and this feels particularly unnecessary where cheaper ingredients are used like in croquettes. But I'd happily return for their unique flavours and also for brunch at the weekend - Morcilla De Burgos with the Catalan-style bubble and squeak? My future hangover is looking at you kid.
There's so much to love about Pabellón, it is certainly a great addition to Brighton dining; both as a daytime haven and date night gold.
Ah, beautiful, beautiful bread. Vilified in recent years by the trend dieter bores, the loaf is back on the table and so happy I am it is. From fine dining restaurants making the humble bread a star in its own right with glossy glazes and quirky ingredients, winged by some exotic butter or other to artisan bakeries popping up on every street, we are back to loving a slice of the good stuff.
Though Real Pâtisserie have been in Brighton for close to two decades now and their Chewy Brown loaf can be found tucked under my arm on a Saturday morning and also in many of the decent cafes on their breakfast and lunch menus.
On a Sunday morning though, when the bakery is closed, you can go one step further and learn how to make decent bread yourself. But good bread isn't easy and takes a bit of science, physical work, love and time to get right.
Here you'll learn about starters and yeast, flour qualities and the basic proportional ingredients of a loaf. But what is really key is the technique. You can also read every recipe out there but nothing compares to being shown first hand from the professionals the right temperature, touch and skill. Most doughs are really wet and tricky to work with, but with the right knack, transform into the sort of bread that will make you swear off the supermarket stuff for life.
I've been baking since 2011 where I went on a similar course and that really made a difference to my baking ability and I've used a sourdough starter since. The course, led by Wojciech, the Head Baker at Kemptown, was equally as good and one for you if you're serious about starting baking at home, or upping your skills and ditching the breadmaker. It was well paced, informative and very hands on, delivered in an enjoyable but professional way, and class sizes are kept small so is very attentive. Some of the forms were difficult (I'll never look at a baguette in the same way) but Wojciech ensured everyone was correctly following instruction and corrected each where needed.
We broke for lunch and were treated to a slice of the legendary RP quiches, salads and breads, and were offered hot chocolate fondants and coffee to power us through too.
Although Christmas and January looked all booked up, the course would make an awesome gift for someone (one of the students attending was celebrating their 40th) or a fun date activity (two couples and a mum and daughter team made up the rest of the group).
I will say this is reasonably demanding, and a long day on your feet (God bless the real bakers out there), but went by like a flash and at the end you'll be laden with a selection of beautiful loaves, crafted by your own hands. I was so happy with my rye and caraway and wheat sourdough loaves, focaccia and baguette. I'd like to say they fully stocked my freezer but everyone knows real bread is just too darn irresistible.
Courses run monthly on Sundays from their Kemp Town shop and cost £80 but will generally get quite booked up. Visit www.realpatisserie.co.uk for details and how to book.
I attended as a guest of Real Pâtisserie but words and opinion, as always, my own.
The Rathfinny Wine Estate is the new kid on the block of the booming English sparking scene, having been planted up in 2010 and with the first bottles coming out just this year. The estate, 40 minutes or so from Brighton, in Alfriston, is pristine and picture postcard pretty, the synergy of the brand running throughout the estate beautifully.
And they should really rename their many sign posted “Passing Places” when driving through the estate to “stop the damn car and look at the view”. Less catchy, but from the highest point, right by the Estate Office is worth the visit alone; with a wide, breathtakingly beautiful vista of the fields down to Cuckmere Haven. On a blazing sunny Autumnal day, it was slight-tear-in-the-eye astonishing.
Anyway, pulling myself together and wiping away my pathetic, misty sentimentality (I’m getting worse), I carried on down to the estate's guest accommodation, The Flint Barns, and checked into my room in anticipation of dinner at the on-site Tasting Room Restaurant. Now, as we all know, a good meal needs good wine and we also know that large taxi fares and designated drivers are not so much fun. It would be a crying shame to dine here and not make a good dent in the wines, with a view of their growing patch from your table. So it makes absolute sense to make a weekend of it.
The Flint Barns have been sympathetically renovated with a mildly industrial edge, stylish but fitting with the original purpose of the building. My room, with large windows overlooking the vines would accommodate a couple and family; set up for multi use and even boasted two small but chic bathrooms. The room facilities are paired back (no TV or tea facilities) but downstairs there is a refractory style dining area for more casual breakfast, brunches and dinners (open to the public), paid bar and free hot drinks. You can relax in the lounge or in warmer weather soak up the rays in the stunning courtyard. The whole place has been crafted with the finest eye for detail.
I was expecting the restaurant to be closer to the accommodation, but no matter, they of course have a transport service to scoop you up and put you where you need to be. Bonus.
The Tasting Room Restaurant is again a tasteful space, in the summer dining outside on the terrace would be beautiful too. Often it's hard to imagine these places in use for lunch but I've already mentally booked in a visit in the spring to do just that.
Leading the kitchen, Head Chef Chris Bailey (who earned a Michelin Star whilst at The Black Rat in Winchester) weaves the seasons through his menus and makes best use of the local produce. This is like a lux agriturismo, and who wouldn't be inspired in this location, with choice picks from both land and sea.
Lunch is a very well priced £30 or £35 for two or three courses as well as a snacking menu to supplement a casual afternoon of drinking wine, which I’m totally on-board with.
Dinner however, is a choice of three set menus; Land, Sea or Garden. A few dishes span across the menus; the crab and shrimp tartlet, a rich aerated bisque fragranced with marigold and tiny cubes of fresh apple was perfect with a glass of the estate’s sparking. Of course, I made a beeline for the Blanc De Blancs, it’s my favourite. Although missing some of the dessert-like creaminess of some others I’ve tried it was delicate, elegant and a great introduction to the sparkling wines here. There is a Rosé too but you’ll have to wait a year for the Blanc De Noirs. Given a few more years under their belt, I think we'll be seeing a number of awards nailed into the freshly plastered walls.
A perfect little baked pumpkin arrived next filled with an earthy and rich chestnut, sage and ricotta risotto and dusted generously with fresh truffle. It doesn’t get more seasonal than this and so unusual to see a decent, and welcome, portion of food on a plate in this sort of dining format.
A harmonious and texturally clever dish of tartare of sea trout followed, dusted with a punchy horseradish snow and a shiso tea poured over at the table. I'd moved onto a glass of the estate's other brand Cradle Valley, an equal blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, high in citrus and floral, and ideal with the dish.
Suffering slight envy at the classic venison saddle of my dining companion initially, dish of the night for me was my wild bass with salsify and fennel and slightly bonkers salty fingers; samphire's pumped up big brother. The anise and artichoke flavours work so well with white fish and proves simplicity always wins on a plate.
Pre-dessert arrived as a cheesecake lollipop with dehydrated black fig, before the 65% dark chocolate delice with salted caramel, a spiced plum, and almond ice-cream, which was ideal to enjoy with a golden, honeyed dessert wine from the Denbies estate.
The food I have to say was knock out. Elegant, creative, yet the ingredients were still very much hero, pitched perfectly for the setting and style of the restaurant and location. And yes, grapes featured, of course as a nod to the estate, in jellied petit fours and as wingmen on dishes like the butter-soft roasted quail. They navigated the dietary requirements of my friend perfectly as well, so don't be afraid, with prior notice, to experience places like this.
Service was well-paced and friendly, and although the food was introduced well, I feel they could have done a much better job in introducing and matching the wines or even highlighting the Seven Sisters gin and vermouth brand, also produced by the estate, perhaps for a welcome drink or cocktail.
Waking up the next morning, you can scuttle down to breakfast where the tables have been reserved in your names on little branded tickets (nice touch). After some spiced plums and greek yoghurt, a brilliant quality full English was just the ticket to fuel a brisk walk around the estate. I loved that comms had also been passed on here and a gluten and dairy free tailored breakfast was also waiting for my friend without any request.
My stay at The Flint Barns made me really keen to return for brunch or lunch on a Sunday, where you can book a table without the need to stay. Obviously it's a far more casual affair than the Tasting Room Restaurant, but judging by the enormous joints of meat the chef was hauling and the incredible smells coming from the open kitchen already, made me think it would be a good shout.
This is a very well set up estate for visitors with tasting rooms, two different dining experiences, vineyard tours, a shop and a beautiful trail around the estate, so even if you are not staying or eating (which I recommend you do), it's well worth the visit. It may only be a short hop from Brighton, but I returned well fed, well watered, well walked and pampered. Ideal.
Set in their ways these guys are are not. I don’t think any other local restaurant has been so fearless in both risk taking and adapting to the ebb and flow of dining demands. Chef and Owner Dan Kenny seemingly keeps his eye close to operations to see how things evolve, and he takes criticism like a champ and acts upon it. The Set, a stone's throw from the beach in Regency Square, hasn’t been smooth sailing, its quirky location took some getting used to and then the various reshuffles of dining formats, ownership, and restaurant layouts will have left a trail of confusion an extent. Now discarding their set menus, they are relaunching with an á la carte (are we all thinking it’s time to admit the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach to restaurant dining - let diners choose what they want on the menu…wild).
One fundamental thing I have found throughout their 4 years though, is that I’ve generally only heard positive feedback of the food and thankfully, the quirks and flair that have set their style are still evident on the new menu, where you'll find a love of Asian ingredients and nods to fast and street food rubbing shoulders with some of our best local produce.
To simplify matters further, the new menu is available from lunch through to dinner, and now you can dine here for roughly £30 for three courses. Although I'm partial to the creativity and theatre of a set or tasting menu, it can prove prohibitive to many, in terms of costs and tastes, so that it can turn out to be a restaurant’s downfall. And the tide in general seems to be turning on the trend too. The Set was certainly in the “special dining” bracket, solved in part by various more casual dining options in the front bar area, but I think it’s best to be brave, be bold, be on brand with one vision, and this menu now adapts for both blow out anniversary dinners and mid-week mate catch ups.
Choosing more vegetarian options these days, as well...chefs are doing more interesting things with them, the parsnips with burnt apple was a strong start; earthy, sweet, caramelly and perfect with the vadouvan spiced roasted chickpeas. Rosehip spheres glossed up the dish to something special.
A popular choice seemed to be the crab bao, brown crab bun, XO mayo, radish slaw. Such a crowd pleaser this; on-trend, squidgy, soft, crunchy and something to get stuck into with a classic The Set treatment to it.
Sitting at the pass I managed to grab one of the main courses, lamb from the mighty Saddlescombe Farm three ways and beautifully done it was; the best a rich ragu done like mamma likes with the holy trinity soffrito. This is a classic dish but slightly twisty and deliriously delicious. The bacon potato gratin, pass me a fork, I could have eaten a whole tray of.
But alongside the mains, there are some sharing options too. A pheasant crown, or BBQ hispi cabbage, but I opted for the whole salt baked bream. Simple, but sexed up with the details such as the seaweed in the kale, toasted hazelnuts in the ratte potatoes and a punchy BBQ lemon marmalade that someone needs to put in a call to Dragon's Den about for the marketing of. Add in the aerated Béarnaise Sauce, I defy anyone not to be happy with this dish.
The posh ode to the Maccy D apple pie may have been flying out of the kitchen and seems set to be a bit of a future signature dish, but to finish, my curiosity for the miso tiramisu got the better of me. As a typical Italian purist, I despise classic Italian dishes messed around with, but eyebrow cocked, I hold my hands up that this dessert was surprisingly good; caramel, coffee with a definite saline hit of miso to intensify the flavours throughout. Not technically a tiramisu as we know it, but a smart, sophisticated and revved up homage to the original.
As well as the á la carte, they will be introducing The Set’s Chefs’ Table, available to just two couples per evening at the pass. I think this is the only Chefs’ table experience in Brighton where the chefs will craft a bespoke multi-course menu and wine flight, designed to cater for each customer’s specific personal preferences and dietary requirements.
This is a great spot for dinner (pre and/or post drinks in the adjoining The Fix bar, of course) and the nature of the starters and snacks make it a great small plate destination for lunch. Oddly, by simplifying things, they've made themselves more versatile and this time I think they've cracked it.
Wagamama has been around for 26 years. 26! Older than half of my social media followers for sure. I remember going up to London as a young whipper and feeling very terribly bourgeois dining on pan-Asian cuisine (remember Brighton back in the day was small fry when it came to dining. The rolypoly at Dig in The Ribs? Exotic, mate.).
Today, with a saturated market and a healthy appetite for global cuisine, it is easy to forget how revolutionary Wagamama was to the casual dining scene. Ahead of its game in both technology and process, the lunchtime serving speed when my studio was around the corner served me well. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the chain, now reciprocated by my kids who love nothing more than slurping through bowls of ramen in a totally accessible restaurant that embraces a wide sector of diner, including little ones. I madly dined in half term and the place was rammo, yet the acoustics and loftiness of these places seem to thankfully dull the din.
The Brighton branch has had a recent face lift, enriching what was perhaps a very paired back, slight corporate feel Wagas used to sport with some warmer tones and glossier finishes. A light touch maybe, but better.
Although many years since I ordered the infamous Katsu curry, it still is on the menu for the die-hard fans along with the gyoza and other Waga classics. But there are more interesting things to be had, with someone keeping a keen eye on food trends. I started with some delicious Tama Squid balls, with an amazingly crisp, lace-like batter and slightly squid centre, topped with sweet and savoury okonamiyaki sauce and bonito flakes.
These were chased down with some fluffy hirata steamed buns, seemingly a fad that is everywhere but one I am fully signed up to. The Korean barbecue shredded beef was tender and juicy and a perfect filling for those dreamy, cloud-like buns.
But ramen weather it is and on the seasonal specials across the menu (in gold foil - ooh fancy) I went for the miso-glazed cod ramen, which had great smoke and depth and enough of a little kick to appease my chilli head tendencies. It’s such a warming, nourishing meal that makes me feel good, (and very full) afterwards; the ultimate comfort food that doesn’t put you into a coma.
I can always guarantee a relatively quiet meal here if I’m out with my kids. These restaurant boast plenty of space for buggies, scooters, mr bear, various plastic dinosaurs and the three bags of stuff you always seem to hoist around for the little terrors. They also have great activity sheets and an interesting paired back menu for them with ramen, noodle or rice dishes of different topping combinations. I do like how healthy, varied and fresh it all looks and they have crafted it well for picky eaters - food is separate (massive deal) and easily identifiable (massive deal).
My son will always go for a broth based meal if offered, ramen not being too dissimilar to the pasta and brodo us Italians are accustomed to. The three year old chose the noodles with grilled fish - simple and with enough veg they actually eat to tick off your good parenting daily checklist.
For dessert they were made up with the fruit encapsulated ice lollies. Just enough of a treat and again, something that I didn’t mind ordering them (I didn't get the title Sugar Nazi for nothing). Myself, I had a massive bowl of coconut reika ice-cream, because, well, I’m an adult and I can do whatever the bloody hell I like.
Despite the outlook for so many chains looking bleak, and Wagamama’s recent takeover getting the investors all wobbly as well, I personally still see its relevance in the market and always happy to pop in. Whether it can weather the rough times, we’ll have to see. Let's hope so.
But (and here’s where I get all Jamie Oliver 2005 so frigging brace yourselves) food that shared in a place that gives much needed skills to really improve lives is where the magic happens. I’ve been watching the Community Kitchen, a social enterprise model, morph into a space that has so much potential for good, where people can “experience the benefits of cooking and eating together, regardless of finance, confidence or ability.” In the daytime they run community cookery programmes for people with mental health issues, dementia, learning disabilities and anyone that can benefit from cooking, learning life skills for well-being and sharing food together.
Behind this is Brighton and Hove Food Partnership a non-profit organisation that have worked on community food projects in the area for over a decade from community gardens, food wastage campaigns and neighbourhood meal sharing clubs.
It’s also a beautiful space available for hire and they also run cookery courses and classes, the profit from which goes straight back into the work the partnership do with masterclasses from the city’s best chefs, on-trend skills such as fermented foods and make your own charcuterie, seasonal workshops and well-being focused classes.
My cooking weak spot is baking though so a cake decorating masterclass with Kane McDowell from one of my favourite local Bakeries, Sugardough, was the one for me.
We were led through how to make a Genoise sponge and strawberry syrup, before being shown how to create a perfect semi naked cake (where the cake peaks out from the frosting). And never will I cut a tiered cake unevenly again which was worth turning up for alone.
Then the fun bit with pretty piped Italian meringue frosting and tricky chocolate writing (no evidence I’d studied typography and been a graphic designer for over 15 years AT ALL).
Dodgy type aside, I was very pleased with the cake, the kids thought I was pretty heroic when I brought it home for demolishing. It definitely has given me some confidence and skills to push decorating a bit further. Aside from learning, it was a really fun way to spend an evening and really relaxing too.
The Community Kitchen is a brilliant place for so many people in Brighton. I liked how they started the event by sitting everyone around the huge communal table for some lovely breads, dips and nibbles to break the ice and get the evening started. There were so many different people there, couples, singles, friends and a mum and her Bake-Off obsessed young son (who was having the time of his life!).
Visit events for upcoming events and to find out more about The Community Kitchen see bhfood.org.uk.