Since we last wrote about Brighton’s food scene, we have ventured even further afield, sampling London’s dynamic street food, Birmingham’s restaurants and even New York’s pavement hucksters. Cat was particularly enamoured of the Big Apple, having enjoyed a week there – part of which was spent in the achingly hipster borough of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
You might imagine that New York knows all about street food, being famous for kerbside hotdogs and pizza slices. Away from the more tourist-centric Manhattan and Times Square, BillyBurg was positively burdened with artisan coffee roasters, craft breweries and drip tea. Its streets were decorated with extremely competent murals, some several storeys high, and there was a buzz of enterprise about the place. Closer to home, London has an equally exciting vibe, with its markets allowing pop-up food purveyors to be experimental without too much risk.
And so to Brighton. Like an amalgam of NYC’s creativity and London’s spontaneity, this seaside city has plenty to keep us on our toes. The last time we visited we discovered (the then brand new) Silo and 64 Degrees, both chef-led restaurants unlike any other we had experienced. Now these venues are part of the establishment, garnering great reviews and accolades.
So, without anywhere quite so newly bold and avant garde to whet our appetites this time, where did we eat?
The only utensil we used in our holiday apartment was the kettle, as we ate out every day. You could just be swept into the first cafe you come across, but it’s worth having a scope around as there are many many lovely eateries to choose from. Most have substantial tea and coffee menus plus food to satisfy even the most niche of lifestyle diets.
We had a marvellous brekkie at the Blackbird Tea Rooms. The venue was proper old school, with hushed table service and Edwardian parlour decor. Cat had poached egg atop Welsh rarebit (£8); an unusual combo and a satisfying deviation from the more commonplace eggs Benedict. Matt’s toast was topped with smashed avocado and bacon (£10.15). Again a pretty good breakfast but, at those prices, perhaps not for every day.
We also popped into Iydea. This established venue caters for the meat-free breakfasteer; no bacon here and only fauxages (Cat’s word!) We didn’t suffer for the lack of flesh-based protein; Cat was more than happy with her nut butter and banana toastie (£2.75). Matt had the full-on veggie breakfast with smoky beans and yet more of that superfood avocado, this time fried in chunks alongside mushrooms (£6.95).
Luckily our visit coincided with Street Diner, Brighton’s weekly street food market in Brighthelm Garden, Queens Road – just down from the station. Last time we ate there Matt enthused about his Troll’s Pantry burger but, two years on, the Troll’s Pantry was nowhere to be seen. In fact, it seems that artisan burgers and their brioche buns may have had their day. The one burger joint at the market was sadly rather under-patronised. Instead punters were flocking around the other stalls with their spicy stews, curries and slow-cooked cheap cuts of meat. Plus fish. Cat had the fish. Very nice it was too, if the notice trumpeting Rick Stein’s approval was to be believed. For what it’s worth Cat is also happy to endorse Olly’s Fish Shack. The soft sub roll was spotted with poppy seeds and soaked up the delicious homemade tartare and pea puree. Inside was a substantial piece of plaice, “fished at Newquay this morning”.
Matt was lured in by the delicious sights and smells of the Forgotten Cuts stall, dishing out spicy meat stews of various sorts anointed with sauces and lashings of slaw and salad. After getting to sample pretty much everything he inevitably fell upon the achiote pork belly with mezcal and crackling. Just say that out loud a few times, and try not to dream of it tonight.
If you like it hot and sassy then Mexican restaurant La Choza will be up your twittern. This colourful venue isn’t just spicy in appearance. Matt was thrilled with his hanger steak open burrito – a zingy pile of meat, refritos and rice that tasted genuinely like Mexican street food, insofar as our gentle Island palates could imagine it. Cat, taking the meat-free option, had tempura asparagus with a tangy guacamole. Well, she says tangy, but it was actually mouth-disruptingly hot. Still, washed down with a weird imported mandarin soda, it was certainly an exotic introduction to some of Brighton’s many world foods.
Tea and Cake
All this hoofing around eyeing up imported leather goods, beaten-metal jewellery and flimsy cotton-print ethnic kasbah pantaloons made us need regular pitstops for tea and cake. And nowhere were we refused our preferred cuppas of rooibos and peppermint tea – these herbal infusions are pretty de rigueur in this city. Some even supplied milk for the redbush without being asked.
My Coffee Story in Kemptown was quite literally swinging. The window seats had been replaced with robust wooden swings, attached to the ceiling with hefty lengths of rope. Probably more fun that it sounds, and certainly not the best seat in which to try and write our postcards! Nice coffee too, plus Turkish tea.
We were keen to revisit The Marwood, having been simultaneously delighted yet slightly unnerved last time by its similarity to a student’s bedroom. The cake – we had a gooey salted caramel brownie – is good stuff though, and Cat’s peppermint tea was yer actual leaves!
Next door to the Marwood is Cafe Coho, a delightfully slo-fi cafe with a decent selection of homemade cakes and hot drinks. However it’s not the cheapest place for a nice cup of tea and a sit down – three pounds seventy five for a slice of pear and hazelnut flan is rather taking the Michael.
As tempted as we were, we decided not to revisit the fab 64 Degrees or Silo, instead hunting out somewhere new. Next to our holiday home was Isaac At, which looked quite literally up our street. It was clearly the hot ticket as we were unable to secure a booking during our stay – no surprise as the menu looked great and the restaurant had only been open a month.
Near Brighton Dome we discovered one of the country’s newest chain pizzerias, Franco Manca. Everything was typically hard surfaced in the modern way: exposed brickwork, tiled flooring and plenty of glass and marble. Thankfully we got a corner seat so we had half a chance of hearing each other cooing over the menu’s mention of Isle of Wight aubergines and some ‘No Logo’ craft pale ale. The service was top notch and the sourdough pizzas were simple and tasty. Cat’s four cheese choice had smooth goats curd, along with nuttier Parmesan and acidic Colston Bassett Stilton. Matt’s meat special had a few slices of chorizo – but what chorizo. The orange, smoky oils from it perfused through the artisan pizza. A huge contrast from the standard ‘Meat Feast’ blowout that many branded pizza joints serve up – but equally satisfying in an ascetic way.
All this immersion into Brighton’s vegetarian culture was starting to give Matt the heebie jeebies. What better way to blast them away than with dinner at Meat Liquor. This is not a place to take your nan. Reminiscent of Cat’s nightclub days of the mid-eighties, Meat Liquor is all pumping music, neon and UV lighting, plus graphic wall art. Until recently the soundtrack was available as a streamed radio station, which is great if you like rock classics like AC/DC interspersed with bong-botherers Cypress Hill and the frankly disturbing South African Zef collective Die Antwoord. And we do. We also like chicken and we like burgers. Cat went all skinny minny with her breaded chicken burger, which was presented in a scooped out iceberg lettuce. Matt had a cheese and bacon burger which was splendidly constructed to keep all the bacon in the burger – each bite had a bit of everything, and somehow the substantial edifice didn’t disintegrate along the way, as is often the case with towering burgers. Clever stuff, and enjoyable eating. We shared some hippy fries (lashings of cheese and sauce) plus deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese, reckoning that regular mac ‘n’ cheese must’ve already reached its peak.
On our last night in Brighton we had dinner at wholesome (mostly) vegetarian buffet Foodilic. For a mere six quid and some change, we could help ourselves to as much as we wanted from delicious dressed leaves, roasted vegetables, pan-fried brassicas and tomato and legume salads, plus freshly juiced drinks, Wagamama style.
Sprinkles is one of a growing army of dessert venues. Round the corner from this ice cream and pancake parlour was a waffle counter, filled with hens. No, not those sort of hens – hens on a hen night. Sprinkles had a boggling array of flavours and sprinkles, natch, including ‘smurf’: startlingly-blue bubblegum flavoured ice cream topped with a fluffy marshmallow smurf hat. Cat had the more grown-up coffee flavour and Matt enjoyed honeycomb and white chocolate. The venue was a bit brash, but it’s probably aimed at those hens and children’s parties – basically people that can take a syrupy overly-pink environment.
And so you have it, a whistlestop tour of Brighton’s nammet. How we managed to fit a visit to the pier, a ride on the awesome British Airways i360, a walk to Brighton Marina, a trip to the cinema and a spectacular immersive performance by French synth-noodler Jean Michel Jarre is anyone’s guess.
We stayed at The Metalworks, a funky pad in the heart of the North Laine.