Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Top Ten Brighton Eateries

Yesterday was very much a wash out in terms of interesting food to write about. Surely no one wants to hear about my weetabix (do they?), and the rest of the day was spent grazing on fruit and other healthy snacks (including pitta bread with a very tasty Moroccan paté), none of it really worthy of extended exploration. So instead, here is a post that I've been meaning to write for ages - my top ten favourite places to eat in Brighton & Hove (not including pubs, because I already covered those here), based on a combination of ambience, nostalgia and food quality, and in no particular order...

Terre à Terre, East Street, Brighton
A bit of an obvious choice from me, the discerning vegetarian foodie, yet this place is first on the list for that very reason. Sometimes a little too arch for its own good (mushroom sorbet anyone? Thought not), Terre à Terre is nevertheless an institution among veggies and carnivores alike. Imaginatively conceived and decadently executed cuisine is served up by quirky waiters in a vibrant setting, invariably populated by fellow yuppies/DINKYS/foodies. 'Living the cliché' I like to call it. Back in the days when we'd both only just got 'proper jobs' and being part of this set was still a novelty, we'd go there fairly frequently. On one occasion Ant ordered two puddings (because he couldn't decide) and was up all night clutching his sides as a result. But he still claims it was worth it. I took my friend Harriet for lunch there on her first ever trip to Brighton last year, hoping to give her a good first impression of my town by showing off its foodie credentials. She moved here shortly afterwards, so I'd say it worked.

El Mexicano, New Road, Brighton
Definitely a good option for a big group or birthday dinner, you can always enjoy a cocktail at Bar Valentino upstairs while you are waiting for a table. I had my 27th birthday there, when the upstairs was still a part of the restaurant, and this is what happened after several jugs of Margaritas. It's also a good bet for pre-theatre sustenance, being right next door to the Theatre Royal and opposite the Dome complex. As well as the obvious Mexican, they do a pretty decent tapas menu, and best of all, jugs of lovely fruity Sangria (I try and steer clear of Margaritas after that sombrero incident) to wash it all down with.

Food For Friends, Prince Albert Street, Brighton
Having made a conscious shift from 'knit your own muesli' healthfood café to modern eclectic veggie restaurant over the past few years, Food for Friends pitches itself as an alternative to Terre à Terre (with prices to match), but doesn't quite make the grade. I still really like eating there though, because I can have anything on the menu rather than just those marked with a 'v'. I've had some lovely meals, usually lunches, at Food for Friends, but the last time we went for dinner, I was disappointed. It was a real case of style over substance, and although it looked pretty (something involving aubergines I seem to remember), I couldn't help feeling I could have done a better job at home. Still, this might have been an off-day for the chef, so I'm optimistically keeping it in the Top Ten list.

La Tapa de Oro, Western Road, Hove
The scene of several spontaneous late night snack-attacks among the old Brunswick crew (back when it was still called Ipanema), there's nowhere better to make you feel like you're on holiday than this jolly tapas joint. The owner/maitre'd is a rumbustious Spaniard who will regale you with tales of home and merrily chastise anyone who makes the mistake of calling chorizo a sausage. It may not be as trendy as the popular Casa Don Carlos, but I've never had a bad meal there, and it's worth going for the fiesta atmosphere alone.

Wai Kika Moo Kau, Kensington Gardens, Brighton
Another vegetarian haven, and top people-watching spot (if you sit outside), we nearly always end up here during any kind of shopping expedition in the North Laine. Be sure not to sit by the counter if you are feeling at all fragile, or you may be subject to the shrill whizzing of the much-used smoothie blender, as my other half discovered last week. On our last visit I ordered grilled haloumi with sweet potato chips, salad and spicy sauce, which is pretty typical of the fayre.

Bom Bane's, George Street, Brighton
I only recently blogged about this place, after seeing 'Bom Bane's the Musical', so if you want to know more, go read the post.

Blind Lemon Alley, Middle Street, Brighton
Way before the Gourmet Burger Kitchen ever appeared with its fancypants burgers, there was Blind Lemon Alley. Tucked away, in funnily enough, an alley in the Lanes, the burgers here are arguably the best in Brighton, or so I'm told by one who professes to be a connoisseur. The homemade lentil-based vegeburgers (with a choice of exciting toppings) are pretty damn good too, as is the rest of the Tex-Mex style menu. Gourmet cuisine it ain't, but if it's stodgy comfort food you're after, you've come to the right place. Perfect for hangovers and those days when you just want to stick two fingers up at the waistline and gleefully stuff your face.

The Sanctuary, Brunswick Street East, Hove
Again the subject of a recent post, I won't bore you by repeating myself. If you missed that one, here it is.

Home, Egremont Place, Brighton
Once the closest thing to a greasy spoon we had in our neck of the woods, Home has recently transformed (from Cafe 32, and before that, Bennett's) into a rather swanky deli/cafe, a bit like a mini Bill's. As well as all-day breakfasts and excellent coffee, they offer a variety of Mediterranean-ish dishes - frittatas, roasted veg salads and the like, as well as an impressive selection of hearty home-made cakes. It's a good place to meet friends with sprogs, as little ones are well-catered for with crayons, high chairs and a big jar of sweeties to keep them quiet. And it's right opposite the entrance to the park, so you can always take them for a quick go on the swings if it all gets too much.

The Tin Drum, St James's Street, Brighton
Possibly the first place to bring Polish cuisine to the masses here in Brighton, when it opened its first bar/restaurant in Seven Dials back in 1998, The Tin Drum now has four branches dotted across town. My favourite one, and the closest to home, is on bustly St James's Street - a shining beacon of elegance amongst the throng of seedy gay bars and fetish shops. For a quick bar snack, try the signature Polish tapas, or 'zakuski' plate, which is actually remarkably similar to what I consider to be meze - feta, olives, humous etc. More substantial main dishes on offer include tagines, terrines, tians and risottos, all beautifully presented in generous portions. Fellow pudding people need only take a peek at this delectable cheesecake that I had last time, to need no further persuasion. For everyone else, the outstanding cocktail list should swing it.

****

Startlingly absent from this list is anywhere vaguely Eastern Mediterranean or North African in flavour, especially considering that meze is possibly my favourite type of cuisine. We used to like Nou Nou in Kemp Town before it stopped being Moroccan and changed into a second branch of La Fourchette (under the same management); such a shame. I went once with my commuter buddies to the Blue Man restaurant when it was on Edward Street (it's recently moved to the old Momma Cherrie's - which now occupies what was The Strand), but apart from the bring-your-own booze policy, wasn't overly impressed. Even the legendary Lebanese takeaway Kambi's has lately gone downhill. Recommendations please.

And finally, my favourite Brighton restaurants, gone but not forgotten...

Troggs
Oh how I miss this place. It used to be the best vegetarian restaurant in Brighton - better, and less pretentious, than Terre à Terre. But it died a death after moving from the seafront to what is now Bom Bane's on the relatively remote George Street. I sincerely hope that Bom Bane's doesn't go the same way, although they seem to be doing a pretty good job of pulling in the punters, what with all the musical jollity and intriguing gadgetry going on.

The Strand
The setting for many a romantic meal, including our wedding day lunch, I was sad to find out recently that this lovely venue had closed down. After the demise of Troggs, The Strand was undoubtedly my favourite restaurant in Brighton. I loved the mismatched rustic furniture and beach hut feel to the decor, and the food, although not exclusively vegetarian, was consistently outstanding. I've no idea why it went, but anniversaries just won't be the same without it.

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