Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of my 18th birthday, and as a special treat I'd asked Ant to take me out to dinner, just the two of us, at a surprise venue. I genuinely didn't have a clue as to where we were going until he lead the way off the pavement of Marine Parade into the Drakes hotel driveway. A very subtle little sign revealed that we were headed for The Gingerman restaurant, which resides in the basement of the hotel. Gingerman is a local chain of four that started with one restaurant on Norfolk Square and now includes two gastro pubs - The Ginger Pig in Hove and The Ginger Fox in Albourne, as well as this branch in one of Brighton's swishest boutique hotels. I hadn't been expecting anything so posh, so was glad I'd worn a frock rather that jeans (I'd been told 'smart casual', so it could have gone either way).
When we arrived it was fairly quiet in the elegant-yet-cosy basement - the staff were friendly and attentive, and remained so even when the restaurant filled up later on. From an extensive wine list I picked a white Rioja - described as being 'toasty on the nose with citrus undertones' - which went down very well. We were brought a bowl of juicy green olives to keep us going, as well as appetisers in the form of a little fried cheeseball and shot glass of chive-flavoured froth (just don't think about cats and grass when you're eating it) delivered on a slate coaster. I chose wild mushroom ravioli with mushroom broth to start, followed by spinach and crotin pithivier with white onion puree, spinach and a cep veloute. I didn't know what a pithivier was, and was expecting something fancy, but it turned out to be basically a little pie filled with goats cheese. The combination of pungent Crotin cheese and crumbly puff pastry was lovely, but I craved something clean-tasting to cut through the tanginess of the cheese - green beans or fresh salad leaves might have worked better than wilted spinach. But aside from these minor gripes, it was a delightful meal.
Ant seemed more than happy with his choices (venison, followed by fish), and the modest portions meant that we both had plenty of room for dessert. Soufflé is something I have so far failed to conquer in my own kitchen (they either collapse or go inedibly solid), so I decided to try someone else's to get an idea of how it should turn out. I'm not sure if I've ever actually eaten one before, and imagined it to be something light and fluffy - somewhere between a mousse and a sponge perhaps. What arrived was more like a soggy yorkshire pudding, with a faint taste of blackberry. I wasn't keen, so after a few mouthfuls, salvaged the remaining ice cream from the middle (where it had been placed by the very enthusiastic waitress), and let Ant finish it for me. It's not that it was a bad soufflé (apparently), I have just decided that I don't actually like soufflé after all - the perfect excuse to abandon any further attempts to conjour one myself. Phew.
As you can see from the above picture, my dessert plate was inscribed with 'Happy BIRTHDAY' (aw, shucks) in chocolate. Since my special day was drawing to a close, I thought it only appropriate to devour the 'BIRTHDAY' bit, leaving only 'Happy' on the empty plate. Which is exactly how I felt after a lovely indulgent meal out with my husband. After dinner we wandered across the road to the pier, where Ant had promised to serenade me with the karaoke song of my choice at the notorious Horatio's bar. Sadly (for me anyway), the pier was shut already, so I had to make do with a round or two of Singstar back at the flat instead. My work colleagues had bought me the 'Anthems' edition for my birthday, so I finished off my celebrations belting out 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' (neighbours be damned!) - the perfect end to a delightful evening.