A very independent food tour of Brighton
by Beena Nadeem - Wednesday May 3, 2017 12:05 pm
Beena Nadeem is walked through the best of Brighton's independent food scene by those who know it best - Brightonians.
As we slink past a small and unassuming café, in what was once Brighton’s slum area (the North Laines), we’re quickly warned to avert our eyes. We all oblige, ten sets of eyes staring at the asphalt below.
This man refuses to be part of the tour. He ‘won’t be whored by the Capitalist masters'. As one of Brighton's original hippies, you won't catch him on the phone or responding to an email and he doesn't like advertising. We skirt past only, a food tour of ten, not looking at the food, with Brighton’s only walking food tour (which, last month celebrates its first birthday).
Having almost tripped over hoards of artisan coffee drinkers, it’s good to chance across one of Brighton’s original world-weary hippies. Run by a former Bills' chef, this exiguous eatery, Helm Ston, serves delightful vegetarian food which locals discover themselves after curiosity drives them in – from then, they're hooked. It's absolutely worth a visit, though you won't get a seat. It's one, however, not to be missed: just don’t tell him you read it here.
A food transformation
In the past five years, Brighton has metamorphosised into a foodie haven. Yes, there’s still ageing hippies, dogs on strings, tattoos and hedonism but it’s now cooking up a storm in the food world. Of course, it’s never been any great secret that Brighton does vegetarian well. Consider London’s 28 vegetarian restaurants compared with Brighton’s 29. Now compare the populations: 8 million in London versus Brighton's 273, 000. Of course, you’ll find more falafels here than you can throw a tub of hummus at, though these days, Brighton also boasts Italian-grade gelato through to the best in English Oysters.
We start our tour with an amble down the North Laines. These once unkempt, pernicious streets now boast the kudos of its infelicitous past having been renamed the ‘cultural quarter’. Here you’ll find tea mixologists at the Bluebird Tea Company, where flavours are blended to create a sensory narration through childhood memories: there’s tea blends of chocolate biscuits, lemonade and even gingerbread. Worth trying is one of their matchas (a non-bitter green tea) blend – the one I had tasted was mixed to taste like blueberry milkshake.
As a tribute to whiskies and sour mash, we pass the Basketmakers Arms, (which, I later grace for a cheeky dram or two). It is wonderfully snug in here, and the perfect place for pre or post dinner drink. You could, from here, head to the nearby Isaacs@, a fine dining restaurant run by a troupe of five staff, the oldest of whom is 23-year-old head chef Isaac, though, instead we head on to the once dishevelled Open Market, where you can now find wonderfully eclectic foods at very reasonable prices.
En route to the market, we pass the Brighton Sausage Company to have a gander at Paul Gilks’ award winning sausage (stop sniggering). It’s sausage zenith here: lamb and rosemary, honey to Marmite - there's nothing he won't try (except for pineapple – too acidic, oh and spinach – it congeals). His sausage rolls themselves are crafted from lean pork back and so have little fat content. There's no gristle or rusk here and they come wrapped in crispy, golden pastry.
They also sell 50 types of sausage here, with combinations as weird as chillies, mango and even maple syrup blend. I particularly like the idea of Rudolph's Revenge - a Christmas special with venison and chilli.
Open Market (and of course, a falafel)
Here you’ll find local fish shop Andrew’s, where you can get locally caught fish to the best in razor clams and sushi grade tuna. The market is also home to hand-made Greek pastries at Kouzine; where the family's nan makes fresh filo pastry each night. And you can’t do Brighton; the spiritual home of the falafel; without sampling perhaps the best on in the city
. Family-run falafel store, Smorl’s have spent the past 30-years perfecting their recipe, from the early days of running a stall in Glastonbury. Made with organic chickpeas, hand-peeled and roasted garlic, and it’s hinted, some Cornish coast foraged seaweed. They have a wonderful crunchy shell and a decent and delicate taste, while their hummus comes in grades of mildly garlicky to outrageously antisocial. The cumin enriched beetroot caviar is worth trying.
Family-run falafel store, Smorl’s have spent the past 30-years perfecting their recipe, from the early days of running a stall in Glastonbury. Made with organic chickpeas, hand-peeled and roasted garlic and what's hinted to be Cornish coast foraged seaweed, they have a wonderful crunchy shell and a decent and delicate taste. Their hummus comes in grades of mildly garlicky to outrageously antisocial. The cumin enriched beetroot caviar is worth trying.
No comedy chocolate here, we're British
Passing through the market is French-trained-chocolatiers at Rainbow Chocolate. You won’t find a chocolate willy here – this is serious, grown-up stuff: Artisan, made with high-grade cocoa, locally sourced creams and milk, compostable packaging, and some vegan-friendly options. And with combinations such as clementine and orange blossom or apple crumble, they are the transcendental food apogee they’re supposed to be.
Perfect Belgium fries
Where better to have 'chips' than by the seaside. Though these are no ordinary chips. Or chips at all. Running parallel to the seafront on West Street, is a new addition to Brighton’s 'fries' brigade: Befries. These Belgium fries are the business – the owners even brought in a consultant in from Amsterdam to perfect them.
Every fry is cut to 12 mm thick. They use Agria potatoes which have low water content to make them crispier. The potatoes are then part-fried, air blasted (a similar effect to blanching) and fried again. It works well - they're deeply fluffy inside with a crispy wrap of golden skin. Served with an original Indonesian accompaniment Patatje oorlog (peanut sauce with mayonnaise and onion), I’m in love.
Big Burger brother - without the habit
If you like a burger to match the quality of your fries, then you'll have to walk to North Street for TripAdvisor voted ‘UK’s best burger’. With its unassuming frontage, this one is easy to miss. Run by two Brothers, who are neither siblings or by monks, create heavenly succulent pure beef pates. These are well-seasoned and presented in shiny robust baps (oh stop it) made of Jewish Challor bread, which, ensures they don’t collapse down your top while you're half way through.
Shop with a conscience
Here’s how: Visit social enterprise Hisbe, which, ensures most of its profits are returned to the producers. For example, for every 50p for a pint of milk, 42p goes back to the farmer. Here you get refills of olive oil to pasta on tap, and locally foraged goods from the 'Hedge Witch', including pesto to sloe gin.
Addicted to crack
Getting very full up, we bounce down the street towards the seafront. Here we snake past the queues leading to the modest Boho Gelato, where no doubt people are queuing for Sicilian crack (peanut and salted caramel flavour), though absolutely worth trying are its passion fruit curd sorbets, carrot cake, strawberry and basil and white chocolate and beetroot flavours, which are creamy, not overly sweet and like their crack, very addictive.
Oysters at English’s
Passing the Brighton Dome – where in bygone times, Prince Regent used to keep his horses and meet his nocturnal lady friends, we make our way to the final stop: Set rather aptly in a trio of former fishermen’s cottages on the boundary of the Lanes, is seafood place, English’s.
This is where to come for Oysters… so we do. Caught just yesterday at Lindisfarne waters, off Northumberland, the ebbing tides ensure these mussels are exposed to a few hours of sea air a day, giving them a punchy character and taste – and even a dose of seawater. Served with a cold glass of Picopoul de Pinet – (translated as lip stinger) in the sunshine, it’s a decent satiating end to a tour of Brighton’s foodie favourites.