Family & Life, Food, General
Review: English’s of Brighton Restaurant & Oyster Bar
Posted April 4, 2017 by Bethanie Lunn
When you get invited* to review a venue that has been serving seafood for over 150 years, with clientele having included Charlie Chaplin and Judy Dench, you are in the very least, intrigued right? Excited even.
I’ve been a fan of English’s of Brighton since I moved to the city over five years ago and always saw it as a more formal, elegant affair, ‘that’s where we go when we don’t have the kids with us‘, my husband and I thought. ‘English’s is where we go for champers and oysters as a treat’, we said.
Well, with a new Chef and the most extensive healthy-eating and adventurous children’s menu I’ve seen to date, this Restaurant & Oyster Bar showed me that it offers so much more…
WATCH THE VIDEO TO HAVE A PEEK INSIDE AND AT OUR DISHES TOO:
The Setting and Staff
Nestled in the winding cobbles of The Lanes, English’s is as elegantly presented as its dishes. A chic covered terrace seats hungry passers by in the sunshine, while live jazz singers entertain outside and the area bustles with al fresco diners and affluent shoppers. It is the perfect place to dwell as the evening grows cooler thanks to the outdoor heaters – my husband and I have even managed a glass of bubbles and oysters with the kids here once. Why not?
Inside, the restaurant reminds me of a traditional drawing room come 1940s parlour, in which to rest and indulge. Glittering chandeliers hang from the ceiling and the walls are adorned with charming black and white portraits, a mural of social scenes from decades past and historical prints that tell stories of celebrity customers and the Leigh-Jones family who run it, and have been there since 1945. I almost wanted to wear a satin gown, gloves and cocktail jewels ala Rita Hayworth. Next time, I just might. But this is just me, the atmosphere is inviting and non-stuffy, pulling you in to sit and stay awhile.
The staff do the same job. Restaurant Manager, Andre Pienaar and self-named, ‘The Oyster Man’, Jonathan Speirs are as well informed as they are spoken. Get chatting to them both and you will discover warm, knowledgeable and downright hilarious gents who make you feel at home and will together, potentially deliver you one of the best experiences of your life.
The menus are seasonal, offering four new variations a year. Designed with love by new Head Chef, Nicole Thompson, the enterprising new spring menu was launched on 6 March 2017 and has purposefully been made to gently push boundaries and introduce new flavours and ideas to customers, while respecting the classic traditions of English’s.
Nicole hails from Roux London which makes her perfectly placed to lead the new spring menu of inspired classic dishes ‘re-visited’. The new eel dish for instance, has been smoked and filleted, presented with golden and red beetroot, pickles and wasabi crème fraîche and has taken me from eel-loather to eel-lover. Read more on this later.
Nicole promises us that we can expect more adventure with brand new concepts being introduced particularly with desserts, food ideas that will be ‘pushed a little further’ and new takes on old traditions. Concept afternoon tea anyone?
‘My aim is to deliver new elements, cleverly’, Nicole says, ‘in order to surprise people in a way they enjoy. We have a fantastic connection with Seafood suppliers here and I’d like to build on that together with more Italian and Asian suppliers for some new flavours’.
Andre comments on the restaurants focus to move forward while retaining traditional charm, ‘we like to push onto new things without taking the soul out of English’s or the charm out of tradition’.
There are endless wines to choose from by the bottle and over 15 wines served by the glass. Jonathan tells us how happy they are to recommend wine ‘to reflect your mood’, saying how key it is to ‘lift your energy at the right times so you feel good after eating, not full and tried’…and trust me, he got it spot on.
The kid’s menu surprised the heck out of me. Firstly, I didn’t know they did one, secondly, I didn’t have English’s down as a plaice for children (sorry, I couldn’t help it) and thirdly, it is one of the most extensive and imaginative kids menus I’ve ever seen – if not the.
‘We find that when children are sat down in this environment’ shares Andre, ‘they feel bolder to try new things. We have a family who come in with their little girl regularly. She began feeling unsure and after trying the menu, now only has dressed crab’, he beams. I adore the fact that kids can enjoy half a lobster with chips and more mature flavours too. Flimsy pizza is nowhere to be seen thank goodness.
The Junior Sharkz children’s menu is available to all diners aged 12 years and under, in support of the Junior Sharkz cricket team at the Sussex County Cricket Club. You can also order lots of the a la carte dishes served as a half portion and at half price. Finally, they also serve Ella’s Kitchen Organic baby food pouches free of charge. We’re definitely returning with the squad.
Freshness, quality and supplier relationships are prioritised here and the staff all pride themselves in ‘knowing where it all comes from’. The freshest oysters are served only when they are in season. For instance, their creamy Rossmore Oysters come from the east coast of Jersey, while Richard Haward’s Oysters are dredged from the River Blackwater and aged over time, giving a fuller bodied and stronger taste and texture, ‘much like us women’, I joked.
Locally reared meat from East Sussex, fish traders in Newhaven and local bakeries all make up the selection you taste.
The Oyster Bar
You can sit at the tall stools of the oyster bar with Jeremy for company (advised), or have them in the dining area in or outside, it’s your call. My husband and I chose to sit at the bar for three rock oysters, shallot & red wine vinegar, accompanied by a sparkling wine. We then devoured the utterly fabulous Lyme Bay Bacchus Fumé 2014. Of all the wines kindly offered to us during our evening, this was our mutual favourite and we will be stocking up. With elderflower and citrus fruits blended with a spicy vanilla and peppercorn taste, this is the choice for seafood and any rich dish and any thing and any occasion and any time. Ha ha.
Our Main Meal
I gave the Chef carte blanche in serving us. It is her new menu and I wanted to discover what she felt really sang as well as to try new things away from our usual favourites.
After being seated, we started with an Amuse Bouche of Smoked eel, beetroot salad, pickled cucumber, wasabi crème fraîche.
The eel was very surprising, very fresh and very elegant. Balanced perfectly with the golden and red beetroot, coriander, pickles and wasabi crème fraîche, it is the first time we have both tried it. We had the preconceived idea that eel would be tough in texture and of course, the ‘jellied eel’ reputation doesn’t help sell it. However, I will be ordering this dish again. It might even be my favourite.
The sharer of Crab & clam, squid ink spaghetti, tomato tartare, gremolata was a wonderfully delicate dish. What I really love is how well thought out the ingredients are, not just in taste and quality but from where it is all sourced and how it complements the next dish – a sign of a good menu and knowledgeable staff. You can taste every ingredient individually, no one item overpowers the next so together it presented a mouth watering, zingy dish that for me, embodies spring.
We enjoyed a beautiful Grilled Dover Sole for a pre-main main course, locally caught in Newhaven. The waitress bought the fish over to the table to show us before it was filleted, a standard service here. It was served with the skin on and presented with ratte potatoes, clam, chervil & tomato vinaigrette.
I noticed there was a sweet note to this dish which the Chef told us was honey, offset with the earthiness of the salad potatoes. The dover sole was delicate in appearance yet meaty and mighty in texture, yet without the heaviness of monkfish. A Chablis was recommended with the fish, which picked up the flavours and enhanced the sweetness, whilst refreshing my palette and my energy.
All the dishes were presented well yet not in an over-modern way that takes you away from the true form of the food. I’m not a fan of over-fussy dishes so I enjoyed the simplicity of good-looking, ‘real’ plates.
For our main courses, we had Tandoori monkfish, tomato & coriander, sag aloo, goats curd raita. I was feeling very full by now, especially following the sole but I couldn’t leave a crumb. I personally wanted the sag aloo to be a touch spicier, however there was a surprising punch of spice from the Parma ham which wrapped the fish for an overall decadent and robust choice.
We also savoured the Sesame escalope of Loch Duart salmon, vermicelli, Asian greens, crispy ginger, miso broth and this ties with the eel as my most favourite.
The broth is served in a side jug which you pour on like gravy, while it coats the fish and softens the greens and ginger. Perfectly cooked, my fork snapped through the crispy skin and into the salmon as it fell apart under gentle pressure. Powerful flavours combine as the warming ginger leads.
Somehow (as if we were going to refuse!), we managed to share two desserts, the Tonka bean crème brûlée, sour cherry biscotti and gluten free Chocolate torte, crème fraiche sorbet and biscotti.
I felt that the torte needed to be moister and richer. I loved how the chocolate was balanced with the crème yet I wanted it to be more luxurious somehow. It was nevertheless delicious but it was the crème brûlée that really spoke to me. The addition of Tonka beans gave a complex flavor of vanilla, coconut and clove-like spice, lifting it away from a sickly sweet finish. You didn’t feel like you’d had ten sugar cubes upon finishing it and instead, felt lifted by it. This accompanied with coffee was the perfect end to a perfect night.
What stood out to me the most at English’s of Brighton was the attention to detail – in everything. From the warm welcome to the knowledgeable staff to the well sourced food and adventurous menu.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the family appeal and children’s menu, and uplifted and excited by the plans that have been uncovered recently in the new menu, and what in lies ahead.
We not only enjoyed quality food and drink here but my husband and I had a fantastically fun night.
I think what Jonathan said to us sums it up nicely, ‘we are into turning people on’ he laughs, ‘we want people to have a good time’. Well chaps, mission accomplished.
You can find English’s of Brighton Restaurant & Oyster Bar at 29-31 East Street, Brighton.
Monday – Sunday, 12-10pm
Reservations/enquiries: 01273 327980
*This experience was provided to me free of charge as a critic, yet all words and opinions are my own. I have not been briefed and this review has not been influenced by anything other than the truth.