REVIEW: Little Blue Smokehouse at the Seven Stars, Brighton


I discovered Little Blue Smokehouse's food at Street Diner and I thought they were great with their pulled pork and brisket filled rolls, making pretty much everything from scratch from the sauces to the pickles. They cure, brine, dry rub and smoke, going the extra mile for their food and I tip my hat to them for it.   

And as it turns out their food translates very well into the pub environment unlike some street food which should remain firmly kerb side. Pint of beer and squidball? No ta.

I know I don't often eat or post about pub food but honestly this is one of the most exciting menus I've seen recently, restaurant or not. It's full of everything you really want to eat; smoked confit duck hash, pulled pork rolls, brisket chilli, mac and cheese bites with bacon jam, smoked fish chowder and even the bread comes with BBQ butter and BBQ gravy dripping. Clearly a lot of time and love has gone into crafting this menu.

Little Blue Smokehouse transforms meat cuts (as well as fish and vegetables) into something richer, stickier, succulent and intense through their processes. This is dig in, filthily good food and the depth of flavour is fantastic.

Here is a picture of the smoked and beer braised ox cheeks which we should all pause and admire for a few moments:


As you can imagine, these melted away under the fork and I loved the ham hock greens to accompany them which were almost as good as the cheeks. The silky mash was decent restaurant level too. Bring on the snow this winter because as soon as I see the first flake, I'm racing down for this again.


Kimchi has been a really popular trend lately and these fries would make good beer munchies alone. They also had an unexpected sweetened soy sauce under them which I hadn't seen before and worked really well. 



We also tried some of the smaller dishes; deep fried pickles with chipotle aioli, sticky Korean chicken wings and a really good charred wedge salad, made theirs with buttermilk ranch dressing and crispy smoked onions. It's good they have given diners and drinkers the option to pick and mix or snack from the small plates or have a filling meal with an all day pub menu. 

Stand out was the smoked pigs head fritters, tender to the bite and not as grizzly as you may expect. The accompanyng piccalilli was the perfectly sharp contrast to the mellow smoke. I think this could prove to be one of their signature dishes actually. I also appreciated that each dish owned their own sauces. So many lazy pub foods come served with a utilitarian dipping pot of something, so if you go down the small plate route then it all feels very mediocre.

The food is matched well by the pub's selection of craft beer but you could wash down this hearty food with some quite delicate cocktails, made with their own infused Sipsmith gin. We tried the Melotini which was fresh and feminine and probably quite a hilarious choice for the bolshy food but beer drinker I will never be. 

The Seven Stars is yet another renovation from Indigo pub group who are seemingly taking over every pub in Brighton. They do have a winning formula though and are attracting some very good kitchen takeovers (some not so good!) but it is a shame to see some individuality being stripped from our local boozers. Personally, I'm not sure how much I want to see MeatLiquoresque caged booths and graffiti in a pub, but that's just me.

There's some pretty mad ideas in pub dining at the moment but LBS have made their menu interesting and enticing without resorting to weird concepts or tacky presentation. An absolute must try.



http://sevenstarsbrighton.pub/

I was invited to review. Words and thoughts, as always, are my own.

EVENT: Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival, 26 - 31 August 2015


No honestly, it really is August out there! But come rain or shine, you may as well eat your way through the Bank Holiday weekend at the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival.

Yup one of the UKs biggest and best festivals is back with loads of evening events and three days of food and drink goodness on the seafront at Hove Lawns.

This time I'm LOVING the idea of the Boho Gelato Disco. The festival has teamed up with Seb Cole of my favourite Boho Gelato in Pool Valley to create an interactive, day-glow ice cream and music experience. Imagine! There are both children and adult sessions (where a swig of booze is likely to be added to the granita - hurrah!).

As well as the free and family friendly weekender on Hove Lawns (which includes plenty of Children's activities and the new Sussex Drinks tent for the adults) there are some amazing suppers you can pre-book. The award-winning Jeremy’s Restaurant at Borde Hill Garden are hosting a cocktail-themed supper created by distiller Sarah Thompson of Blackdown Sussex Spirits and chefs Jeremy Ashpool and Jimmy Grey. Stunning food will be matched with a selection of drinks from the internationally acclaimed Blackdown range.

Chef Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees teams up with six Sussex vineyards for a one-off wine and food matching evening in the festival marquee on Friday 28 August. The event is a fundraiser for FareShare – the food surplus redistribution charity – with Michael working with the FareShare team on some of the dishes. Each course will be matched by a still or sparking Sussex wine with the winemakers themselves presenting.

Sunday 30 August sees the Live Food Show marquee taken over by Metrodeco and Sussex Swing. There’ll be free adult and children taster classes of Lindyhop and Charleston throughout the afternoon followed by open dancing from 4pm. Enjoy afternoon tea or a selection of tea cocktails created by Helen Taggart of Metrodeco and Sarah Thompson of Blackdown Sussex Spirits.

For further details of all free entry and ticketed events, please visit www.brightonfoodfestival.com

Top image by the lovely Julia Claxton

REVIEW: Eatalio Street Food, brighton


Although the street food trend has been a well trodden road (see what I did there) these last few years, Italian Street food has yet to really be explored over here. 

And what a shame because it's delicious; fragrant porchetta panini, pizza all taglio, zeppole, arrrosticini or other regional skewered meat, fried panzerotti, stuffed piadina, arancini... trust me, you'd love it all.

So here we are at Eatalio, Brighton's first Italian Street food restaurant that has seemingly come from Italy via Subway, the fast food retailer.

I say that because of the format, a conveyor of metal trays with such a huge selection of ingredients that you could end up with a very confused meal given too much choice.

You pick a base, either a piada (fair enough), pasta (Italians don't eat pasta as street food) or salad (Italians don't eat... you get it). Add a meat, vegetables, additions and finally, a sauce or dressing (what region of Italy uses soy and ginger exactly?). The food is laid out in metal compartments and just didn't look that appealing I must say.



Although the piada (like a flatbread wrap) is the only sensible choice, I had to see what the heck pasta on demand tastes like. And yes, it's impossible for pasta to be made in advance and not be floppy and lightly sloppy when reheated. Next, Italian sausage was added which actually, was an authentic coarse texture and flavoured OK, plain tomato sauce was fine, but nothing noteworthy. You could then top it with anything from feta (argh) to sliced vegetables. We opted for a safest bet with jarred artichokes and catering Parmesan squares.



No. It just doesn't work for me.

The interior is unusually dark and not very welcoming from the offset, with spray painted walls, copious use of black and some brutal, industrial seating. Personally I would have gone down the warm and inviting route to bring a little of Italy in with rustic tables and charming touches (VIP pizza in Old Steine have done this really well).

To extract any positives I would say the staff are friendly, the space is large so great for buggy access (good loo access too) or large swarms of students looking for a filling and cost effective feed and the location is handy.

I would put money on the fact that this has no Italian influence and from research shy owners. The concept is good as it's unique in this city and the format works for lunch on the go. But the result is confused and unauthentic.

http://eatalio.co.uk/

REVIEW: Afternoon tea at Julien Plumart Salon Du The, Brighton


Hands down the best patisserie in Brighton, possibly the whole South East, is Julien Plumart. Save that Eurostar ticket money and spend it here at this slice of France. I've raved about the boutique a lot on this blog but now they are serving afternoon teas on glossy tiered stands which of course needed some investigating.

You won't be getting scones and jam here though and you won't miss them either. Along with finger sandwiches, tiny, savoury filled, light brioche buns, ice cream and warm brownies you can choose a selection from their famous macaron and one of the intricate cakes. 


They had just that day won a Taste Award for the Berries and Violet macaron (well deserved) and I teamed that with Black Forest and Raspberry flavours. The macaron are really gorgeously light and crisp, with an intensely flavoured filling. There are always classic flavours to choose from like Pistachio or Rose to more experimental ones like Yuzu & Black Current Pepper. Prepare to stand in front of all the flavours for a while and painfully choose just three. 


Another hard task is choosing from the glossy jewelled cakes but you're practically guaranteed a good one. I've had plenty of these over the years and NEVER once disliked anything and I don't even have a sweet tooth. Although I love the Raspberry Delice and Royal Crunchy Choc, I settled for an unusual Earl Grey and Mandarin dome. There's always an array of textures to these cakes; crisp chocolate coatings, soaked sponges, super-light mousse and incredible decoration. Utterly decadent, technically spot on and virtually impossible to create at home (I'm happy to get a decent lemon drizzle down though. Baker, I am not.) 



The loose leaf teas are from The Rare Tea Company and served in beautiful clear glass teapots which look very pretty. There is a decent selection and the leaves are sourced direct from select independent farms. 

Afternoon tea for two people is £29 which when you consider the quality of everything, is very good value. Julien Plumart himself is still very much in the kitchen crafting the products with a small team so standards have not slipped in the slightest. 

Oh and by the way, they have also recently renovated the top floor dining space. Handy if you are planning a tasteful hen dos or small party. 

Duke Street, Brighton

I was invited to review. Words and thoughts, as always, are my own.

Also see my updated post for the best places in Brighton for afternoon tea! http://www.thegraphicfoodie.co.uk/2014/05/gf-guides-best-afternoon-tea-in-brighton.html


REVIEW UPDATE: Chilli Pickle Canteen

A takeaway is a pretty rare event in our home but a Chilli Pickle Canteen delivery would be our first choice. It's far beyond your average takeaway and a shame to put it in that category at all really. I'd prefer to file it instead under "restaurant food home delivery" as the Canteen service is as good as eating in their Jubilee Street restaurant itself (minus all the pretty silver trays and dishes).

I know I bang on about my love for this restaurant but I suppose the biggest respect I have for it is the unfaltering quality they have retained since opening in 2009 (winning some well deserved awards in the process too). Despite their success they haven't taken their eye off the ball or let greed get to the better of them by cutting corners. Instead thy continue to dazzle us with regional Indian dishes and gaining themselves somewhat of a Brighton institution status.

The CP canteen service is a bit of a lifeline at the moment. A new baby sort of halted any plans for a nice restaurant visit on our anniversary, so the next best thing was to get a delivery at home (eaten with said new baby asleep on my lap -sigh...the romance).

I've eaten pretty much everything now from this restaurant but I realised I have never tried their vegetarian food (made flipping hard with their incredible tandoori meat platters, fish dishes and succulent meat curries).

Takeaway curry doesn't photograph well but taste is everything! 

In some ways I think you need more skill to make vegetables shine against the punch of Indian spices but the Aubergine Stew with Pickling Spices sounded good. I love nuts and Indian spices together and the stew had fried aubergine slices with a tamarind, peanut, cashew nut jaggery and sesame gravy tempered with pickling spice. As it turned out, the aubergine was sweet, smokey and silky with savoury, nutty undertones against sweetness of the jaggery. I really thought I was going to catch them out here but no, they handle vegetable dishes with equal success of everything else. I can vouch that vegetarians would never feel second best in this place.

Mr Graphic Foodie was obviously not on board with my vegetarian test and went for his typical robust meat dish, this time a mutton curry with warm spices, ginger, shallots, chillies, coriander and fresh tomato. The meat was tender and full flavoured, with plenty of layers of spice as well as heat.

I also added a mung Dahl for a nutritious, hearty and earthy element. The beans were filling and textually contrasting. And we mopped up everything with fragrant pilau rice and naan breads.



This was the first time we didn't order the full thali or raleway trays (last order we had shown above) and I did miss the array of snacks, pickles and chutneys but I found this meal more manageable. (I always finish everything on the thali trays then need a long lie down!) 

The Chilli Pickle is a restaurant that's been with us in the intense years where everything gets serious and grown up. We've celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, engagements,  toasted first home purchases and even tried to instigate labour too! Most people have that restaurant in their lives and I think the CP is certainly one of ours.

http://thechillipickle.com/canteen/order-now/

Oh, and you can also catch them at the outdoor Brighton Big Screen this summer where you can buy a combined cinema ticket and thali feast. More info here: http://brightonsbigscreen.com/movieandthalioffer/

PRODUCT REVIEW: Graze snacking boxes (plus a free Graze box on me!)


Remember those days where airplane food was actually edible and it was the only excitement on an entertainment free flight pre digital devices? That's kinda how I feel about receiving my Graze boxes. Compartmentalised treats to break up the working day, they are particularly good for stashing in your work drawer for the 4pm (ok, ok and 11am and 1pm) slump.

Graze boxes have also come a long way since the early days. The choice is huge (130ish choices) and they are far from the usual pack of nuts and seeds you may have once thought of them being. Squares of gooey cake with heatable dipping sauces, pots of fiery chutney to dip into, soups and even tiny sachets of popcorn that magically transform into a pretty huge snack. Someone up at HQ is thinking outside the Graze box, clearly.


Even the classic dried fruit, nut and seeds mix has been reinvented through inspiration of loved dishes. My "rhubarb and crumble" mix was delicious. The chewy, tart dried rhubarb against custard coated raisins and apple pieces worked perfectly. All the snacks tasted good and felt like a real treat. They are all quite healthy on the whole too (every snack has at least one nutrition badge).

The site and ordering process is very smart too and will take into account all your likes and dislikes and enable you to tailor your boxes whilst still keeping the surprise element going. You can also choose from different box styles like classic variety, light (under 150 cals), breakfast or even kids boxes.


I think for £3.99, it's not bad value at all for the quality, freshness and service and a small price to pay for a weekly or fortnightly treat. Less than that large glass of vino down the pub.

Anyway, If you fancy trying one for free (no pressure to continue ordering), then just visit https://www.graze.com/p/GRAPHICFOODIE to claim.

This post contains affiliate links. 

PRODUCT REVIEW: La Tradizione, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar


Balsamic vinegar is fascinating. I mean the real deal though, not what you'd typically get down the aisles at Tesco on a BOGOFF. No, no no. The REAL stuff is magical; the history, the heritage, the production and the stringent protection of it. Heck, even the packaging is set in stone as to the shape it has to be.

There is one key word that differentiates the two. Standard "balsamic" vinegar can be called "Balsamic Vinegar Of Modena" but what I want to talk about is "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena". It's one small word, but in the production and taste stakes, it's wildly different.

Production of "traditional" balsamic vinegar is overseen beginning to end by certified specialists. Grape must, typically from Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, is cooked and reduced by half, left to ferment naturally for a short period then matured for a minimum of 12 years. Every year it goes through a complicated multi barrel process that my glitter and crayon creative mind can't comprehend. But what I do understand is that the older the vinegar, the sweeter, more complex and exquisite it is.

Now I've always treated myself to a decent bottle of balsamic vinegar...or so I thought! I normally have a bottle around the £15-25 mark (an "aged" Waitrose own brand at the mo). I'll also have a cheaper balsamic too for cooking with like pepping up tomato sauces.  But neither of these are the traditional balsamic vinegars. The really cheap ones will have additives, thickeners and caramel colourings and sulphates to mimic real balsamic. And most will have wine vinegar as an additional ingredient to the grape must, the better ones having more must than added wine vinegar than vice versa.  Both of the ones in my cupboard are (as are most supermarket versions) classed as I.G.P. "condiment" vinegars (look at the labels very closely) with these additions and can be aged as little as two months and miss the fermenting stage completely but they will still be graded using the leaf system. And as long as they are processed in Modena, they can also be called "balsamic vinegar of Modena" but be made with grapes from anywhere. This is the only way demand for the stuff can be met. Consumer confusion? Absolutely!



But here in my hands I'm lucky to have my first bottle of traditional 25 year aged balsamic vinegar from a cooperative of craftsmen called La Tradizione. It's in the legally approved and controlled bottle for balsamic from Modena which is in 100ml bulb shaped bottle. If you had purchased vinegar from neighbouring Reggio Emilia, it will be in an upturned tulip shape, also 100ml. It can only be produced in these two areas of Italy in these specified bottles. If it's in any thing else or produced anywhere else then it isn't traditional balsamic. The food geek in me loves the exclusivity of it all!


Along with the luxurious box, papers, brochures and a recipe book, it's as beautiful as any perfume bottle I've ever seen. It was a shame to crack the seal open! But hey, as with all food and wine, make the eating and drinking the celebration I say.


Obviously you wouldn't cook with this calibre of vinegar. This is for enjoying as a dressing to fruit, cheese, desserts like zabaglione, vanilla panacotta and even a very good vanilla ice cream. Honestly, try it! It is of course also good sparingly over dishes like risotto, or my favourite - with a perfectly ripe, creamy avocado.

But really I should start with tasting it solo. I don't want to use the word "bouquet", I really don't, but I can't think of a better word to describe the taste, full of fruit and caramel from the grape must. The flavour is so beautifully balanced. I'd expected it to be much sweeter, but there was a definite undertone of savoury too which is why the vinegar works so well for both sweet and savoury foods. It's such a rich and powerful taste, something the condiment balsamics won't be able to get close to.

Now, traditional balsamic isn't cheap. This bottle is £78, but for something that has been lovingly attended to and produced, the value can't be challenged. If anyone wants to know what to buy me for Christmas, then this would be it. I couldn't think of a better gift for a foodie myself and I'm going to savour every drop then don't think I can be without it when it does run out!

You can read more about this brand and particular vinegar, as well as purchase in the UK from http://www.artimondo.co.uk/pdo-certified-traditional-balsamic-vinegar-of-modena-aged-25-years-100-ml.html and the full range can be seen here http://www.artimondo.co.uk/vendor_store/acetaia-la-tradizione-cooperativa-d-arte-balsamica

http://www.acetaialatradizione.com/

I was sent this product for review. Content and views, as always, are my own.