REVIEW: The Pass, South Lodge County House Hotel, West Sussex


Brighton has done well out of South Lodge, a five star Sussex country house hotel with acclaimed restaurants; the three AA rosette award-winning The Pass—formerly one of the few Michelin star holders in the area—and more affordable two AA Rosetted Camellia. The Holy Trinity of freshish chef blood to the city have all hailed from their kitchen; Matt Gillan (Pike & Pine), Steve Edwards (Etch.) and Johnny Stanford (Pascere, now formerly of). So it seemed a duty to jump in the car (and we all know how much I avoid leaving Brighton to dine) and pay homage to this mothership.


Despite my travel reluctance, I do like the theatre of arriving at these piles in the country. Big, grand, loads of stone and ridiculously long drives. South Lodge itself is a really quirky mix of the old and new. Modern, twisted glass chandeliers hang in the traditionally panelled bar, classic oil paintings alongside contemporary works and none more of a contrast than The Pass restaurant itself, which does have a smidgen of corporate fit out that isn't entirely comfortable. Also, it feels as if you are sitting in the kitchen itself (well, you are) and if that's not voyeuristic enough, screens projecting the chefs at work are plastered over the walls as well. There's certainly nowhere to hide, but the hushed concentration of chefs at work is broken up by their delivery direct to the table, to explain the dishes in detail to you. This format seems to divide diners, but if like me you are the sort of person that geeks out on this style of dining, then it is certainly the place for you.


At the helm these days is Ian Swainson who arrived from the Samling Hotel in Cumbria, where he held a Michelin star for three years. And as an extra treat, Tom Surgey from Ridgeview Wines was waiting in the cellar with some of their glorious bottles of English sparkling wines to accompany the chefs snacks; a spherified tomato with olive oil emulsion on top of a fine Parmesan crisp was a memory of summers in the med, and mushroom risotto served on pine - and hey, what's fine dining without the appearance of dry ice?


Dishes are named so first up was "Revisiting a Classic"; a present yet delicate oyster ice-cream, Tabasco pearls and pickled shallots were a serious wake up call to the palette. It was perfect with my all-time favourite sparkling; the creamy Ridgeview Blanc de Blancs.


"Where it all Began", I guess a nod to primitive fire and smoke cooking, was rosemary-smoked wood pigeon, rosemary mayo and a really interesting red pepper meringue, masquerading as pieces of coal. Attention to detail extended beyond the food to the plate, streaked with fiery red to emphasise the concept.


I thought this would be dish of the night for me, yet (spoiler alert) I said that about the next 4 courses. Swainson draws his inspiration from artists and with presentation inspired by Miró, looked as beautiful as it tasted. A delicate piece of red mullet was given punch from harissa, contrasting with a silky lobster bisque and accented with fresh grapefruit and candied citrus. This was made even more brilliant by the unusual pairing of a chilled 10 year tawny port with it, cherry fruits yet had the acidity to complement the citrus in the dish.


I thought Zinfandel was just the cheap pink plonk you drank at BBQs (clearly I need to sort my WSET ASAP - on the to-do). This one - Gnarly Head Zinfadel  made from vines over 30 years old (and yeah, they look gnarly), was a gentle giant, pleanty of fruit but with a little toasty smoke ideal for the incredible smoked pork rib, the smell alone of which silenced the table on arrival. The meat was cured for 12 hours then put in the smoker before being glazed with 28 ingredients, no less, giving it the desired yield. It was just a lovely, lovely thing to eat, meltingly tender, rich, sticky and sweet.


"From dark to light" wasn't just a play on the the dramatic monochrome aesthetic with soft, sweet John Dory and perfect squid pasta. The contrasting flavours and texture at play were also elements that made this a great dish too.


Crafted specifically for Ridgeview's Blanc De Noirs was a black pudding stuffed rabbit saddle, rabbit "cappuccino" foam, stuffed morel which I think did each other a justice.


If I did have to pick a dish of the night though, gun to my head, it would have to be "Apples are Green, Roses are Red, This One's Gold". A modern take on the tarte tatin, it was an absolute showstopper in terms of technique and taste - merging childhood sweetie thrills of Turkish delight and sour apple with grown up edge from the rosemary ice cream and toasted granola. The Grenadine and rosewater compressed apple pieces were formed into a corolla to mimic a rose, surrounded by a fine rice paper and adorned with edible gold. So darn beautiful, it was almost criminal to destroy with a fork. Every now and then you get THAT dish, and this was certainly one of those.


We ended the meal with a lot of fun and not something you see every day; an artist's palette of edible "paints" purees of various flavours. Alongside this were sheets of popcorn paper and brushes. Sitting opposite Tom, clearly the only sensible thing to do was a portraiture session. I think my work was certainly better than his attempt, either that or I have serious work to do on my mono brow and a resemblance to Mr Potato Head. Cheers for that!

I would say the wine parings were particularly good on the night. If you can, leave the car at home (I was kicking myself).

As you can see, I had a great time and it's always such a privilege to eat such creative, crafted and memorable dishes such as these. If you want a side order of experience and showmanship, along with a truly special yet fun meal, The Pass is a great dining option.

The Pass at South Lodge
Brighton Road
Lower Beeding
Horsham

I dined as a guest of Exclusive Hotels. Words and thoughts, as always, are my own.

EVENT: Brighton Wine Week, Thursday 5 – Sunday 15 April 2018


The Brighton Food Festival are launching a new event to their collection, and I think it's something most of us will be enthusiastic to get on board with!

Brighton Wine Week will be running 5-15th April and at the heart of the event is a series of amazing collaborations between winemakers and some of the best restaurants we have in town, from specially crafted supper nights, masterclasses or special menus that will only run during the festival week. There is also a trail (read trés posh wine crawl), chef exchanges and tasting events.

I will say that some of the headline dinners get booked up incredibly fast - possibly already so (slapped wrist for my lateness) - but full details and how to purchase tickets are available from www.brightonfoodfestival.com.

Top picks:

Throughout
Running throughout will be participating venues showcasing a special menu featuring three of their favourite wines – including one from England – all priced at just £5-7. Venues include Blanch House, The Chilli Pickle, Drakes, Fourth & Church, Harbour Hotel, Isaac-At, Jeremy’s Restaurant, Market Restaurant Bar, Metrodeco, The Bull in Ditchling, and The Salt Room.


Thursday 5 April 2018 
Ridgeview Wine Dinner at Murmur | Advance tickets £65
Murmur sure have made a good impression on the dining scene and they will join forces with  English sparkling wine producer Ridgeview to create a bespoke tasting menu. Over a four-course menu, Ridgeview’s Tom Surgey will be presenting four sparkling wines from the Ridgeview range expertly paired with Murmur’s modern British take on contemporary dishes.

Sunday 8 April 2018
FoodLab: Emerging Talent at Etch | Advance tickets £70
The Foodlab events are always sell out and this year sees young talent (under 26) from Brighton’s hottest kitchens be randomly matched in advance with a local food or drink producer to create an inspiring and experimental dish. Chefs include: George Boarer (Etch; Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Awards 2017 Young Chef of the Year), Eliott Buchet (Jeremy’s Restaurant) Jackson Heron (Murmur), Isobel Humbey (The Salt Room), Michael Norman-Watts (64 Degrees), George Thomas (Isaac-At) and Sam Watson (The Ginger Fox). 

Tuesday 10 April 2018 
The sparkling wines of Emilia Romagna dinner at Pascere | Advance tickets £55
This already acclaimed restaurant, well known for its emphasis on great wine, hosts an exclusive four-course dinner by chef Johnny Stanford designed to match lesser-known sparkling wines of Emilia Romagna in Italy.

Wednesday 11 April 2018 
A Taste of the Mediterranean wine dinner at The Salt Room | Advance tickets £75
Executive chef Dave Mothersill’s four course menu for the evening will echo the tastes of the Mediterranean with inspirational seafood, fish and meat dishes with expertly paired wines. The evening will be hosted by Steve Daniel and Joe Wadhams from Hallgarten. Steve Daniel has one of the most respected palates in the industry and has been a real pioneer of Mediterranean wine over the last 30 years. Joe has worked closely with The Salt Room and sister restaurant The Coal Shed helping curate their wine lists. They will be showcasing a diverse range of indigenous varietals from the likes of the Balearics, Greece and Croatia.

Wednesday 11 April 2018 Sherry Night at Market Restaurant & Bar | Advance tickets £50
I LOVE sherry so obviously had to include this one! Market Head chef Ian Atkinson (previously of one and two Michelin star and two hat restaurants in the the UK and Australia) will be creating a Sherry-inspired five course menu alongside a matching Sherry flight that’ll be presented to you by their special guest and Sherry expert.

Friday 13 April 2018 
Make Your Case at La Cave à Fromage | Advance tickets £35
This is such a fun "punk wine tasting" event that always has great feedback, forget everything you know about wine tastings! 

Sunday 15 April 2018 
Redroaster Ridgeview Afternoon Tea at Redroaster | Advance tickets £30
I was a huge fan of their last Ridgeview dinner collaboration, but this time it takes the format of afternoon tea. Expect afternoon tea re-imagined with chef Matt Gillan's unique style served alongside a glass of Ridgeview who are leading the way in crafting world-class English sparkling wine.

Other events to look out for later in the year is the return of Brighton Cocktail Week (6-15 July) and the Food Festival's Autumn Harvest (6-16 September). For more information visit www.brightonfoodfestival.com.

REVIEW: The Chilli Pickle, Brighton


Some restaurants are more than a place to fill your stomach. A special few just seem to run parallel through parts of your life and The Chilli Pickle is certainly one that's done that for me. First dates, fiftieth dates, graduations, birthday celebrations, engagement toasting, house exchanges, work Christmas dos, work leaving dos, the first scary restaurant visit with your first born, trying to instigate the birth of your overdue second born, girls' night's out, make ups and the dreaded divorces. Be it laughter or tears...there was never an occasion where a Chilli Pickle tandoori platter didn't hit the nail in marking the occasion or comforting sorrows. It has been one freaking hell of a decade.

Here's my first review in 2009 (EMBARRASSING!!), 201020142015 as well as Chilli Pickle Canteen reviews in 2013 and 2015 where their home delivery saved my life and sanity during the "Saving Private Ryan" esque early days of parenthood.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of The Chilli Pickle, quite an accolade for a restaurant in these times. They made us put down the Anglo-Indian food we'd been eating and introduced us to authentic, regional specialities. We fell in love with King Thali Monday's (just a £10!) and there was almost a borderline riot when they took the pork knuckle off the menu. They even made us get excited about getting an Indian take-away delivered to our homes for goodness sake! Never letting quality slip, they've owned and developed their brand sympathetically and stayed true to their vision, whilst collecting award after award. And owners Dawn and Alun Sperring, are still very much at the helm of the operation too, which I've always believed to be a key part of a restaurant's success.


To mark the occasion they have refreshed the interior of their Brighton site in Jubilee Square, yet thankfully, it still feels very much like the restaurant we all know and love. There also seems to be a bubble of expansion that's just about to happen and I have hope that they retain the essence of what makes this restaurant so good. I'm sure they will.

Most importantly, the food is as delightful as it always has been. You could pretty much throw a dart at the menu and have a great meal. They probably won't let you do that though, particularly on their freshly painted walls.


I was lucky to head down and try the equally refreshed menu. The starters are always too good to skip; the delicate little puri shells, crispy vehicles for fresh and delicate fillings of chickpea and potato are something I normally order. Also good was the vibrant tandoori salmon marinated in beetroot and spiced yogurt and the perfectly spicy momo chicken dumplings.


Any one of their tandoori grills are death row meal worthy, so carnivores need to tick that one off their list. The Sigri charcoal roasted lamb shank, Barbecued raan style is a show stopper and exactly the sort of thing I like to eat here. Great big hunks of meat with multi-layered spicing, served with a smoked aubergine crush and a butter naan to polish it all up with. It feels overwhelming in size, yet little ol' me manages to polish off the platter - it's just too good to give up on.


The tandoori sea bream is also worth the order and something I've had a number of times in various guises. This is still a hearty dish, the spicing very much present yet delicate and brilliant alternative to a meat dish with just as much flavour.


Funnily enough, this visit presented the first dish in a decade I wasn't so in love with. It was possibly due to being faced with so much food your palate becomes complacent. Idli are steamed rice and curry leaf dumplings, commonly served as breakfast in Southern India and you dip them into lentil sambar, chutney and pickles, so I understand they act as a bland vehicle to the flavours they are served with, but it's not a dish for me.


Regardless of what you order though, all of their dishes are an education in the vast array of chutneys, riatas, pickles that makes Indian food such a joy to eat. I could eat their lime pickle for decades to come.


I can't believe I've never dived into their cocktail menu here; the chilli and mango margarita had the perfect kick of heat to it and the rest of the menu offered a little Indian twist on well known classics. You'd normally go for one of the beers with the food, but I'm sold on this new curry and cocktail concept, albeit a slightly dangerous one.

And on the subject of cocktails, if like me you are typically not a fan of teeth chatteringly sweet Indian desserts, they also have after dinner drinks as an alternative. Saying that, it seems they have tailored the Indian sweet selection here to Western tastes and I enjoyed most of the selection this time. Guiab Jamen; milk solid dumplings soaked in syrup, I do like (even from my very first visit) along with the peanut jaggery toffee. Turkish Delight and white chocolate raspberry truffles are probably less authentic, but for me, a more welcome sweet note to end the meal than the traditional.


So yes, things have been tweaked but as before, you're hard pushed not to enjoy your meal here. If you like food and you live in or have visited Brighton, I'm sure you've already eaten here (if not you're either crazy or living under a rock). We've seen a lot of change in the local dining scene, with more choice than ever, but there's no denying that The Chilli Pickle remains one of our, and certainly my, best loved Brighton restaurants.


The Chilli Pickle
17 Jubilee Street
Brighton

I dined as a guest of The Chilli Pickle. Words and thoughts, as ever, are my own. 

NEWS: Brighton's Best Restaurant Awards 2018


Monday saw the announcement of Brighton's Best Restaurant Awards winners, delivered, as we now expect, in a multi-media mash up of scandalous photos and questionably edited video footage. Half of Brighton's dining scene was insulted (in good jest) by circa 10 minutes into the event and Jeezzz, who knew host and co-founder of the awards Euan MacDonald could hold a tune like that. What an opening. If the 2019 awards format isn't an entire musical, in costume, I for one will be sorely disappointed.

The awards are voted for by almost 200 local "experts including food writers, chefs, restaurateurs and business leaders, all of whom boast an intimate knowledge of the city's restaurant landscape." This is reflected in a fresh list, which included many of the fantastic 2017 new openings that have seen the national critics sit up and take note of our little seaside city. 

The evening feels like a genuine celebration of Brighton's frankly awesome restaurants and the people behind them. Each year the bar is getting raised that little bit higher - when I started the blog back in '08 (it's ok I won't start going on about 'nam) there were a handful of good restaurants, certainly not enough to fill a top 20 list. A decade later you're hard pushed to make a decision on where to eat there's so much great choice and variety.

What I also love about the awards is that it doesn't matter the style, cost or position of the restaurant. As shown by the top two spots; in second place is the phenomenal Bincho Yakitori, a Japanese Grill in Preston Street with prices starting from a couple of pounds a dish to number one spot (and I'm BEYOND pleased it got it), Little Fish Market. The cheers from the crowd when that was announced showed the support and camaraderie within the local industry, which was warming. That and most people were very drunk by then.

Here's the list to work your way through this year...forks at the ready. Link to recent reviews form me below. A few I have revisited off-duty and need to write up and the others are high on my to-eat list. Hard life!

Brighton's Best Restaurant Award winners 2018:
  1. The Little Fish Market - GF review
  2. Bincho Yakitori  - GF review
  3. 64 Degrees 
  4. Cin Cin - GF review
  5. The Set 
  6. The Chilli Pickle - Review coming soon!
  7. Etch - GF review
  8. Pascere - Review coming soon!
  9. The Salt Room - GF review
  10. The Ginger Pig 
  11. Silo 
  12. Isaac At - GF review
  13. Plateau 
  14. Red Roaster/Pike & Pine - GF review
  15. Fatto a Mano - GF review
  16. 1909 
  17. Fourth & Church 
  18. Murmur 
  19. Petit Pois 
  20. The Gingerman 
Category winners:
  • Outstanding Contribution: Ben and Pamela McKellar, Ginger Restaurants 
  • Best Chef: Duncan Ray, The Little Fish Markert 
  • Best Barkeep: Jake Goldstein, Plotting Parlour 
  • Best Welcome: David Toscano, Cin Cin
  • Best Wine List: Pascere 
  • Best Sunday Lunch: Dizzy Gull at the Brighton Beer Dispensary 
  • Rising Star: The Ginger Pig 
  • Best OctoberBEST Dish: "Al and D's Toddy Shop" The Chilli Pickle 

REVIEW: Tropical Sushi, Brighton


Fusion food. Not a term everyone wants to hear with some really obscure dishes popping to most people's minds. Ramen Burger? Butter Chicken Risotto? Nah, not for me thanks (and yeah, actually things). But modern fusion food is everywhere, and in all guises, from little inspirational nods to full blown concept eating. (Senor Buddha in Brighton is a great example of it done well with their Spanish-Asian food.)

Tropical Sushi is a mash up of the traditional and not so traditional and I originally thought we had a hard case of concept dining on our hands here. However, Japanese-Latin hybrid food is not that at all. Immigration to South America around the 1800s was huge and thus the influence to food, with Brazil having the largest Japanese population outside Japan. There's even a word for it; Nikkei cuisine - cheers Google education.

Starting as a pop-up, and making quite a name for themselves, Tropical Sushi have been in their colourful permanent home for about 6 months now. 


Things got off to a great start with a cocktail glass of the freshest cod ceviche; lime cured as expected but with plantain chips and crunchy Peruvian choclo corn in the mix. Flavours were so fresh, sweet, sour and the textures far more interesting than any ceviche dish you've had before. 


Tuna Picante, is a popular dish for them, as it should be. This is a must-order here with the most melting tuna sashimi I think I've ever had and the perfect grade of heat running through it. An alternative would be the salmon tartare with avocado, also good, but the tuna, for quality alone, pipped it. 


Served on a vivid ultramarine platter was a selection of sushi; a nicely charred eel nigiri, again some more exceptional salmon sashimi and a quirky, spicy avocado gunkan.


More unusual but absolutely delicious was the Tronchis Taco. This was everything; crisp, squidgy, savoury, sweet...all of the flavour, all of the texture, all at once. You've probably never had anything like it, I certainly haven't - a tempura nori taco with fried plantain, salmon, avocado, wakame and eel and spicy mayo sauce. Woah!


We then worked our way though a selection of the rolls. In a regular meal here you'd probably order two or three sets after a couple of the starters. However, we tried items across the menu, and everything we tried was hugely enjoyable, the sauces and presentation of the rolls are particularly unique to this place. Highlights were the Andrea Roll; king prawn tempura with creamy spring onions and fuji sauce, each bite a delicious crunch and the steamed prawn Pana Roll with avocado, coated with sweet yellow plantain and topped with torched eel.


They cater particularly well for vegetarian and vegan diets and apparently more will be added to their new menu coming shortly. The vegan Avila Roll missed out on nothing; avocado, tempura sweet potato, plantain and crunchy wakame was a great example of vegan sushi done well. Also, my dining friend was gluten free and they effortlessly navigated that requirement, altering the sauces without a hint of a fuss. 

I noticed they do the de rigueur poke bowls for lunchtimes and the kid's meals look great too - I'd happily bring my two here for a feed. 


We finished with mochi balls. I've had these gelatinous, squidgy rice balls before and they've been tasteless and gloopy. Although I'm never going to choose them over a sticky toffee pudding anytime soon, the flavours here were great. Filled with either chocolate and peanut butter or green tea, they were a perfect sweet note to end a really, really good meal. 


Food is well sourced, local where possible and I believe most of the fish is from Newhaven Fish Sales who are ace. Service was lovely, food beautifully explained and the genuine enthusiasm for what they do contagious.

The whole visual of Tropical Sushi is wild electro. Acid limes, screaming orange and hot pink, unwieldy menu formats and the food is served on colourful electric edge perspex. It's quite full on and like me, you may have been a bit put off by it all, the aesthetic shouts far louder than the quality, history and craft of the food which is a real shame.

It's sunny, happy food but that should be the thing doing the talking. I know I'm particularly aesthetically sensitive but on asking, people have told me they have similar feelings. If you are one of these people, I urge you to by-pass that. Stick on some shades or embrace the miniature parrots on your table, this one is a must-visit.

Tropical Sushi
12 Western Rd
Hove 

I dined as a guest of Tropical Sushi, words and thoughts, as always, my own.

NEWS: Sussex Food & Drink Awards 2018


Last Wednesday saw the announcement of the Sussex Food & Drink Award winners at the Amex Community Stadium in Brighton. It's a great celebration of the bounty of Sussex food and drink we have right on our door-step, as well as the local farmers and producers. 

These awards are a great way to support the businesses and food and farming community and I always discover a few more names, brands and places to put on my ever growing to-eat and to-visit lists!

One of the biggest of the awards, they have received over 4,000 nominations and 133,000 public votes over the last 12 years, promoting hundreds of businesses as Grand Finalists. 



Sussex Food Producer of the Year, sponsored by Southern Co-op
Winner:  Bookham Harrison Farms, Rudgwick, West Sussex
Led by top dairy farmers and cheese producers, Bookham Harrison Farms also won Best British Cheddar at the Quality Food Awards last year.
Runners up:  Just Brownies, Shipley, West Sussex; Lighthouse Bakery & School, Robertsbridge, East Sussex; The Raw Chocolate Company, Henfield, West Sussex; The Real Pie Company, Crawley, West Sussex

Sussex Drink Producer of the Year, sponsored by Natural PR with support from The Pass at South Lodge Hotel
Winner:  Ridgeview Wine Estate, Ditchling Common, East Sussex
We all know and love Ridgeview! Their sparkling wines are some of the very best.
Runners up: Brighton Gin, Brighton and Hove and Wobblegate, Bolney, West Sussex 

Sussex Young Chef of the Year, sponsored by Sodexo Prestige with support from super chef Matt Gillan
Winner:  Michael Notman-Watt from 64 Degrees, Brighton and Hove
From one of Brighton's top restaurants, Michael stood out for technical excellence, creative flair and a true understanding of local sourcing in his winning menu.
Runners up: George Boarer from etch., Brighton and Hove and Michael Sutherland, The Star Inn, Alfriston, East Sussex

Young Sussex Farmer of the Year, sponsored by Plumpton College in association with Farmers Weekly
Winner: Jack Stilwell, Forestside, West Sussex
Jack follows an interesting story, from crowd funding to BBC coverage. He started at 21 with two calves and now, aged 26 rears 4000.
Runners up: Christopher Appleton, Arlington, East Sussex and Luke Spalding, Ridgeview, Ditchling Common, East Sussex

Sussex Butcher of the Year, sponsored by RP Meats Wholesale Ltd
Winner:  New Street Butchers & Deli, Horsham, West Sussex
This family-run butchers provides quality, local, free range meat as well as seasonal fruit and vegetables whilst demonstrating a passion for innovating and developing new and exciting elements in their shop. 
Runners up: Archers of Westfield, Westfield, East Sussex and Garlic Wood Butchery, Steyning, West Sussex

Sussex Farmers Market of the Year, sponsored by Harveys Brewery
Winner: Chichester Farmers Market, West Sussex
All the stallholders are required to bake, grow, rear or preserve their own produce and must be based within 30 miles of Chichester.
Runners up: Shoreham Farmers Market, West Sussex and Steyning Farmers Market, West Sussex

Sussex Eating Experience of the Year, sponsored by Blakes Foods
Winner:  The Artisan Bakehouse, Ashurst, West Sussex
The Artisan Bakehouse's vision has been to embrace the natural, tranquil and idyllic 16th century cottage location and to create an experience where people can learn or enjoy delicious breads and seasonal Sussex produce. 
Runners up: 64 Degrees, Brighton and Hove and The Parsons Table, Arundel, West Sussex

Sussex Food Shop of the Year, sponsored by Wealden District Council
Winner:  The Sussex Produce Company, Steyning, West Sussex
Since 2007, The Sussex Produce Company have strived to invest in local economy and infrastructure whilst championing the very best of Sussex food. 
Runners up:  Plaw Hatch Farm Shop, Sharpthorne, West Sussex and Rushfields Farm Shop, Poynings, West Sussex

Sussex Street Food of the Year, sponsored by Horsham District Foodies with support from Food Rocks and judging from super chefs Steven Edwards and Ian Swainson
Winner:  Garlic Wood Farm, Steyning, West Sussex
Everything from a simple BBQ with their own sausages and burgers to a full street food steak burger stall and hog or lamb roasts using conservation pork and pasture fed lamb. 
Runners up: Jah Jyot, Henfield, West Sussex and The Pig and Jacket, Lewes, East Sussex

Sussex Newcomer of the Year, co-sponsored by Kreston Reeves and Sussex Food and Drink Network
Winner: etch., Brighton and Hove
Incredibly deserving, etch. has made waves in Brighton since opening with their ingredient led dishes and impeccable flair. 
Runners up: Greyhound Brewery, West Chiltington, West Sussex and The Parsons Table, Arundel, West Sussex

For further information on the awards and winners in all ten categories including Sussex butcher, food producer, drink producer, young chef, farmers market, food shop, eating experience, newcomer, street food vendor and young Sussex farmer of the year visit www.sussexfoodawards.biz




REVIEW: Baby Bao at The Pond, Brighton

brisket bao bun at the Pond pub Brighton

Call me an old woman but I'm typically not a fan of dining in pubs (restaurant-pubs aside). I just find it so uncomfortable! Piling winter coats on tiny bar stools, cramped around little tables and typically cheek to jowl with the next table. Then there's elbowing away the resident pub dog's nose from my plate. It's just not my style.

But sometimes you just can't ignore the Instagram shots of gorgeous looking food any longer.

And I've become a big fan of The Pond actually, probably due to my new interest in beer, they always seem to have something on that I absolutely love. Plus it's had a really nice makeover featuring illustrated murals from local design studio See Creatures and doesn't THAT hague blue shade make everything better?

Before their residency at The Pond, Baby Bao had, and still do I believe, a regular Friday spot at  Street Diner. Fitting as it's, well, street food.

Where some have tried a bit too hard with pub food or gone concept hard, it's often failed. Somehow, the Taiwanese bao bun concept just seems to work well here. Affordable, delicious, vibrant and easily scalable if you want a quick bite or a full meal.

You can either grab a single or selection of the filled buns and there's the option of some really interesting sides. They cater particularly well for vegetarian and vegan diets here, and are exclusively meat free and vegan on Mondays with bao fillings like mushroom bulgogi and seitan brisket. On Sunday, which is when I visited, they offer either meat or vegan Bo Saam sharing platters.

Bo saam sharing platter at the Pond pub Brighton

This is such an interactive fun meal and a perfect alternative to the Sunday Roast. We ordered the meat option and you get classic pork belly, brisket and crispy chicken thighs. Visually it's impressive and full of colour.

The steamed bao buns themselves are beautifully puffy and super light. You can then build your own filling from the platter of meats, pickled veg and sauces, wrapping remaining fillings with the crisp little gem leaves. Additional bao buns are available to order separately if you are ravenous but two were perfect for me.

Bo saam sharing platter at the pond pub Brighton

Yup. Crunchy, spicy, sweet, salty, savoury and sour - it has it all going on. So many flavours and textures that is a joy to eat. My favourite was the brisket but if you like melting, fatty cuts then the pork belly is for you.

The kimchi could have packed a bigger punch but was still enjoyable and the sauces varied and all good. And, trust me, you'll want to sprinkle the crushed peanut powder on EVERYTHING. 

Blackberry milkshake IPA craft beer at the Pond Brighton

On tap was the Blackberry Milkshake IPA from Wylam and Northern Monk - probably the girliest beer in the world, a beautiful blush pink and crazily drinkable; fruity but softly bitter. Sadly we got the end of the keg otherwise I would have indulged in another three. I doubt they'll still have that on but every time I've popped in there's been something delicious; a blueberry stout that was pure dessert in a glass or Dark Star's Creme Brulee.

The bao meat sharing plate was £28 for two or £14 for one. Individual buns are around the £5 and sides £4 so nothing is going to break the bank here.

I didn't think to order dessert but now seeing a few shots of the donut bao filled with either matcha ice cream or peanut butter ice cream and jam gives me the weak excuse to return very, very soon.

Baby Bao manu at The pond pub brighton

The Pond
49 Gloucester Rd
Brighton

Follow Baby Bao @babybaouk