REVIEW: Pabellón, Brighton

Hero are the restaurants that thrive in difficult locations. And they do...look at Chilli Pickle from their original nook in the back and beyond of The Lanes, Coal Shed just off of Brighton's nightclub strip, the mighty Bincho Yakitori in the street that was notorious for mediocre grub. Even Pabellón's original restaurant, Senor Buddha (renamed Circo) in the arse end of London Road. But build it and they will come, forks in hand.

When Pabellón revealed their location, ok, in a prime spot near the Pavilion (see what they did there?), the location still jarred for me. A pass through, a nowhere...home of newsagents, banks and bus stops. Surely not a home to prop up the bar with a glass of fino? But hat off, the fit out is a beaut. Once inside this temple to Hague Blue you forget all about the outside world. And they've added to Brighton's growing portfolio of Instagram worthy loos, reclaiming the beautiful wood panelling from the previous owners.

This is Circo's sexier, glossier sister, retaining the modern Spanish tapas with an East Asian vibe that, somehow, they've made work so well.

And they’ve made it almost impossible to choose from the small plate menu, divided neatly into plant, fish and meat. The rain can howl outside all it likes with the holiday-vibe going on on the plates here; gambas a la plancha, sardinas al ajillo, patatas bravas, albondigas…Brexit? What Brexit?  

A must order is the Iberia Pork Presa, the pig version of Wagyu. Served pink (don’t freak) it’s evenly marbled so tender throughout with a rich, juicy flavour. All other pork is ruined now and this is sure to become the signature dish here. 

The tender Pulpo Pabellón tentacle arrives dramatically curled around the plate. The char on this alone makes it another must order dish, the braised fennel working with the sweetness of the beast so well.

The volcanic chicken was a good dish to eat texturally; fire, crunch, sweetness and softness. Chicken isn't often the most inspiring meat to order but this had been given a worthy make over.

I fondly recall the spicy mojo potatoes from visits to the Canary Islands and have a lot of love for these little spuds. But these lacked the blood pressure bursting dried, salt crusted, wrinkly skins I remembered. Also, the mojo sauces could have also had more, er, mojo - with the heat being turned up a few dials.

The scallops with Iberico ham and an Asian wasabi pea puree is classic for the mash up style here that is so bizarre on paper but works so well on the plate. Heat, salt, was all there along with some scratchings made with the Iberico fat that were a clever textural detail.

The soy-blackened cod was another highlight. Sticky, sweet and unami rich with lightly pickled vegetables, seaweed and sesame seeds; just a lovely dish to eat.

The style of food here is a big hit with me, it's different, slightly quirky, sexy and intimate. It offers something unique to Brighton's food scene and the small team hit the mark on the service front too. 

Drinks have also been well considered; you'll find a new love of a fino sherry and tonic, a brilliant list of Spanish gins and that's before you've hit the exclusively Spanish wine list.

I did return for the express menu for lunch a few weeks later which was also hugely enjoyable, but one little niggle, that I found with dinner too, was that potions were a little mean in places (scallops sliced in two, I'm looking at you), and this feels particularly unnecessary where cheaper ingredients are used like in croquettes. But I'd happily return for their unique flavours and also for brunch at the weekend - Morcilla De Burgos with the Catalan-style bubble and squeak? My future hangover is looking at you kid.

There's so much to love about Pabellón, it is certainly a great addition to Brighton dining; both as a daytime haven and date night gold.

13 Pavilion Buildings

I dined as a guest of Pabellón. Words and thoughts, as always, my own. 

LEARN: Bread Masterclass at Real Patisserie, Brighton

Ah, beautiful, beautiful bread. Vilified in recent years by the trend dieter bores, the loaf is back on the table and so happy I am it is. From fine dining restaurants making the humble bread a star in its own right with glossy glazes and quirky ingredients, winged by some exotic butter or other to artisan bakeries popping up on every street, we are back to loving a slice of the good stuff.

Though Real Pâtisserie have been in Brighton for close to two decades now and their Chewy Brown loaf can be found tucked under my arm on a Saturday morning and also in many of the decent cafes on their breakfast and lunch menus.

On a Sunday morning though, when the bakery is closed, you can go one step further and learn how to make decent bread yourself. But good bread isn't easy and takes a bit of science, physical work, love and time to get right.

Here you'll learn about starters and yeast, flour qualities and the basic proportional ingredients of a loaf. But what is really key is the technique. You can also read every recipe out there but nothing compares to being shown first hand from the professionals the right temperature, touch and skill. Most doughs are really wet and tricky to work with, but with the right knack, transform into the sort of bread that will make you swear off the supermarket stuff for life.

I've been baking since 2011 where I went on a similar course and that really made a difference to my baking ability and I've used a sourdough starter since. The course, led by Wojciech, the Head Baker at Kemptown, was equally as good and one for you if you're serious about starting baking at home, or upping your skills and ditching the breadmaker. It was well paced, informative and very hands on, delivered in an enjoyable but professional way, and class sizes are kept small so is very attentive. Some of the forms were difficult (I'll never look at a baguette in the same way) but Wojciech ensured everyone was correctly following instruction and corrected each where needed.

We broke for lunch and were treated to a slice of the legendary RP quiches, salads and breads, and were offered hot chocolate fondants and coffee to power us through too.

Although Christmas and January looked all booked up, the course would make an awesome gift for someone (one of the students attending was celebrating their 40th) or a fun date activity (two couples and a mum and daughter team made up the rest of the group).

I will say this is reasonably demanding, and a long day on your feet (God bless the real bakers out there), but went by like a flash and at the end you'll be laden with a selection of beautiful loaves, crafted by your own hands. I was so happy with my rye and caraway and wheat sourdough loaves, focaccia and baguette. I'd like to say they fully stocked my freezer but everyone knows real bread is just too darn irresistible. 

Courses run monthly on Sundays from their Kemp Town shop and cost £80 but will generally get quite booked up. Visit for details and how to book.

I attended as a guest of Real Pâtisserie but words and opinion, as always, my own. 

EATCATION: Rathfinny Tasting Room Restaurant and The Flint Barns, Alfriston

The Rathfinny Wine Estate is the new kid on the block of the booming English sparking scene, having been planted up in 2010 and with the first bottles coming out just this year. The estate, 40 minutes or so from Brighton, in Alfriston, is pristine and picture postcard pretty, the synergy of the brand running throughout the estate beautifully.

And they should really rename their many sign posted “Passing Places” when driving through the estate to “stop the damn car and look at the view”. Less catchy, but from the highest point, right by the Estate Office is worth the visit alone; with a wide, breathtakingly beautiful vista of the fields down to Cuckmere Haven. On a blazing sunny Autumnal day, it was slight-tear-in-the-eye astonishing.

Anyway, pulling myself together and wiping away my pathetic, misty sentimentality (I’m getting worse), I carried on down to the estate's guest accommodation, The Flint Barns, and checked into my room in anticipation of dinner at the on-site Tasting Room Restaurant. Now, as we all know, a good meal needs good wine and we also know that large taxi fares and designated drivers are not so much fun. It would be a crying shame to dine here and not make a good dent in the wines, with a view of their growing patch from your table. So it makes absolute sense to make a weekend of it.

The Flint Barns have been sympathetically renovated with a mildly industrial edge, stylish but fitting with the original purpose of the building. My room, with large windows overlooking the vines would accommodate a couple and family; set up for multi use and even boasted two small but chic bathrooms. The room facilities are paired back (no TV or tea facilities) but downstairs there is a refractory style dining area for more casual breakfast, brunches and dinners (open to the public), paid bar and free hot drinks. You can relax in the lounge or in warmer weather soak up the rays in the stunning courtyard. The whole place has been crafted with the finest eye for detail.

I was expecting the restaurant to be closer to the accommodation, but no matter, they of course have a transport service to scoop you up and put you where you need to be. Bonus.

The Tasting Room Restaurant is again a tasteful space, in the summer dining outside on the terrace would be beautiful too. Often it's hard to imagine these places in use for lunch but I've already mentally booked in a visit in the spring to do just that.

Leading the kitchen, Head Chef Chris Bailey (who earned a Michelin Star whilst at The Black Rat in Winchester) weaves the seasons through his menus and makes best use of the local produce. This is like a lux agriturismo, and who wouldn't be inspired in this location, with choice picks from both land and sea.

Lunch is a very well priced £30 or £35 for two or three courses as well as a snacking menu to supplement a casual afternoon of drinking wine, which I’m totally on-board with.

Dinner however, is a choice of three set menus; Land, Sea or Garden. A few dishes span across the menus; the crab and shrimp tartlet, a rich aerated bisque fragranced with marigold and tiny cubes of fresh apple was perfect with a glass of the estate’s sparking. Of course, I made a beeline for the Blanc De Blancs, it’s my favourite. Although missing some of the dessert-like creaminess of some others I’ve tried it was delicate, elegant and a great introduction to the sparkling wines here. There is a Rosé too but you’ll have to wait a year for the Blanc De Noirs. Given a few more years under their belt, I think we'll be seeing a number of awards nailed into the freshly plastered walls.

A perfect little baked pumpkin arrived next filled with an earthy and rich chestnut, sage and ricotta risotto and dusted generously with fresh truffle. It doesn’t get more seasonal than this and so unusual to see a decent, and welcome, portion of food on a plate in this sort of dining format.

A harmonious and texturally clever dish of tartare of sea trout followed, dusted with a punchy horseradish snow and a shiso tea poured over at the table. I'd moved onto a glass of the estate's other brand Cradle Valley, an equal blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, high in citrus and floral, and ideal with the dish.

Suffering slight envy at the classic venison saddle of my dining companion initially, dish of the night for me was my wild bass with salsify and fennel and slightly bonkers salty fingers; samphire's pumped up big brother. The anise and artichoke flavours work so well with white fish and proves simplicity always wins on a plate.

Pre-dessert arrived as a cheesecake lollipop with dehydrated black fig, before the 65% dark chocolate delice with salted caramel, a spiced plum, and almond ice-cream, which was ideal to enjoy with a golden, honeyed dessert wine from the Denbies estate.

The food I have to say was knock out. Elegant, creative, yet the ingredients were still very much hero, pitched perfectly for the setting and style of the restaurant and location. And yes, grapes featured, of course as a nod to the estate, in jellied petit fours and as wingmen on dishes like the butter-soft roasted quail. They navigated the dietary requirements of my friend perfectly as well, so don't be afraid, with prior notice, to experience places like this.

Service was well-paced and friendly, and although the food was introduced well, I feel they could have done a much better job in introducing and matching the wines or even highlighting the Seven Sisters gin and vermouth brand, also produced by the estate, perhaps for a welcome drink or cocktail.

Waking up the next morning, you can scuttle down to breakfast where the tables have been reserved in your names on little branded tickets (nice touch). After some spiced plums and greek yoghurt, a brilliant quality full English was just the ticket to fuel a brisk walk around the estate. I loved that comms had also been passed on here and a gluten and dairy free tailored breakfast was also waiting for my friend without any request.

My stay at The Flint Barns made me really keen to return for brunch or lunch on a Sunday, where you can book a table without the need to stay. Obviously it's a far more casual affair than the Tasting Room Restaurant, but judging by the enormous joints of meat the chef was hauling and the incredible smells coming from the open kitchen already, made me think it would be a good shout.

This is a very well set up estate for visitors with tasting rooms, two different dining experiences, vineyard tours, a shop and a beautiful trail around the estate, so even if you are not staying or eating (which I recommend you do), it's well worth the visit. It may only be a short hop from Brighton, but I returned well fed, well watered, well walked and pampered. Ideal.

Rathfinny Wine Estate
East Sussex
BN26 5TU

I dined and stayed as a guest of Rathfinny. Words and opinion, as always, my own.

REVIEW: The Set Restaurant, Brighton

Set in their ways these guys are are not. I don’t think any other local restaurant has been so fearless in both risk taking and adapting to the ebb and flow of dining demands. Chef and Owner Dan Kenny seemingly keeps his eye close to operations to see how things evolve, and he takes criticism like a champ and acts upon it. The Set, a stone's throw from the beach in Regency Square, hasn’t been smooth sailing, its quirky location took some getting used to and then the various reshuffles of dining formats, ownership, and restaurant layouts will have left a trail of confusion an extent. Now discarding their set menus, they are relaunching with an á la carte (are we all thinking it’s time to admit the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach to restaurant dining - let diners choose what they want on the menu…wild).

One fundamental thing I have found throughout their 4 years though, is that I’ve generally only heard positive feedback of the food and thankfully, the quirks and flair that have set their style are still evident on the new menu, where you'll find a love of Asian ingredients and nods to fast and street food rubbing shoulders with some of our best local produce.

To simplify matters further, the new menu is available from lunch through to dinner, and now you can dine here for roughly £30 for three courses. Although I'm partial to the creativity and theatre of a set or tasting menu, it can prove prohibitive to many, in terms of costs and tastes, so that it can turn out to be a restaurant’s downfall. And the tide in general seems to be turning on the trend too. The Set was certainly in the “special dining” bracket, solved in part by various more casual dining options in the front bar area, but I think it’s best to be brave, be bold, be on brand with one vision, and this menu now adapts for both blow out anniversary dinners and mid-week mate catch ups.

Choosing more vegetarian options these days, as well...chefs are doing more interesting things with them, the parsnips with burnt apple was a strong start; earthy, sweet, caramelly and perfect with the vadouvan spiced roasted chickpeas. Rosehip spheres glossed up the dish to something special.

A popular choice seemed to be the crab bao, brown crab bun, XO mayo, radish slaw. Such a crowd pleaser this; on-trend, squidgy, soft, crunchy and something to get stuck into with a classic The Set treatment to it.

Sitting at the pass I managed to grab one of the main courses, lamb from the mighty Saddlescombe Farm three ways and beautifully done it was; the best a rich ragu done like mamma likes with the holy trinity soffrito. This is a classic dish but slightly twisty and deliriously delicious. The bacon potato gratin, pass me a fork, I could have eaten a whole tray of.

But alongside the mains, there are some sharing options too. A pheasant crown, or BBQ hispi cabbage, but I opted for the whole salt baked bream. Simple, but sexed up with the details such as the seaweed in the kale, toasted hazelnuts in the ratte potatoes and a punchy BBQ lemon marmalade that someone needs to put in a call to Dragon's Den about for the marketing of. Add in the aerated Béarnaise Sauce, I defy anyone not to be happy with this dish.

The posh ode to the Maccy D apple pie may have been flying out of the kitchen and seems set to be a bit of a future signature dish, but to finish, my curiosity for the miso tiramisu got the better of me. As a typical Italian purist, I despise classic Italian dishes messed around with, but eyebrow cocked, I hold my hands up that this dessert was surprisingly good; caramel, coffee with a definite saline hit of miso to intensify the flavours throughout. Not technically a tiramisu as we know it, but a smart, sophisticated and revved up homage to the original.

As well as the á la carte, they will be introducing The Set’s Chefs’ Table, available to just two couples per evening at the pass. I think this is the only Chefs’ table experience in Brighton where the chefs will craft a bespoke multi-course menu and wine flight, designed to cater for each customer’s specific personal preferences and dietary requirements.

This is a great spot for dinner (pre and/or post drinks in the adjoining The Fix bar, of course) and the nature of the starters and snacks make it a great small plate destination for lunch. Oddly, by simplifying things, they've made themselves more versatile and this time I think they've cracked it.

The Set
33 Regency Square
Brighton BN1 2GG

I dined as a guest of The Set. Words and opinion, as always, my own.

REVIEW: Wagamama, Brighton

Wagamama has been around for 26 years. 26! Older than half of my social media followers for sure. I remember going up to London as a young whipper and feeling very terribly bourgeois dining on pan-Asian cuisine (remember Brighton back in the day was small fry when it came to dining. The rolypoly at Dig in The Ribs? Exotic, mate.). 

Today, with a saturated market and a healthy appetite for global cuisine, it is easy to forget how revolutionary Wagamama was to the casual dining scene. Ahead of its game in both technology and process, the lunchtime serving speed when my studio was around the corner served me well. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the chain, now reciprocated by my kids who love nothing more than slurping through bowls of ramen in a totally accessible restaurant that embraces a wide sector of diner, including little ones. I madly dined in half term and the place was rammo, yet the acoustics and loftiness of these places seem to thankfully dull the din.

The Brighton branch has had a recent face lift, enriching what was perhaps a very paired back, slight corporate feel Wagas used to sport with some warmer tones and glossier finishes. A light touch maybe, but better. 

Although many years since I ordered the infamous Katsu curry, it still is on the menu for the die-hard fans along with the gyoza and other Waga classics. But there are more interesting things to be had, with someone keeping a keen eye on food trends. I started with some delicious Tama Squid balls, with an amazingly crisp, lace-like batter and slightly squid centre, topped with sweet and savoury okonamiyaki sauce and bonito flakes. 

These were chased down with some fluffy hirata steamed buns, seemingly a fad that is everywhere but one I am fully signed up to. The Korean barbecue shredded beef was tender and juicy and a perfect filling for those dreamy, cloud-like buns.

But ramen weather it is and on the seasonal specials across the menu (in gold foil - ooh fancy) I went for the miso-glazed cod ramen, which had great smoke and depth and enough of a little kick to appease my chilli head tendencies. It’s such a warming, nourishing meal that makes me feel good, (and very full) afterwards; the ultimate comfort food that doesn’t put you into a coma.

I can always guarantee a relatively quiet meal here if I’m out with my kids. These restaurant boast plenty of space for buggies, scooters, mr bear, various plastic dinosaurs and the three bags of stuff you always seem to hoist around for the little terrors. They also have great activity sheets and an interesting paired back menu for them with ramen, noodle or rice dishes of different topping combinations. I do like how healthy, varied and fresh it all looks and they have crafted it well for picky eaters - food is separate (massive deal) and easily identifiable (massive deal). 

My son will always go for a broth based meal if offered, ramen not being too dissimilar to the pasta and brodo us Italians are accustomed to. The three year old chose the noodles with grilled fish - simple and with enough veg they actually eat to tick off your good parenting daily checklist. 

For dessert they were made up with the fruit encapsulated ice lollies. Just enough of a treat and again, something that I didn’t mind ordering them (I didn't get the title Sugar Nazi for nothing). Myself, I had a massive bowl of coconut reika ice-cream, because, well, I’m an adult and I can do whatever the bloody hell I like. 

Despite the outlook for so many chains looking bleak, and Wagamama’s recent takeover getting the investors all wobbly as well, I personally still see its relevance in the market and always happy to pop in. Whether it can weather the rough times, we’ll have to see. Let's hope so. 

The Argus Building
30 Kensington Street

I dined as a guest of Wagamama. Words and thoughts, as always, my own. 

LEARN: The Community Kitchen, Brighton

Food is great. That we know.

But (and here’s where I get all Jamie Oliver 2005 so frigging brace yourselves) food that shared in a place that gives much needed skills to really improve lives is where the magic happens. I’ve been watching the Community Kitchen, a social enterprise model, morph into a space that has so much potential for good, where people can “experience the benefits of cooking and eating together, regardless of finance, confidence or ability.” In the daytime they run community cookery programmes for people with mental health issues, dementia, learning disabilities and anyone that can benefit from cooking, learning life skills for well-being and sharing food together.

Behind this is Brighton and Hove Food Partnership a non-profit organisation that have worked on community food projects in the area for over a decade from community gardens, food wastage campaigns and neighbourhood meal sharing clubs.

It’s also a beautiful space available for hire and they also run cookery courses and classes, the profit from which goes straight back into the work the partnership do with masterclasses from the city’s best chefs, on-trend skills such as fermented foods and make your own charcuterie, seasonal workshops and well-being focused classes.

My cooking weak spot is baking though so a cake decorating masterclass with Kane McDowell from one of my favourite local Bakeries, Sugardough, was the one for me.

We were led through how to make a Genoise sponge and strawberry syrup, before being shown how to create a perfect semi naked cake (where the cake peaks out from the frosting). And never will I cut a tiered cake unevenly again which was worth turning up for alone.

Then the fun bit with pretty piped Italian meringue frosting and tricky chocolate writing (no evidence I’d studied typography and been a graphic designer for over 15 years AT ALL).

Dodgy type aside, I was very pleased with the cake, the kids thought I was pretty heroic when I brought it home for demolishing. It definitely has given me some confidence and skills to push decorating a bit further. Aside from learning, it was a really fun way to spend an evening and really relaxing too.

The Community Kitchen is a brilliant place for so many people in Brighton. I liked how they started the event by sitting everyone around the huge communal table for some lovely breads, dips and nibbles to break the ice and get the evening started. There were so many different people there, couples, singles, friends and a mum and her Bake-Off obsessed young son (who was having the time of his life!).

Visit events for upcoming events and to find out more about The Community Kitchen see

Community Kitchen113 Queen’s Road
Brighton BN1 3XG

I attended as a guest of The Food Partnership.

REVIEW: La Belle Assiette, private chef service

I'm no stranger to the dinner party (still sounds so very 1970s doesn't it?). As soon as I bought my first tiny shoebox flat in Brighton, the kitchen, with about 2 inches of work surface, was thrown open to guests. Heavily laden with ingredients, I'd come home from work on Fridays and start preparing that whole evening and following day. Friends would be shoe horned in, Lord knows how, and cheek to jowl I'd feed them up, course after course after course. I think a few of these spanned until the morning hours where we'd start breakfast service, before I collapsed in a heap. Chefs, I salute you. 

So yeah, I blooming love a dinner party. Then life happens and the luxury of 48 hours food prep is frankly laughable, but my table is still host to friends and family; the love for convivial suppers still running deep, with me generally sweating it out in the kitchen.

La Belle Assiette contacted me to see if I'd try a private chef service with restaurant quality food. I love to cook so it's something I'd never thought of, but the lure of not doing any shopping, prep, graft, or cleaning up was an incredible pull. Imagine, I could just swan in like Margo Leadbetter with just table decorations and guest invitations to busy myself with.

The whole experience was great fun; choosing a chef online, reading through sample menus and seeing a professional at work in your own kitchen. I selected Marianne Hospel, based on her off-beat menus. I didn't want anything typically Mediterranean or British so was tempted by her eclectic menus. 

Toying between her Dutch heritage menus and something Moroccan, a chat over the phone helped me choose the menu for six of us, with Marianne full of ideas, particularly in crafting the menu for my one vegan guest as not to make them feel left out or the rest of us compensating for anything. I liked how involved I felt in creating the menu too. Clearly a very experienced chef, she also asked some practical questions and came armed with equipment for any eventuality.

We went for her "Rock The Kasbah" menu, fitting for the hot evening, colourful enough for impress the girls, and reminded me of holidays in Marrakesh. 

After an additional amuse with homemade spiced flatbread, we started with a bejewel salad of sumac roast squash, mung beans and pomegranate; the feta crumb being replaced with a vegan alternative for a seamless swap.

A 36hr Moroccan spiced slow-roasted Lamb followed, blush pink and succulent. The vegan dish was a vegetable and almond pastilla (far nicer than the boney pigeon one I did have in Morocco, dusted with a tooth-tweaking amount of icing sugar, as is tradition). We all had the accompanying herbed Israeli cous cous, chickpea salad with harissa, olives and the most incredible homemade preserved lemons. I adored all the levels of flavour here, which momentarily broke the incessant chatter of the table. 

Star of the show, and I rarely say this, was dessert. A pistachio and rosewater vegan baked cheesecake with fresh figs. Utterly sublime and such a good vegan dessert that everyone was calling to the chef for the recipe.

I thought it would be strange and imposing having a chef in my home serving my guests but my need to jump in my own kitchen faded as soon as I'd popped the cork of the aperitivo to be honest. Marianne, was particularly lovely, intervened only when necessary and introduced the courses beautifully. It really did feel like a treat, even sat in my own home and my guests seemed to have had a great time too. It really was a fun experience and such a luxury not being lumbered with the washing up either. Marianne brought all the plates and cooking equipment with her (or used and washed some of mine).

It actually freaked me out a little bit coming downstairs the day after and everything being in its place. Normally, it's utter carnage in the kitchen the morning after!

The meal was delicious, beautifully presented, different and wowed my guests who had never experienced something like this in a home environment. 

Also, one of my friends did make a really good point in that at £39 per head, this was actually something we could occasionally club together for instead of going out as we do. It's more relaxed, no-one is making you feel your time is up, you can discard heels and belts with gay abandon, and to be honest - £39 doesn't get you that far these days in terms of food and drink. It's also a smart idea for parents, those who can't get out so easily, or live in the absolute sticks. 

We had a lovely evening and were still at the table, bleary eyed well past carriage o'clock. I'm sold.

La Belle Assiette offer various chef packages from £39 up to Michelin Star grade experiences. Visit for more details.

I received this service without charge in exchange for an honest review.