REVIEW: Tlaloc Mexican Cuisine, Brighton


What’s in a name? For the absolute bejesus of me I couldn’t remember the name of this place that I’d fleeting seen on the feeds…finally some exciting, fresh and inspired Mexican food in Brighton…sign ME UP.  Yeah, sure Rosie (forever my dining partner of choice) I’ll book a table. Ok, so a pop up with no permanent address…Err…started with an "L" right? Lock, Lalock..no "T"...Tock, Twock, Taock...shout out to Instagram’s frankly useless search facility…rummaging in my followers list I finally found them - Tlaloc. 

But this really is a name that serious diners in Brighton should know; as an aside, I could launch into a good 2000 words on the importance of business naming but I’ll save that little rant to launch my upcoming branding blog that this little adventure has inspired. Cock-headed I listened to the reasoning behind this from one of the founders after my meal…ready? Tlaloc is the God of rain. It rains a lot in England, hence the name. Thank goodness I had a good couple of margaritas in me to switch me into full off duty mode or we would have had a situation on our hands with the full force of my expressive Italian hand gestures thrown in for good measure. Make it easy for people to find your business, folks.

Tlaloc has been at its temporary, evening home in Oseta Cafe on North Road for 10 months which is far longer than I thought having only recently come across it. There seems to have been just a small murmur of interest behind it, which is building up and I’ve seen more of the people that influence me sharing it. 


One of the highlight points seemed to be that they serve the best margarita in town and I can certainly vouch for that. The Hibiscus Margarita is an essential order; tart, zingy with a ferocious heat from the salt and chilli rim, softened with the sweetness from the fruitiness of the flower. But don’t stop there; there are plenty more to choose from on the menu and are perfect to knock back with the food. 

Oh and the food…there are three starters and I suggest you order them all. Sikil P’ak, a Mayan pumpkin seed dip makes for a great intro. Sweet, deep, smokey and ideal to get stuck in with the homemade tortillas. Aguachile of the day, Mexico’s answer to ceviche, was with prawns, perfectly prepared with delicate fine textures, heat, sweetness. The aerated citrus foam didn't bring much to the party and this isn’t a dish for everyone. Raw fish isn’t generally for me but Rosie, who eats it with the enthusiasm of a hungry seal, convinced me that if this is your thing, then you'll be wanting it sharpish. 


You are invited to suck the heads of the prawns in the Camarones con alioli negro dish, and had they not been overcooked would have rewarded in a bit of tasty gruesome that gourmands relish.  The saline squid ink alioli brought the drama, the ink adding richness to the dish.

Don’t skip the tacos that form a good chunk of the mains. Vegans are well catered for here and I was almost tempted away, but damn, the octopus taco. Visually beautiful, the tentacle wrapping round the taco like it was meant to be. “Al Pastor” should include pineapple which you wouldn’t notice but maybe it was there amongst the other, perfectly harmonious flavours. Wickedly hot, you will want to eat this. Just not in front of a first date. 


On a par with this was the quesadilla de birria; super succulent, melting, pulled goat with just so much smoke and a deep, deep gravy. The fresh, zesty flavours that contrast this, the essence of which makes Mexican food so invigorating, were there in spades along with the delicious squish and crunch of it all. 

Interestingly, you’ll find a slight refinement to the food which I imagine comes from the care and love of the people behind it. Luckily it is not distracting, other than the unnecessary foam that features here and there. This food really doesn't need these flourishes though, it can stand up without it. 

As I said, the set up is currently untraditional in a cafe by day, the loos through the kitchen into what seems like a long forgotten set for Rising Damp (so terribly Brighton) with faded floral wallpaper and yellowed paintwork that hasn't seen a paintbrush since 1972. But this is, by far, the most noteworthy Mexican food I have eaten in Brighton. If ever a place deserved a permanent home in this city this is it. I hope they succeed, and will be a name, even as difficult to pronounce and remember as it is, that will be on everyone's lips.

Meal for two with service and four cocktails £70.

Tlaloc
Facebook page
Currently at:
Oseta Cafe
34 North Road
Brighton

REVIEW: Easy Tiger, Brighton


Easy Tiger is one of Brighton's latest successful pub kitchen pop ups, and we have quite a few to choose from to be honest. I don't think any Brightonian will put up with your average pub grub any more; we're spoilt rotten and the only way is up - eradicating every frozen chicken goujon in the city by 2025.

Still, I have to say it does take a bit to drag me from the dining comfort of restaurants, old woman I am. But headed up by chef Kanthi Kiran Thamma this is one to take particular note of. Kanthi, formerly of Curry Leaf Cafe, is quite possibly one of the most passionate chefs for all things Indian you'll ever meet. The man practically levitates when talking his craft, even orchestrating his own chef-led food tour, The Spice Circuit.

The Hampton has had a full makeover from the same team behind the successful The Pond. A superb selection of small brewery beers, cool interiors, great design (the murals by See Creatures are ridiculously brilliant) and really good food. If you haven't had the bao buns at The Pond, where the hell have you been? Their eye for creating modern pubs for the modern market and demands, whilst retaining an authenticity of what the pub stands for is unparallelled. 

Easy Tiger food is inspired by street food and rustic dishes served in southern Indian Toddy Shops - bars selling fermented coconut palm sap and brutally hot food to encourage more drinking. But all we know is that spicy food and beer go hand in hand and the menu has been tailored for the pub environment very well. With no coconut palm sap on offer (actually I didn't check) a pint of local Burning Sky Arise did the trick nicely.



You could easily just upscale your pub snacks here with some marsala chips or Peanut Pakodi - fried peanuts in a spiced batter or there are some filled Ceylon parotta (an Indian style wrap) that would make an ideal lunch on the fly.



A toss up between the KFC (Keralan Fried Chicken) was the Tandoori Tangdi which didn't disappoint. Grilled pieces of tandoori spiced marinated chicken leg had a coating so crisp, that I'm surprised it wasn't fried. There was an optimum level of heat for the spice layers to come through which is the smart way to do spicy. This was excellent chicken to maybe rival Bincho Yakatori for the best in town.

Really enjoyable was the Gobi Manchurian, a dish of cauliflower pieces in a light batter, deep fried and slathered in a soy, ginger, garlic, and chilli sauce. If you thought cauliflower was boring, you haven't tried this.


Of the big dishes, a vegan Biriyani or Keralan vegetable stew are your bets, but for the meat eaters there's Jaffna Lamb Curry, inspired by Kanthi's trip to Sri Lanka. The Jaffna spice mix lends itself to rich, deep favours; coriander and cumin seeds form the base with sweet notes from cinnamon and cardamon, absolutely perfect with the slow-cooked lamb. You can order rice but this came with Malabar parathas, another Indian flat bread, pineapple chutney and a sour raita.



They don't over-look the details here. The pickles, chutneys and accompaniments really make the dishes, not least when ordering poppadoms - worth ordering for the mango and coriander and pea, mint and coconut chutneys alone.

The food was unquestionably good, my only negative was that foods were served on environmentally friendly plates and bowls made from some sort of plant or leaf. Pretty and far from the common paper plate, but they started to go soggy toward the end of the meal. Also, is there anything more environmentally friendly than washing up the damn plate? 

Still, the menu offers so much more that I want to try and if you're bored of the traditional pub Sunday roast, then this is just the ticket.



Easy Tiger Brighton
Easy Tiger at The Hampton
57 Upper North Street
Brighton BN1 3FH

REVIEW: Purezza Pizzeria, Brighton


What’s good about pizza? Ooozing creamy buffalo mozzarella, affettati like salami, prosciutto and everyone’s favourite sausage du jour n’duja…but Purezza offer none of that, being a 100% plant-based pizzeria, the first in the UK none the less.



For all the many, many pizzas I’ve eaten in my time, the menu here is unlike any other pizzeria I’ve been to. They even make their own cheese alternatives, headlined by the all important mozzarella. Their version is made, somehow, with Italian brown rice. I tried to read up about it, something to do with rice sprouts to make rice milk..micronutrients..animoacids…blah, blah, blah. But does it taste good? It actually takes ok. I wouldn’t want to eat a block of it but melted on the pizza it was just fine and I bet most people wouldn’t even notice the difference.

The bases, it has to be said, are phenomenal. Although you can go for a Sussex-grown hemp flour base (could this be any more Brighton) or gluten free, I stayed safe with the traditional wholegrain sourdough. Beautifully crafted, super light, fluffy and pillowy, the base really was one of the best I’ve had. The cornicione was enormous but fully cooked and airy, you would easily eat the lot and not feel over-full.

Topping choices have been well considered, the Margherita and Marinara the only instantly recognisable ones amid some really interesting ideas. A good mix of both white and red sauce bases are on offer and only half have alternative meats on them although they can be added as an option.



The Green Supreme that I finally chose is just a reinvention of a classic friarielli (broccoli/spinach hybrid) and spicy sausage pizza I know and love. This being vegan the sausage was some sort of alternative meat and truthfully, I did miss the texture and taste of the real deal a little, but the combination with the mozzarella and bagfuls of spice from the chillis it was a great eat.



The slice from the other side of the table, a Season 4 Pizza 1 with mozzarella, artichokes, kalamata olives, beautiful trumpet wild mushrooms and a smoked beetroot carpaccio was also delicious. Sweet, piquant and well balanced and actually, a picturesque pizza if I ever saw one.

Not all the toppings work, on a separate visit I tried the Telling Porkies with marinated pulled BBQ pieces which I found dessert-like sweet, and truffle head I am, had great expectations of the Here Comes Truffle. This was fine, if slightly too earthy and muddy, and the generous wild mushrooms on top actually made it a tad sloppy.

For all the grown up Dominos weirdos out there that like dips for their crust, there are plenty to choose from including some interesting options like banana ketchup. This was so bizarre I had to try it, definitely a Marmite-love-or-hate thing, it wasn’t for me with the sweetness, but my dining pal happily polished off the lot.

Again sides are not something I order with pizza but looking round the restaurant I know I’m outnumbered on this too with diners supplementing their carbs with carbs (I always empathise with the chef in the film Big Night on this) with pots of mac’n’cheese, dough balls or getting their greens in with a salad or courgetti dish. 

The wine list is ideal for pizza with a line up of the Italian classics but there are good fresh cold-pressed juices and soft drinks available. I also noticed diners knocking back cocktails with their pizza. Why the hell not, eh?



Desserts are a vegan and gluten-free choice dream, with Purezza’s take on tiramisu, Lemon cheesecake, gelato and even an Oreo pizza. The "tiramisu" was a slop of cashew cream and a single cheesecake style base that was lost on me - texturally and taste-wise. I am just not able to smash a dessert pizza after a pizza meal, so I found the oreo pizza stodgy and sickly - but give me a coffee and a slice of this mid-afternoon and I'm all in. However, the salted caramel brownie was rich and fudgy. A perfect semi-sweet note to end on.

Service was very good, fun and friendly. There naturally needs to be a bit more explaining with some of the foods served here and staff are well versed on the menu. You can’t book for two but I suggest putting your name down and heading over the road to La Mucca Nera gelateria for an aperitif.



The restaurant itself is now beautiful and on-brand. I remember when it opened with school-caff seating and scratchy plastic tables that didn’t get the ethos of the food across at all. Luckily that was skipped in favour of natural wood, warm lighting with a little industrial edge and the pizza oven in pride of place.

Worth noting is that kids eat free with each paying adult and I’ll definitely return with my pizza mad mini crew in tow.

I dined with my die-hard Vegan friend who raves about this restaurant and the fact that it is packed to the rafters on most days, lunch and dinner, is a clear sign they are doing it right. Whatever your diet, and this is a particularly good choice for those that are meat, dairy or gluten-free, there’s plenty to love about Purezza. 

Purezza
12 St James's Street
Brighton BN2 1RE 

also at 43 Parkway
Camden Town
London NW1 7PN

REVIEW: Lucky Khao, Brighton


Lucky Khao is the evening offering in the Instagram worthy Red Roaster cafe, having taken over from Pike and Pine. In place of edgy fine dining you'll now find more casual, vibrant Northern Thai Barbecue. Although, the concept does fit a little better with the eclectic location I expect it will still need to work hard to attract diners to that neck of the woods and appease the uncomfortable feeling of a day/night cafe/restaurant hybrid venue. The awkward, slightly wonky, bolted on neon signage to the front isn't the best first impression.

However, once inside, the beautifully designed menu (massive back pat for the person putting together the intricate dietary matrix on the back) makes for hard choosing to be honest; there sure is  plenty to crave on it.



Mike's Party Wings certainly brought it. Sticky, sweet, messy and succulent chicken wings that you have no option to get down and dirty with. The caramelised fish sauce coating really is the one.



The Som Tam salad is big slap across the head of heat and flavour and comes with a necessary menu and verbal warning. This is a classic Thai green papaya salad, refreshing, pungent, crunchy, sour, a little sweet but brutally hot. Occasionally this dish can arrive limp and soggy but not here. I loved this and it's a must order.



Another good one were the mussels in a deep, fragrant, warming coconut broth. Lemongrass, citrus, fresh herbs, garlic and kaffir zing out of the broth and the mussels were plump and luscious.

It was a shame the crab salad had lots of irritating bits of shell in. You had to crunch your way through the whole thing so you missed the textural benefit of any sweet, soft pieces of crab meat. Overall this lacked the punch and depth of the other dishes however the egg on top was a nice touch with a perfect yolk and fine crisp casing.



Slap bang in the middle of the menu, highlighted in red and just shy of £10, was the Northern Thai BBQ Chicken, dressed up to feel like the headline act. Sad to say it failed to excite, not having that deep smoke or tenderness I expected. And unless I had been desensitised by this point, the spicy jaew sauce could have had more pout. 

The Drunken Noodles sadly had to be returned, charred fresh fire noodles sound like the most exciting noodles on the planet but arrived woefully overcooked and claggy enough to sort out my dodgy garden walls with. Such a shame as the dish boasted the meatiest of prawns, chunks of shredded smoky pork and big, fat seared scallops. 

Talking of drunk, there is a good list of sharing cocktails pitchers to wash down the spice with. Having had a big evening the night before, the Thai Bloody Mary made me feel right as rain again but I wasn't in the capacity to make a decent dent in the rest. I'll leave the Khao San Bowl, that's a whole bowl of Jagermeister, to the rest of you to dive into. 

As you can see this is small plate sharing style - restaurant speak for "you're potentially going to rack up a massive bill". Diners are encouraged to select six dishes amongst two and although most of the menu is well priced, a few dishes are about £2-3 too keen in reality. £16 for three chops? I know goat is pricey but that's post Brexit level. However, they do offer a 33% discount on Friday and Saturday from 4pm - 7pm which makes for an exceptional deal.

The environment is as loud as the flavours here, if you want a quiet meal, this ain't it. Music is pumping to the point where even the waitress had to yell a bit, but it works with the youth vibe and the food. The neon signs, letterboard menus and head chef Luke Larsson's trademark green mohawk zipping across the open kitchen add the edge. And if you don't like racing spice or are due to be kissing someone new after, this isn't the restaurant for you either. But where we have more dining choice than ever in Brighton, I admire their effort to be putting out something different and there certainly is a place for it here.


Lucky Khao really does have the potential to be very good and the style of food on offer here is very appealing. The strong start shows the level of great cooking possible but such a shame the last few dishes let the meal down. Also, a few of the menu items are the wrong style to share, or awkward with the BBQ dishes, like the curries, so you probably need two visits to do it justice. Saying that, would I return for them? Probably.



https://luckykhao.com
Red Roaster
St James’s Street
Brighton

REVIEW: Gars, Brighton


Respect to the restaurants that weather the decades, rent rises and diner demands and fashions. Gars is one of the few still going strong after such a long stretch, opening in '83. In fact, I remember one of my very first dates there (shout out to Jim) where faced with a bowl of exotic-for-me-at-the-time lychees, I downed the lot, stone and all, to avoid admitting I had no idea what they were - eyeballs? Shows how far I'm willing to go to impress I suppose. Lucky for me, the spiky skins had been removed. As I said, it was a LONG time ago.

Gars is has some Asian fusion influence to the menu and has more Anglo appeal than some of the other Chinese restaurants in town, so depending on how gung ho you are with a menu, may be more to your taste. I'd like to think we are more adventurous as diners but am sad to hear it when great dishes like the incredible Iberia Pork Presa at Pabellón recently was removed as diners couldn't get their head around pork being served pink. Me? I'm happy to throw a dart at one and if it lands on the duck tongue dish, bring it on. Most of the dishes here though you'll be familiar with; chicken satay, Wonton soup, sizzling meat dishes and fried shredded beef.


Prawn toast an inch thick was the best I've had. Soft, squidgy and crisp at the same time and their enthusiasm for BIG didn't wane throughout the starters; the fleshy, meaty garlic prawns struggled to fit on the plate and the pork ribs in a sticky Peking-style bbq sauce were Flintstone-esque. Best of this good bunch was a soft shell crab in a light batter and enough firery pepper to wake you up from a minor coma. In a good way.


A self imposed rule I have is to never to order the same dish when dining out but it's virtually impossible not to order the aromatic duck pancakes isn't it? Shredded tender meat, rendered of all that natural fat to make it juicy still, cucumbers, thinly sliced spring onion and paper thin pancakes. I loved them when I tried them as a kid and I love them just as much now. Hang on, let's go back to that paragraph about being adventurous shall we?


The table was then laden with Kung Pao prawns, sizzling steak in a black pepper sauce, Singapore noodles (actually a Cantonese creation) and egg fried rice to fill your boots with. A mix of heat, sweet, saucy, rich and spice that is heavenly to gorge yourself on.

Gars is a very modern Chinese in presentation, all bright, glossy finishes in black and red and I think there's a karaoke bar in the basement for when you've made a good dent in the sake.

The day time and dim sum menu is something also worth looking up; the stuffed crab claws, asparagus hot pot, pork dumpling soup, and the fashionable bao buns will certainly have me returning. If you want to try some of the more unusual or regional traditional dishes from this cuisine, with parts of animals that make most Western palates quiver, then there are places that cater for this in town. But if you have a craving for accessible Chinese food and need to scratch that itch, you can't go far wrong here.

Gars
19 Prince Albert Street
Brighton

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

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, sweetness...it 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.

Pabellón
13 Pavilion Buildings
Brighton
BN1 1EE

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 www.realpatisserie.co.uk for details and how to book.

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