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 labelleassiette.co.uk for more details.

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

EATCATION: Farmer, Butcher, Chef - Goodwood, Chichester


I've always been one for making dinner the event - I pity the "food is fuel" fools (I said that in a Mr T voice in my own head there). So escalating this into a compete eatcation is exactly how I like to spend my time. Not only do you have an afternoon of anticipation for the brilliant wining and dining ahead, but a whole weekend of it. With so many restaurants a little drive away from Brighton, and lets face it, no-one likes hefty taxi fees or turning down the good wine, an overnight visit is the perfect solution.

With bags packed with my favourite dining jumpsuit (no waistband - I'm a professional) I headed down to Goodwood to dine at the Estate's Farmer, Butcher, Chef Restaurant.

Few restaurants can boast that their customers will travel further than their food, but Farmer, Butcher, Chef is almost unique in its claim. Part of the Goodwood Estate, the land has been farmed by the family for over three hundred years and is one of the only self-sustaining organic farms in Europe and the largest lowland organic farm in the UK. The Richmond family were certainly interested in organic before it became a mainstream concern.

The Estate's soil is mainly free draining chalk, which is ideal for the barley used to brew their own ale and lager (I've tried it, and darn good it is too) and for the grazing of the Southdown sheep and Sussex cattle along with clovers, oats and wheat. There are also a herd of 200 Dairy Shorthorns and mix breed pigs.

But it doesn't stop there; The organic milk is made into cheese in their own Cheese Room and meat is butchered onsite by their own Master Butchers. Unsurprisingly then, the produce and farm boast a plethora of accolades and awards to make the trophy cabinet collapse under the weight...you get the point. It's the real deal. 



The interior is a triumph - by designer Cindy Leveson who's work can be seen around the estate, resurrecting it tastefully for a modern take on tradition. In the restaurant, items found on the land; brass edged leather fire hoses, vintage farming equipment, ancient tools and other quirky trinkets from the past have been polished up and re-appropriated for a visual feast.

From my table I could see my bedroom for the night, a literal stones throw and a comforting thought as I ordered cocktails in sky high heels. Wine list? Sure, I'll take a look at that.

You quickly get the point that proper food is at the heart of this restaurant. Bread arrives in wonderful slabs, not bijoux rolls, and is served with beef dripping butter. 




Starters were excellent; my crispy hens egg was clever - with a faux shell of fine herbed breadcrumbs and piquant chorizo and creamed corn. Delicious flavours that all belong together. The earthy offal of the Lamb Faggot was lightened with 
peas and samphire and a beautiful example of nose to tail, let's face it, it would be a crime to waste any of the produce here. 

There were plenty of delicious dishes on the mains to choose from, I'd have eaten all of them happily, but one of the Butcher's Boards (lamb, beef or pork) is a true showcase of the estate's meats. And you know you've made the right decision when your food arrives with it's own supporting trestle.


The berry-blush Beef Wellington was encased in fine pastry and the meat had so much depth of flavour with a vibrant green herb duxelle alternative. As well as the Wellington, the board boasted breadcrumbed crispy shin, a meltingly tender, glossy glazed brisket, thin strips of ox tongue with braised little gem (over blanched and a touch greasy - the only small negative) and beef dripping potatoes. We supplemented this generous quantity of food with Spiced Cauliflower and Almond and Dressed Heritage Tomatoes.

The recommended Sangiovese was ideal - enough spice to square up to the richness of the meat whilst being light enough for the balmy evening.

Any carnivore would be in absolute heaven here, as I was. The jumpsuit was tested to the limit as we devoured the whole lot. For £50, for two people, the board was also exceptional value for a meal of such quality and provenance.



The sharing Rhubarb and Ginger Baked Alaska is a must order, crown-like and surrounded by pretty pink rhubarb and hazelnut praline. I'm so happy to see this retro classic back on the menus, reworked for fine dining - dessert is a time for fun and this fits the bill. The ginger zing was happily present and a superb dessert to wake the palate up and enjoy on the hot summer evening. 


This was an exceptional meal and highlights the turn in style for dining that seems to be in the air. There seems to be a fatigue of overworked and fussy menus with even the likes of Marina O'Loughlin writing "This tortured style of cooking is starting to look old-fashioned and silly: the new wave of restaurant stars are perfecting dishes where a few flawless ingredients are allowed to shine like delicious beacons." The dishes at Farmer, Butcher, Chef are intervened where necessary, but not excessively, allowing the brilliant produce to shine through. Portions are hearty and for someone who dines out as much as I do, I was almost beside myself at being served a "proper" meal. You'll leave satisfied and happy.  

The Goodwood Hotel


I stayed at the adjoining Goodwood Hotel in one of the tastefully decorated suites, however these will be receiving attention to transform to make them even more special in the future. (I imagine they'll be planning on bringing them up to the more stylish levels of other areas of the Estate.) 

Bathrooms were large and stocked with REN products and the bed dwarfed little ol' me for a wonderful slumber. The room was also sprinkled with touches I've become accustomed to at Goodwood, like Montezuma chocolates and the weather report printed for the next day. A stay at the hotel also includes the use of the Healthclub so when I was not dining, I could be found earning calorie credits in the pool, and relaxing in the sauna, jacuzzi or the steam room or sunbathing on the terrace. I'd conveniently forgotten to pack my trainers for the well-equipped gym. 


Breakfast the next morning (did I mention I did 100 lengths of the pool?) was delicious. Sausages, bacon, cheese and milk are all sourced, again, directly from Home Farm on the Estate - the quality was outstanding.


The Goodwood Hotel offer dinner packages at Farmer, Butcher, Chef with breakfast starting from £160 for single occupancy, more details here.

I stayed and dined as a guest of Goodwood. Words and thought, as always, my own. 

REVIEW: Sugardough, Market Street, Brighton


"Give your throat a vacation..Smoke a fresh cigarette!" "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” Wow! We now look back at these adverts from the 40s in wild disbelief, where medical professionals are actively promoting smoking as a health benefit. How utterly bonkers consumers must have been, hacking up their guts yet happily puffing away through it.

But this is how I like to think we will look back on the anti-bread era we seem to be stuck in. I overheard a group of teen lads in the supermarket banging on about avoiding the big G too; "Nah mate, can't eat that, I've had two slices of bread today."...What? You can't put a pair of socks on, yet you know your precise carbohydrate consumption for the day? What is this World?


Firmly avoiding any of that balderdash* is Sugardough, emporium of glorious gluten, mecca of the carb. The window displays are lined with luscious loaves, perfect pastries and the cabinets contain the cakes of dreams. From the central bustle of Brighton you are transported into what feels like a French patisserie; bentwood chairs, silverware, vintage bakeware line the walls and an Amelié-esque soundtrack plays in the background.

From their popular bakery in Hove, where the magic happens, the Market Street branch was a place to sit and enjoy their efforts. What I didn't realise is that they offer more than pastries and tea with a full menu of brunch, lunch and treats, plus brunch cocktails.

I cancelled my coffee when I saw the iced drinks, I love a golden mylk (I'm convinced by the claims, ironically) so opted for the *deep breath* iced coconut milk turmeric flat white. It was delicious and I enjoyed it despite Rosie rolling her eyes at me the entire time. What can I say, Brighton got to me...hard.

There are some lovely teas, proper hot chocolate with house made marshmallows, natural soft drinks or if you need something stronger, wines and a short cocktail list. The latter, being the weekend, I chased my golden mylk with. Balance innit? My mimosa, with freshly squeezed orange juice, was a welcome perk up. There's a Cherry Bakewell with kirsch, amaretto and prosecco or an espresso martini. All of which perfect brunch or cake partners. 

The menu is served from 8am-5pm everyday starting with a pretty sounding confetti bircher, French toast, croques and of course pastries.


I chose the Turkish cilbir eggs, a dish of soft poached eggs, garlic yoghurt and an insane amount of beurre noisette, warmed with chilli. Exotic dippy eggs, if you like. To mop up the butter and yolks was sourdough toast filled with teeny chopped confit tomato and red onion. This was supposed to be served with brioche but was delicious none the less. Such a refreshingly different brunch choice and worth the order, although next time I'd love a bigger hit of spice.


If you're venturing into the lunch side of things there are some great sounding dishes, which are an interesting cultural mash up; smokey aubergine with greek skoldalia and Jerusalem classic a'ja bread fritters or roast cauliflower and chickpeas with pea humus sprinkled with Egyptian dukkah. I saw the posh ploughmans which looked a treat, but Rosie settled for a Burrata with spiced, roast butternut squash, fried sage, brown butter and sourdough toasts - simple, classic and a lovely thing to eat.



Even if you just order toast and marmalade, which is hand made here, it arrives in a beautiful cut glass bowl. So much nicer than the sugary shop bought kind, they've even made the staple basic breakfast a delicacy along with generous slices of the house sourdough bread which will have been freshly baked by baker-owner Kane McDowell.



Of course it would be crazy not to dive into the cake cabinet whilst here and it's like choosing between Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds, for goodness sake. Each impeccably decorated, glossy and enticing, it's a hard task to decide.


After much agonising I opted for a classic lemon meringue tart, which had it all and the impressive, peaks were beautifully torched. 

I completely underestimated Sugardough's food offering here. Everything is lovingly made, touches to both the food and interior made with a very keen eye that comes only with a family-run business. I struggle to think of anywhere in the city quite like it. Leave the carb bashing to Instagram and tuck in I say.



NEWS: There's also more to love about Sugardough. They have just been approved to deliver a new craft bakery apprenticeship from this September in partnership with Plumpton College. 


“We’re genuinely excited about this apprenticeship and getting more people properly trained in the artisan end of the market,” says Sugardough’s Kane McDowell. “Apprentices will learn the art of baking from scratch, and largely by hand, which fits in perfectly with what Sugardough is about. There’s currently nothing like this scheme in the area, and fundamentally it’s really important for the sustainability of independent, traditional bakeries like Sugardough.”



Sugardough
18 Market Street, The Lanes
Also at: 5 Victoria Terrace, Hove

I dined as a guest of Sugardough. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.
*Yes, I know some are genuinely gluten intolerant, but come on, the dietary requirement has been glorified for the masses. 

REVIEW: The Ivy in the Lanes, Brighton


Good God, and you thought I got worked up about the interior design of restaurants (and one dear friend even told me to cool my sexy tile obsession in reviews). But the social feeds have been pumping out screaming admiration for the arrival of Brighton's The Ivy branch.


Sat here, I have to say it's rather hard to compose myself, you don't know where to look. My heart is beating and I want to drink it in, it's an interior triumph of botanical, gilded, colourfulness in all of its elegant campness. Like the couture version of Margarita Pracatan has exploded on the walls, but in a good way. And if there was ever a toilet to be celebrated, then this is it. I can't vouch for the gents, but the ladies powder room, containing eight camera happy lifestyle bloggers at any given time, is something else. A circular, blush banquette sofa sits in the middle with gleaming tiles, oriental gold leaf walls, small pouffes in jewel colours on which to sit and touch up make up. Each WC has a pink marble sink for company. There is nothing like it in Brighton, nothing.

What? Sorry, you want to hear about the food?  Right then...

The Ivy is a handy all-day catch all, starting with breakfast and brunch which I will most certainly be returning for, but what's a review of fancy scrambled eggs going to tell you?

Afternoon tea here would also be a perfect treat, a gorgeous event to do with a gaggle of girlfriends or your dear mum. And at almost half the price of The Grand too. Did I mention the gold, geometric chandeliers?

But dinner is where you can really try out the cooking, and the surprisingly reasonable prices continue here as well.

The menu itself is vast, with a crowd pleasing mash up of dishes; simple, classics like prawn cocktails, duck liver parfait, smoked salmon, fish & chips, steaks and burgers to influences from India, Italy and Japan.


We started with truffle arancini and spiced olives to settle in with our cocktails (which were excellent and with Matt Ottley, former bar manager of The Salt Room taking control, they would be). Served in a silver bowl and lovingly wrapped in a cloth napkin, the arancini were nicely made, their bijoux size taking a little of the natural softness and squidginess away from them, and as ever, I could have done with a bigger hit of truffle, but they were perfect to nibble on whilst navigating the vast menu.



A good start was the delicate tuna carpaccio; topped with tomato, watermelon and an Eastern twist with ponzu dressing and sesame. My crispy duck salad had plenty of textural interest, toasted cashews, watermelon and paper thin mouli slices. I would say that reheated fatty meats like this suffer in flavour, particularly duck which can take on a pungency, as this did.


For mains, I chose a blackened cod; sticky, sweet and succulent, sat on top of the banana leaf it was baked in and I enjoyed a lot. It was simply served with half of a lightly blanched pal choi and yuzu mayo. I probably should have taken up the offer of a side of something starchy for a more filling dinner but that was my fault entirely for not heeding the waitress' advice.


The special was a juicy swordfish steak, cooked with the merest kiss of heat served with chimichurri and romanesco sauces, and a substantial fregola salad. This was tailored to a dairy free diet and I would say staff swerved that issue effortlessly, checking with the kitchen and being particularly attentive in suggesting options.


Desserts again generally favour the classics; Crème brûlée, apple tart, panna cotta. Although the flourless cappuccino cake or the cheese are more my bag to end a meal, I took the offer to try the Ivy statement dessert - a chocolate bombe. A perfect spherical chocolate shell arrived which was filled with vanilla ice-cream and honeycomb onto which hot salted caramel sauce is poured. (Expect around 600 Instagram boomerangs of this to appear on your feeds by next month.) For me too rich, too sweet, too much and I think there was popping candy thrown in for good measure, but hey, I'm in the minority with my lack of enthusiasm for chocolate desserts. Order it, you'll love it I'm sure.


The bottle of chablis was elegant and light, and a good choice for the food but the cocktail menu was too good to leave without one for the road. Laughing in the face of health and safety, my Pavilion Passion contained a passion fruit shell filled with overproof rum (that's means bastard strong to you and me) which was set fire to at the table with some theatre. No velveteen sofas were harmed, thankfully.

Yes, The Ivy is a chain, and yes in Brighton we get sniffy about it all but the venue is the enormous site the old post Office in Ship Street used to be. The rates would have been hair raising and prohibitive to our darling indies. Half the people will be quick to judge this as a vacuous tart of a restaurant whilst the other half will be happy enough taking selfies in the loo (guilteee) and fawning over the decor. And it could have been a TGI Fridays for goodness sake. Ain't no gold leaf and pink pouffes to be had with that brand people.

Is it the best food in town? No, not at all. The creative quality of the city's food will continue to rise in our outstanding independents. But there's nothing wrong with the paired back simplicity of it all here and you will eat well. Would I come back? Absolutely. For brunch, tea, lunch, dinner and cocktails; hell, maybe all in one day. This is very much the experience end of the dining scale where great drinks, smart staff and beautiful surroundings make the visit as much as you grilled half lobster or French dip steak sarnie. Diversity is what makes this place Brighton. The Ivy has its place and feels very much at home here. Darling, it's fabulous.


The Ivy in the Lanes
51a Ship Street,
Brighton
BN1 1AF

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

Exploring the Goodwood Estate

As I fired the bullet from the Beretta, I had to acknowledge the fact that this blog has led me to some pretty unexpected situations. But here we all are.


Goodwood. To me, it was a fancy country house and a place that Chris Evans bangs on about A LOT. Something to do with really fast cars. In this instalment of Get Fran Out Of Brighton, I travelled down to discover this estate is far, far more than a riche playground for boys and their toys.

The Kennels

Beautifully ("beautiful" will be overused in this post) furnished and comfortably elegant, The Kennels is the central clubhouse for the estate's sporting members. But even if the idea of sport fills you with horror, social membership is available where you can work, rest, eat and drink. I was so surprised with the fee starting at just £180, which has plenty of additional benefits including access to some wonderful events. Had this been a shorter distance, I would have immediately snapped this up as my new office space, all with a view of Goodwood House, excellent food and a fine gin and tonic. More info.


Afternoon Tea

I think most people would be impressed with afternoon tea in the Goodwood House Ballroom. It's a sumptuous space, walls lined with an outstanding art collection and luxurious furnishings. Again, you'll be surprised with the price tag too; just £25 per person with a tour of the house included, making for a lovely gift and just as good as many others I've had a twice the cost. And it was a very good afternoon tea too with the freshest of finger sandwiches, crumbly scones and a delicious variety of jewel-like cakes. More info here.


Clay Pigeon shooting

I've always wanted to try this but was worried little ol' me couldn't quite handle the weight of the gun and I wouldn't say coordination was a strength of mine. However, following bacon sandwiches and a thorough briefing in the wood lodge, again furnished beautifully and so cosy, we were soon outside taking our first shots. Beginners need not be worried, everything was explained, techniques and tips given, and before long, most of us were hitting the clays, our delighted squeals echoing around the pit. The Beretta was actually quite easy to hold, lighter than expected and the kick back not too bad at all. I left very keen on shooting again, it really was great fun, made so by how good the tuition was. Tailored packages are available to suit beginners or seasoned pros, starting from £144pp. More info


Hound Lodge

I was slightly beside myself with a visit to Hound Lodge, an exquisite 10 bed property, formerly the dog kennels, that you can hire in its entirety for a cool £10,000 a night. However this includes a butler, maid and chef, your food and drink, which when you do the math on potentially 20 guests, isn't too bad at all. The attention to detail was impeccable, from the bedding stuffed with wool from the estate's sheep, to the fragrant floral arrangements in every single room. It had everything you could possibly want, including a fully stocked bar for the party of your life. I was very close to locking myself in the stunning master bathroom and refusing to come out. Book it here (and invite me).


Waterbeach Treatment Rooms

It was during my neck and back massage in the spa, I was mentally rebranding my entire blog to that of a lifestyle one. I could sure get used to this! The Elemis and Elemental Herbology products they use in their treatments are gorgeous.  Have a look at the treatments.



Personal Training

Goodwood Health Club is well equipped, modern and, as I was now expecting, came with the best of personal trainers. A year ago this would have probably had me running away but I have caught the fitness bug so it was a privilege to have been offered a training session with double Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ayton OBE. I've used PTs before and not new to weight training, but I particularly enjoyed the session; informative, effective and fun, as fitness should be, and Sarah was just lovely. I came away from even this first session with tips and exercises to incorporate into my routine. Along with the gym and PT sessions there is a programme of fitness classes, garden studio, a swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms. More info.

Horse Racing

Returning another day to Goodwood racecourse, I couldn't recall ever going to the races before, but had such a great time. It was the Festival of Food and Racing with a farmer's market, cooking demos, a gin garden and plenty more. Having a combination day like this is ideal if you are new to it, and a smart way of introducing a new audience to the track, but any excuse to get dressed up and drink Pimms in the sun will get my vote. There are upcoming racing events that merge with hops, music and family fun. And not all at once.  See the race day events for this year here.


It's nice to leave wanting to spend more time in a place; there's clearly a lot to do and enjoy on the estate, even more than I had seen or experienced and just an hour from Brighton. Flying packages, motor racing, golfing and their famous events like Goodwood Revival and The Festival of Speed. It sure is a playground for all.

And I'll be returning soon to dine in their truly sustainable restaurant Farmer, Butcher, Chef which uses produce from their self-sustaining farm.

Sigh, glorious, glorious Goodwood indeed.

Visit goodwood.com for upcoming events and memberships.

I attended as a guest of Goodwood. Words and thoughts, as always, my own. 

REVIEW: The Urchin pub, Brighton and Hove


The Urchin has been on my radar a while, with their unique shellfish based menu (for a pub around these parts) and a brilliant selection of craft beer. I've probably not yet been because there's enough to keep me busy east of Palmeira Square these days, I've got a lot on my plate, literally. However, I'm really interested in the alternative Sunday roast. As lovely as a classic roast is, we're seeing more options cropping up the city's pubs and the former isn't something I would dine out for, seeing is very much as a family meal at home. There are people doing the roast so well here, and there is of course a huge demand still, but variety is the spice and all.

The Urchin serve up an impressive looking paella on the Sunday and that's enough for me to foot the 3.5 mile walk in the sunshine to work an appetite up for.



It is particularly gorgeous for a pub. Muted greys and a contemporary nautical influence all around, it feels very much at home here by the sea and has a lovely garden area. You'll see the enormous selection of craft beer by the bar, thoughtfully placed where you can grab the bottles and have a good look before deciding.



For me my visit was the day after the one before so some bloody Marys were in order, swiftly followed by rock oysters and salt and pepper squid, cut on the long side. This gave great mouth feel (I still have not found a better way to describe that, it makes me cringe) rather than biting into rings. Regardless, the squid was tender and the coating perfectly crisp.



My wibbly scallops along with the coral, served simply with lemon and chives made them a masterpiece of themselves. Normally, I shy away from the coral, I actually don't like the gnarly end of seafood in general, but I ate the lot, cooked so the texture was perfect and the butter and citrus enhanced the clean sweetness of hero ingredient.

I also appreciated a decent portion of bread, from our wonderful Flour Pot Bakery, served in large wedges with either balsamic and oil or butter.



Onto the main show though, the paella, was a visual treat, uncovered at the table for a bit of theatre. Under the foil hid a colourful display of king prawns, mussels and cleverly, the tips of the squid, which looked lovely and a smart avoidance of food waste. The rice had the ideal bite and for me, the essential bit of a paella is the crisp edges, which luckily, this didn't lack. I would have like a little more piquant hit from smoked paprika and wedges of lemon to pep up the dish but minor points, it was still very enjoyable. The prawns were juicy and meaty; glorious to shell and get stuck in with. The sun was shining and this could not have been a more perfect dish for the day.

For desserts there is just a cheese board and a posset and they don't seem to "do" dessert here. No matter as this was one leg of a Hove food safari for me but you could end the meal with a dessert beer I'm sure they'd have like a rich, chocolatey porter.



Although, I'd come here specifically for the paella, the specials board read like a treat; langoustine ramen, goan style prawns, whole lobster and everyone around me seemed to be tucking into bowls of crab claw, prawn and chorizo gumbo eliciting a hard pang of food envy from me. Clearly I need to return to make a bigger dent in the menu.

The Urchin is a stylish pub but one with real substance in its catalogue of interesting beers and staying true to their vision with the food, rather than falling victim to the pub catch-all menu.



The Urchin
15-17 Belfast Street
Hove 
BN3 3YS

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

REVIEW: Côte Brasserie, Lewes


Ah, the chains, the chains. Nothing seems to divide diners more. (Brighton Taco Bell gate, I'm looking at you.) Although I do tend to stick to the indies, I've made no secret for my love of Côte. The Brighton branch is a particular gem, housed in the most beautiful, lofty building that used to be a music library (and yeah, I'm old enough to remember it being open). But made all the more splendid with Cote's signature interior of brass rails, gold leaf, generous booths, good lighting and bistro style seating.



I popped up to Lewes to visit the new branch, and it seems they have an eye for feature buildings. Formerly a bank, a few of the original mouldings seem to be in tact and the Côte design has translated beautifully. But a restaurant, chain or not, can't survive on sexy tiles alone. I've always loved the accessible, classic French Brasserie food here; char grilled chicken, nicoise salads, beef bourguigon and of course, steak frites. Uncomplicated, refined comfort food in a decent setting with great service and sensible pricing. What's not to like?

There's a certain comfort in the chains too, we are all but creatures of habit at heart, particularly with food, and maybe once you've had kids, parents tend to gravitate to them. They offer a safe haven where you won't be judged (not to your face anyway) by some haughty waiter as one of your kids shoves a green bean up their nose or gets hangry 0.25 seconds after taking their seat. You know they'll be good baby changing facilities, high chairs and that the kids will be catered for well, all with an air of slight anonymity so that if it all does go wonky, you won't be barred for life. Now there is a market for Pizza Hut, Maccy Ds and the like, but it's not food I want to eat, or, in honestly, food I want my kids to eat. And they don't. After a golden arch party, my 6 year old asked if I was going to cook him a proper meal when we got home. And that's not intended as a snobby remark, each to their own, I just want to transfer the food and restaurant culture I've had onward which seems to have weaved its way in. My two appreciate dining out, being allowed to choose from the menu and are quite happy sitting at a table for a couple of hours, so I want to take them to a place I want to eat in too. The independent restaurants are cottoning on too, I'm seeing less chips and sausages and more of a focus on tailored, simpler dishes which still suit the main menu, some of them even go as far to offer the children's meal for free with a paying adult.

For a chain, Côte fits my bill perfectly for dining with children - there's a good choice for them, and I don't have to eat doughballs. Win win. This was never intended to be a review for dining with kids, in fact, I've eaten at this chain plenty of times and never brought them with me before, but here we all find ourselves. If you haven't got little ones, this is of course still a good choice and don't worry, the restaurant isn't overrun with them either. (I get you, I couldn't stand them before I had my own!)



We started with a nice variety of charcuterie; tender smoked duck breast, well seasoned saucisson and jambon de Savoie. There was chunky char grilled bread to slather duck rilettes on. The mixed leaf salad, such an overlooked accoutrement was piquant with pickles and shallots, ideal for the meats.



Calimari is a must-order for us, here tender and coated in crisp panko breadcrumbs with enough garlic to make you uneasy about kissing for the rest of the day. With wedges of lemon and a decent tartare, they challenged our family bond as we all scrabbled for our fair share.

I know the steak frites are good here, it's my staple order but forced myself to order something else and it didn't disappoint. The sweetness of my roast seabass was enhanced with huge hunks of braised fennel and a silky buerre blanc, dotted with tomato concasse (fancy for peeled and neatly chopped). Again, this dish is exactly why I like the place; tasty bistro food to enjoy with a decent glass of wine. There's a time and a place for thought provoking, creative food, but more often than not we want to get stuck in and savour. No one in their right mind would order Sound of The Sea for their death row meal now would they?



On the other side of the table the kids were tucking into smaller portions of char grilled Breton chicken and fish goujons, green beans and those perfectly thin and crisp frites. Yes, this is middle class fish fingers and chicken and chips but done well with quality ingredients and food I feel good about them eating. My 3 year old gave the waitress a thumbs up when asked if all was ok with the meal, so clearly went down well for all. I'll work on the child's manners next.



Desserts looked to the French classics too; chocolate fondants and mousse, apple or lemon tarts, crepes, and creme brûlée. Sadly feeling far too full for any of that, and looking longingly at the pain perdu special, I had the lighter option of frozen berries with warm white chocolate which was delineate but a sweet punctuation to a good meal.

Naturally, individual scoops of chocolate ice cream followed for the kids, I'm not a complete killjoy.

I often wondered if I like Côte so much as I have a real love for the stylish environment and building of the restaurant in Brighton but no, the food is always predictably enjoyable. Catching up with some Lewes friends after in the nearby Southover Grange Gardens (I bloody love a formal garden) they said the chain had been well received locally and was often bustling. I've always perceived Lewes residents to be a tough crowd and fiercely indie (I've read the Lewes Forum - crikey) so it speaks volumes that this branch is clearly at home here.



Côte Brasserie
82 High St
Lewes BN7 1XW

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