NEWS: Brighton's Best Restaurant Awards 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Tropical Sushi, Brighton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tropical Sushi
12 Western Rd

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

NEWS: Sussex Food & Drink Awards 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Baby Bao at The Pond, Brighton

brisket bao bun at the Pond pub Brighton

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bo saam sharing platter at the Pond pub Brighton

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

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

Bo saam sharing platter at the pond pub Brighton

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

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

Blackberry milkshake IPA craft beer at the Pond Brighton

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

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

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

Baby Bao manu at The pond pub brighton

The Pond
49 Gloucester Rd

Follow Baby Bao @babybaouk

REVIEW: The Coal Shed, One Tower Bridge, London

A lot of people tell me I need to get out of Brighton to dine more to which I normally reply with a nonchalant shrug. Eating is so good in our little city now, why on Earth travel? But our beloved The Coal Shed restaurant has a new sister in London so I was interested to see how that would translate and if it would be one Brighton restaurant that would finally prove to be a success in the big smoke.

Positioned a stone's throw from London Bridge, it's a pretty walk by the river to the restaurant itself which sits in a very shiny new development that could be argued slick or soulless depending on which side of the style fence you sit. Certainly once more of the commercial units open, it will feel less isolated. Once behind the enormous glass doors, the interior is dark and sexy, with much of the feel of their other sibling, The Salt Rooms. This is exactly what modern steakhouses should look like and the intricate bespoke art commission in the private dining room is a particular jewel.

We started with a series of snacks. A great steak tartare served on a crisp artichoke skin and topped with a generous shaving of truffle will always get my vote as will juicy deep-fried, plump olives stuffed with Iberico ham.

I can't recall ever having beef tendon treated like the en vogue dehydrated then fried crackling popping up on chef snack plates everywhere. It works well with pork fat, all of the flavour with an interesting puffed up crispy texture, but I wasn't convinced it worked so well here.

The Orkney scallops were a delicate choice for starters, sat on celeriac discs and with a seaweed, tarragon and lemon sauce poured from a height at the table. Flavours were light and complementary to the sweetness of the scallops.

We were invited up as part of a blogger event so the main course was served as a selection of their sharing plates. The highlight was definitely the kilo of prime rib, blushing pink, succulent as it gets and two firm fingers up to Veganuary. Steak this good is a joy to chew, although you have to do very little of it, but you want to savour every second whilst thanking God he created you carnivore. So. Much. Flavour. And as with all decent steakhouses, cuts are sold by weight and there's plenty to choose from on the daily chalkboards.

Steak aside, there are some tempting alternatives on the menu. The great big hunk of fleshy monkfish was impressive, served with samphire and mussels in a kelp butter.

A jewelled, Moroccan inspired, smoked goat dish would also be worth your order; deep, rich and warmly spiced and served with zatar flat breads.

Sides are ordered separately; a decadent truffled mac and cheese, crisp and fluffy beef dripping chips and some glorious pickled onion rings are all perfect for the grilled courses. A wedge salad topped with chopped egg and crispy onions, cheesy creamed spinach and fine ribbons of dressed carrots all nicely treated. The only side that failed the mark was a mushroom rarebit, good in idea but congealed and dumpy.

Desserts all read well, and offered a great selection of chocolate, fruity and creamy; something for everyone. Perker than a Jean Paul Gaultier corset though, was the Baked Alaska. Dessert should be fun and this ticked all the boxes being a reinvented retro classic and set fire to at the table. We've seen it a million times, it's a bit of a gimmick, but setting dishes on fire at the table always, AWAYS, gets an "oooohhh!". One of the main reasons I chose this was the sea buckthorn element so I was shocked by the negative reaction from others that are not fans of it at all! But to me it's delicious; exotic, tartly citrus and worked beautifully here along with a strong punch from the Curaçao liqueur.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal here and the style, quality and ethos is still very much en famille with its siblings back in Brighton. This isn't my patch so it's difficult to know how it will fare but I imagine competition is fierce and diners are demanding in this neck of the woods. Saying that I struggle to see who could argue with a restaurant that honours quality, ingredient and finesse and does it very well with bags of style and confidence. What I particularly like about The Coal Shed and The Salt Room is that they know when to have fun or be clever with a dish and when to back away from a key ingredient and let it shine for what it is - and allowing the Josper charcoal grills do the work.

For a very Brighton-London collaboration, don't miss the 64 Degrees x The Coal Shed London event on 26th January. Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees will be creating a "Brighton Rocks" menu with The Coal Shed team featuring that amazing monkfish dish, Jerk Roasted Butternut Squash, 71 Day Dry Aged Rump of Longhorn Beef and Rum and Vanilla Coal Roasted Pineapple. More details here of this event.

The Coal Shed
One Tower Bridge
4 Crown Square
London SE1 2RZ

I dined as a guest of The Coal Shed London. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.

Brighton ethical food guide with Leisure Range Cookers

A little while back I had the pleasure of representing Brighton in a brilliant online guide about ethical eating in the UK for Leisure Range Cookers. I listed my favourite local independent shops, butchers, bakeries cafes and restaurants and as we all know, we are reasonably spoilt for choice in this city, lucky us!

They'll also soon be publishing my dinner party menu using produce from some of the places I featured including:
  • Seared scallops (Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales) with celeriac puree, truffle honey and apple
  • Lamb Stifado (South Downs Lamb from Bramptons Butchers) 
  • Espresso Pannacotta (Botanical Punk from Red Roaster)

But as the festive season approaches, how about supporting some of the independent food businesses? We all love a good feast, but food has got to taste better when you know where it's come from, right?
  • Real Patisserie have the CUTEST decorated Christmas logs I have ever seen
  • Hisbe is a good shout for well-made preserves and chutneys from boutique suppliers
  • You can't go wrong getting your Christmas meat from Bramptons Butchers - how about goose this year?
  • Make a lighter starter with fish from Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales 
  • Fin & Farm have brilliant Christmas veg boxes with everything you'll need
  • Infinity Foods always have a great range of chocolate gifts at this time of year
  • The festive Sussex-inspired menu at Isaac At is a great Christmas party option
  • Blackdown Spirits have produced a limited edition Walnut Liqueur that sounds dreamy
  • Red Roaster is the place to Christmas lux brunch this year with their sage & onion waffle, fried turkey and hazelnut crumble
  • Purezza have invented a vegan Christmas calzone
  • You don't need Christmas as an excuse to visit my favourite Little Fish Market 
  • Murmur Restaurant is a Brighton newcomer and the most gorgeous setting on the seafront for a festive catch up meal with friends. Try their hot cocktail menu! 
To read more about these great businesses have a look at the Brighton guide (and other cities too) over on

And if Santa is reading a Leisure Range cooker would be alright with me ;) 

REVIEW: Harvey Nichols The Crowd Pleaser Christmas Hamper

You can't avoid it. The adverts have started and the music is in the shops. Like it or not, the festive season is well and truly upon us. But it's not all lugging too-big Christmas trees home or dealing with your difficult in-laws. The best bit is the indulgence (oh yeah, and spending time with your loved ones). And how better to achieve indulgence than a Christmas hamper?

But one other thing a hamper must do is impress. Lifting up that wicker lid you need to gasp. No gasp? That ain't no hamper. This one from Harvey Nichols, so big it came in two parts, certainly did the trick. It was so beautifully presented and the internal products were all stylishly packaged. I really appreciate it when a brand see beyond the gold and red of Christmas tradition - this is no less festive, exuding all of the celebration with none of the clichés.

I also adore the black wicker hamper itself too - somehow more luxurious than your standard straw one and beautifully lined in canvas with subtle branding. That will find its way onto my wardrobe for storage, as it would be criminal to dispose of.

The Crowd Pleaser, pictured here and priced at £300, is certainly that, getting the party started with a decent selection of festive cheer, including two bottles of Champagne Brut NV and a bottle each of Malbec, Treixadura, Late Bottled Vintage Port and Gin - they even included four individual bottles of Tonic Water With A Hint Of Cucumber And Lime.

And the rest is perfect for dipping into across the festive break; to healthily supplement gatherings or placed beside the sofa within reaching distance for that gout inducing Christmas film marathon.

Inviting a few friends round for drinks, we tucked into the gin and tonics. I topped the Olive Oil & Rosemary Biscuits with some smoked salmon pate and fried capers (the easiest canapé in the World) and enjoyed them with plump Green Olives stuffed with lemon and almonds and little Cheddar Cheese Nibbles.

The Dark Chocolate Florentines were particularly good and didn't last long! Also in the sweet section were Dark Chocolate Crunch Biscuits (I'm eating one of these right now, naturally), a Giant Chocolate Coin, a beautiful box of assorted Chocolate Truffles, Mint Thins and what has become impossible to miss at Christmas, a Panettone. Luckily they included large tins of Breakfast Tea, Coffee and Hot Chocolate. 

The rest of the hamper included the festive condiments such as Cranberry Sauce, Christmas Mustard and a Date & Orange Chutney. For your toast, Blackberry & Apple Jam and a Grapefruit & Ginger Marmalade that has really got my name on it.

And finally, no Christmas should be without a Christmas Pudding or Brandy Butter, right?

I liked that they also included a lucky dip stick game that looks fun.

This hamper was heaving with produce and even though was at the upper price bracket (and they have bigger ones for those that have been very, very good this year), Harvey Nichols offer a wide range, starting at just £25.

If you are struggling to choose a hamper then check out their personalised hamper guide or view the the full range here.

I was sent a hamper for review. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.