REVIEW: Pike & Pine X Ridgeview "Root To Fruit" Dinner

Although my last visit to Pike & Pine wasn't too long ago, I returned for one of their first events, a collaboration with Ridgeview, one of our best Sussex wine producers, as part of the Brighton Food Festival. Although paired wine dinners are nothing unusual, it was clear even from the radical menu format that this was going to be something else.

Pike & Pine Brighton Matt Gillan Ridgeview dinner menu design

Instead of a typical food and drink flavour pairing, the concept of the dinner explored the growth cycle and environment of the vines, from the chalk and soil to the leaves and fruit. And tonight, Pike & Pine brought it with elegance, glamour and delight throughout.

Pike & Pine Brighton Matt Gillan Scallop and radish dish

We started with the foundations - chalk - which some believe that the fact we share the same chalk as the Champagne region is why we're able to produce great sparkling wines in Sussex. One of Ridgeview's signature wines, the NV Bloomsbury Brut was perfect with the scallop; clean, fresh, mineral flavours with a coil of nutty celeriac remoulade and a sweet hit from the corn.

Pike & Pine Brighton Matt Gillan beetroot mushroom parfait and soil

The "soil" course worked hard for the theme in taste, texture and visual. Earthy notes ran throughout the dish naturally in the parfait, Beetroot, mushrooms and rolled duck prosciutto as well as a technical crumbled "soil". This was served with the toastier, richer Cavensish Brut 2014 to carry all of those bold flavours.

The chicken in the "Roots" dish was so tasty; sticky, tender and sweet. Charred salsify had been cut and arranged to look like roots, and remaining with the underground theme was king of earthy vegetables; artichoke, in puree and a perfectly prepared half heart form. By now I had given up on sipping my wines as they were far too good and enjoyed the entire glass of Blanc De Noirs 2103. It's made using black skinned grapes, but pressing gently so the colour from the skins don't taint the golden colour.

Pike & Pine Brighton Matt Gillan crab cod and seaweed dish

The next course showcased my personal favourite in the Ridgeview collection - their Blanc De Blancs. Unlike the Blanc De Noirs, it uses only light-skinned grapes and is 100% Chardonnay. If I come into serious money, they will find me on their drive with a van to take away their annual stock of this, believe me. And until then, the occasional £45 bottle will have to do and is always money well spent.

I have a savoury preference so maybe it's the slight saline notes in this wine that make me adore it but it's so creamy and fragrant too. Pike & Pine did this justice with their clean and delicate Leaves and Flowers course; a succulent crab beignet, cod, lime spheres, samphire, charred leek and a thin dehydrated seaweed shard.

Pike & Pine Brighton Matt Gillan venison elderberry squash dish

Dish of the night though was the venison for "Young Fruit". The haunch and loin were beautifully treated and I think it's certainly one of the best venison dishes I've ever had. Any sadness for the end of summer were swept away by this autumnal celebration - with squash, elderberry, chestnut and surprising addition of pickled grapes. The 2008 Knightsbridge Blanc De Noirs was extra special too - a bottle from the Ridgeview archives, so they were clearly out to spoil us.

Pike & Pine Brighton Matt Gillan pre dessert

Although the pre-dessert gave us a reluctant, yet needed, breather from the wines, this was one of the best plates conceptually. It reflected the development of the grape in colour and taste from the tart pale apple gel to sweeter flavours and intensifying hues. An impressively thin sesame tuille contrasted, so rich and almost fragrantly burnt, maybe to represent the bitterness of grape pips?

We ended with show-stopping magnums of Rosé De Noirs which was an ideal end, with its beautiful pale pink colour and notes of berries and honey. It's no wonder the dessert had so many red fruits and juicy flavours to showcase this wine so well.

Pike & Pine Brighton Matt Gillan ridgeview supper night

Now Pike & Pine has had time to settle, it's great to see them incorporating special events. Their creativity and take on the food was surprising, smart and fun and was one of the best supper nights I've been to for a while. I'd love to see them collaborate with other key local producers, and although I was a big fan before, has certainly made me see Ridgeview in a differently light too. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.

You can sign up for notification of future Pike & Pine events on their Facebook page. -

I dined as a guest of Pike & Pine, Ridgeview and Brighton Food Festival. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.

REVIEW: Woodbox Pizzeria, Brighton

I remember a time where I was complaining about the lack of good pizzerias in Brighton. Now we have a really decent choice, so much so, that you have the luxury of being particularly particular. Along with a small handful of new independent places, the small chains have also expanded, so you're never too far from a good slice. But, of course, there is still a complete plethora of pizza that I wouldn't touch with yours. 

Woodbox is one I've been anticipating. For one, it's in my Kemptown 'hood, and the fit out has been done beautifully; very modern, crisp and white with that rich blue across the whole facade. The attention to detail spans to everything; plates, glasses and the weight of cutlery, so for me, it's hitting a lot of pleasing criteria. Length of the menu is perfect - 6 or so pizzas, a smattering of starters and a dessert or gelato. Basta - it's all you need.

This place started out as a mobile pizzeria, and came to my attention by serving the Saint George's pub on certain evenings to wash the pints down with. I tried to go but the opening times and days were, well, eclectic. But now in its permanent home, where Sam's Bistro used to be, it should prove to be a useful neighbourhood restaurant.

Service was friendly, if a little shaky and slow. Drinks orders weren't taken (actually, at all) and food didn't arrive for about half an hour. For a not-that-busy pizzeria where the bulk of the food cooks in minutes, is something they need to address sharpish. 

They were also out of burrata (happens of course, but with such a streamlined menu and the booming popularity of the stuff, a bit irritating).

You know I never have a starter with pizza, but I was with Rosie again and the girl MUST have starters, God knows where she puts it. To be fair the pizza strips with dips were good and I enjoyed them whilst muttering about how wrong a pizza/dough based stater before a pizza is. Of the three dips the Pecorino was a firm favourite; sheepy, farmy and the definite saltiness a real bonus.

The benchmark for all pizzerias due to its simplicity is the Marinara and I'll tend to order this when visiting somewhere new, although here is it technically a Napoletana which is odd (Marinara should have just sauce, garlic and oregano). Bases were the crisp kind, none of that pillow-like Neapolitan squidginess. I'm not a stranger to this style, and I understand why some like them more than the softer bases but Jesus, that dough was tough and dry. My jaws certainly got a workout.

The issue was that the oven was too cold, so the pizza cooking time had to increase, therefore contributing to a dried out dough. On the other hand, Franco Manca, to cope with the demand, sometimes have it too hot which is why the dough in the cornicone, the thickest part, is sometimes a little raw.

The dough was also slightly under seasoned (as well as the sauce and the puzzling use of marinated, not salted, anchovies). For the first time in any pizzeria, I had to ask for salt. The rich, fatty nduja on Rosie's pizza added that needed oompf in flavour. For once, I think you would do better ordering an option with more topping (I never say this). 

Overall it wasn't a bad pizza, and at a time, may have even been thankful for it against the majority of mediocre we had in the city. But with more choice than ever in Brighton, it may prove to struggle against the strong competition. Prices for pizza are around the £10 mark, which is also up there for Brighton although I see they do good offers at lunch.

It was great to to see La Mucca Nera gelato for dessert though. They have superb gelato, made down the road in St James' Street and I'll often be found in there post dinner with a scoop of their proper Bronte pistachio or an Aperol and bad Italian TV on. I love it.

I know people wind me up about my lack of enthusiasm for fast food other than pizza but to get it right really is an art. The dough needs knowledge of craft and handling and the cooking environment critical. It's not easy! Maybe on another night the temperature will be better (drinks orders taken, service sharper, ingredients in order... ) so you will get a better result, so even though my visit wasn't entirely successful it's still very much worth a trip, particularly as they are baby new and will hopefully iron out those niggles.

Woodbox Pizzeria
Paston place

REVIEW: Pike & Pine, Brighton

There's no denying that Red Roaster is one of my favourite daytime spots. Be it brunching with friends, dropping in for coffee or using it as a separate office to wow clients and a bit of freelancing; it does it all, and with serious style.

But with the lights dimmed, its evening incarnation—Pike & Pine—takes on a more intimate feel, perfect for luxury dining which oozes modern glamour. I am ridiculously seduced by a beautiful interior, visual sucker I am, and the marble surfaces and botanical features look even better by night.

There's the option of sitting up at the counter, show-side. Watching creatives at work never gets boring to me but if you want a more relaxing dinner or want to keep the beauty of the plating a mystery, without seeing the Tupperware, vac packs, pokes and prods of a working kitchen, then book a table. Interestingly, main man Matt Gillan is slightly off stage, partly behind a wall, which will be surprising to some.

You can choose from a 6, 8 or 10 course tasting menu (£55/£65/£75) which do differ rather than cutting out courses. There's also the offer of 4 courses at £40 on certain nights too.

Impressive as they were to look at, like an artists palette, I wasn't a fan of all of the snacks. The "tomato explosion"; a delicate sphere bursting with flavour and a cheeky hit of heat sparked the palate but the dehydrated pork scratchings, topped with a delicious bacon jam, needed to be crisp not chewy. I'm also not a fan of these clay coated potatoes, fun to look at and thumbs up for gut health, but quite flavour neutral.

The consommé however, was beautiful in its entirety. Concentrated summer flavours were poured over the freshness of raw asparagus and bean shoot stems, glossy broad beans and semi dehydrated tomatoes that added an intensity and punch.

A delicate slither of braised ox tongue followed, topped with raw celery and celery sorbet lending a satisfying fresh, sweet contrast to the meat. Charred onion and a quail's egg added some much needed richness to the leanness of the dish.

"Carbonara" manifested in a clever little parcel, wrapped neatly in Parma ham. Coiled inside were enoki mushrooms cooked in a miso stock, masquerading as some otherworldly pasta. Topping this was a glossy confit egg yolk for that glorious fattiness the carbonara is loved for. The only, only thing I would have liked to see is the parma ham cooked or treated somehow to mimic the rendered, slightly chewy lardons of the real deal. The Sylvanian Family sized pickled mushrooms that scattered the plate - I'd eat a whole jar of.    

A decent hunk of pollock came next with à la mode broccoli in slightly charred, raw and puree form. Hidden away inside were a surprise of tiny, opalescent lime spheres.

"Pork - Onion - Peas" dish smelt incredible, so tasty. This was more classic, simpler but didn't suffer for it. The pork, naughtily blushing, was partnered with a pea foam, freshly podded peas and an onion puree. The slight hint of anise or fennel added a lovely sweetness and fragrance to the dish.

I've never taken so many photos of a slice of cheese, but deserving the attention was a ripe Wigmore, taken to the beauty parlour and treated with honey, pollen and honey cake crumb before being adorned with compressed watermelon cubes and colourful flowers. All of those sweet notes with the farminess of the Wigmore was delightful. And so. Darn. Pretty. 

Pre-dessert was a white peach number, dotted with a fragrant peach gel and croissant crumb. And if I'm not mistaken, pieces of sweetened tomato in there which somehow really worked. They should do a daytime version of this for Red Roaster's brunch menu, it's perfect for summer.

Dessert-dessert was a dramatic ode to the mango, the hero being a silky gel topped mousse. The black olive element pinged out at me instantly on the menu. I love the weirdly brilliant use of black olives in desserts (and olive oil in chocolate based ones) so would have appreciated an even bigger hit of the flavour as the dish could have taken it. 

Wine flights are available for any of the menus and, in my opinion, if you're going to do it, do it. To keep my head, we opted to share a flight which may be an idea if you are keen to keep focused on the food. The pairings were a highlight and clearly a lot of thought has gone into this side so it would be smart to the guess work out and go with the expert selection. The dessert wines were particularly stunning - a honey rich Chateau du Levant Sauternes that I already have on order and a strong reminder to drink more Madeira.

Service has found a groove now; busy, energised, efficient and tinged with a slight coolness of the good kind. And they were confident at describing both the food and wines which is expected with this style of dining.

Of course we need to discuss price. Because it's up there for Brighton and a few years ago, a meal for two hovering round the £130 mark (£230 including wine flights), quite unimaginable for these parts. But the room was packed and lively and I saw no guns being pointed when the bills arrived. People are happy to pay for the experience and gourmet tourists will want to tick this off their list.

Food is a visual delight; it's exciting, challenging and intriguing. The style is very involved, very worked, which naturally doesn't always result in every dish being something that everyone will love. It's contentious and part art - forget the Turner Prize, the husband and I are going to be arguing about that Carbonara dish for another month. At least.

Some will relish in this and for some, it just won't be for them at all, but almost everyone will turn up with great expectations and preconceptions for this cost and profile chef. And that can be a particularly tough crowd.

Five years ago the naysayers were stating that fine dining has no place here. I disagree. Brighton dining is exciting, varied and that quality bar is going up, up, up.

Pike & Pine
St James' St

I dined as a guest of Pike & Pine. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.

TOP PICKS: Brighton Food and Drink Festival Autumn events Thursday 24 August - Sunday 3 September 2017

We're not quite over summer yet, although tell that to the erratic weather. BUT you probably want to get booking for upcoming events in the Autumn Brighton Food and Drink Festival, believe me. The big name chef events get snapped up very quickly, and there are some absolute corkers listed.

Of course you still have the Sussex & The World Weekend activities on Hove Lawns on the August bank holiday (26-28th August and is free entry) and there is also a Sussex Gin Week program that runs alongside the festival. 

The full event listing are viewable via the festival website but here are my unmissable picks.

Sunday 3 September

Pike & Pine with Ridgeview: From Root to Fruit

Pike & Pine, 1D St James’s Street, Brighton BN2 1RE • 7.30pm

One of the city's most exciting chefs, Matt Gillan, plus one of the best of our Sussex wine makers are teaming up to create a seven course menu, celebrating what makes English sparkling wine amazing. Starting from the roots where the vines begin to the fruit they produce, this sounds like a fascinating dinner. I hope my favourite of the Ridgeview wines, their Blanc de Blancs, gets a deserving edible makeover. Unmissable.

Advance tickets £125 including food and wine available from
(A deposit of £50 per person is required for this event)

Thursday 31 August

64 Degrees on Safari

Murmur, 91-96 Kings Road Arches, Brighton BN1 2FN • 7pm

From their new restaurant space on the seafront, 64 Degrees are going ‘On Safari’ with an epic beach BBQ of exotic meats from around the world. After a summer of uncle Ken's burnt sausages and soggy coleslaw, we could all do with a bit of a lux spin on the often mistreated BBQ, eh? Expect surprises, interesting combinations and you have the option of a matched wine flight available too.

Advance tickets £40 (or £60 with wine pairings) from

Friday 25 August

Trenchmore Farm at Isaac At

Isaac At, 2 Gloucester Street, Brighton BN1 4EW • 7pm

Isaac At has always been a restaurant that heros local; even listing the mileage of key local ingredients on the reverse of their menus. Chef Isaac Bartlett-Copeland and Sussex farmer Joanne Knowles from Trenchmore Farm are creating a menu exploring the versatility of their superb beef. Also featuring will be the results of their recent planting of heritage wheat, all perfectly prepared by Isaac and his talented team.

Advance tickets £45 from Isaac At • 07765 934 740 • Book online at

Bank Holiday Monday 28 August 

Pascere’s Court Garden Vineyard Brunch

Pascere, 8 Duke Street, Brighton BN1 1AH • 12 noon

Hot newcomers to the Brighton dining scene, Pascere are hosting a lunch with another of out Sussex wine heavyweights - Court Garden Vineyard near Ditchling. Head chef Johnny Stanford will be creating a four course menu, accompanied by four perfectly matched English sparkling wines from this award-winning Sussex estate.

Advance tickets £45 including food and wine from Pascere • 01273 917 949 •

Tuesday 29 August

Gin Makers Dinner

The Salt Room, 106 Kings Road • 6.30pm drinks for 7pm start

A restaurant that does drink very, very well is The Salt Room, their bar is exceptional. Their head chef, Dave Mothersill is teaming up with Blackdown Distillery, East London Liquor Company, Chilgrove Spirits and Regency Tonic for a dinner to explore the flavours and creativity that has made gin the UK’s number one liquor choice. A carefully crafted three course menu will be weaved with exciting artisan gins from some of the south east’s leading producers, including an in-depth masterclass from the distillers themselves.

Advance tickets £75 including all food and drink are available directly from The Salt Room • 01273 929 488 •

Wednesday 30 August

Brighton Gin Club at La Cave à Fromage

La Cave à Fromage • 7pm

Cheese and wine we've done, even cheese and beer; but Gin and cheese? After a welcome gin and tonic, you'll be guided through a matching event with cheeses in the capable hands of La Cave à Fromage’s David Deaves and three sipping gins courtesy of Brighton Gin Club. Sounds fun!

Advance tickets £30 from Brighton Gin Club •

Thursday 31 August

Sussex Gin Week wild cocktail foraging walk & masterclass

The Queen Vic, 54 High Street, Rottingdean, Brighton BN2 7HF • 10.30am - 1.30pm

A must for the gin lovers out there, seemingly growing in number by the day. Here you can get hands-on with gin cocktails at this interactive foraging walk and masterclass. Enjoy a guided stroll through Rottingdean and the surrounding Downs, collecting ingredients for your drinks, followed by a cocktail making and infusing demonstration including tasters, then make your own Mayfield Gin cocktail.

Advance tickets £30 from The Queen Vic • 01273 302 121 •

Saturday 2 September

Festival of Sussex Gins

The Dome Room, Hotel du Vin, 2-6 Ship Street, Brighton BN1 • 1-4pm & 6-9pm sessions

The first ever Festival of Sussex Gins, you'll be able to sample some of the finest craft gins in our region. 

Advance tickets £20 include a ‘taster card’ allowing 6-8 samples, a goodie bag and Festival of Sussex Gins tasting glass available from Brighton Gin Club • • (additional gin tokens are available to purchase on the day)

Saturday 2 - Sunday 3 September

Flavours of Brighton

Boho Gelato, 6 Pool Valley, Brighton BN1 1NJ • Regular trading hours

The last Flavours of Brighton event was a bit low-key but looked amazing! Collaborating with 20 of the city’s iconic chefs, mixologists and food and drink producers, Boho Gelato will be creating a selection of one-off flavours. You can just pop into the shop in Pool Valley whilst stocks last!

For more information on events please visit the festival website:

SNIPPEATS JULY 2017: New Brighton restaurant openings, tours, news, events and reviews

It has been a busy few weeks for Brighton food; plenty of new openings and some great events. I feel I've been doing nothing but racing around with a fork in hand (nope, it's not just Joey that does that). Plus I celebrated my Birthday, which means even more indulgence than normal, if that is even possible. Here's a little round up of what's been going on.

There have been a few new restaurant openings but I suppose one of the most eagerly anticipated one was Pascere (rhymes with "sincere" - you're welcome). The press launch was fun and I think gave us a good taste for what it is all about. As well as looking gorgeous, the food feedback so far has been really good. Heading up the kitchen is Johnny Stanford (another migrant from South Lodge Hotel joining us in Brighton along with Matt Gillan at Pike & Pine and Steven Edwards at Etch.). The pan fried lamb sweetbreads and the pea custard have been  frequently cropping up on my social feeds and I'll 100% be ordering the buttermilk sponge if they still have it on.

It could also prove to be a strong contender for the best Brunch in Brighton too.

Petit Pois
Brighton was in much need of a French bistro and particularly one that celebrates the classics like duck rillettes, snails in garlic butter and frog leg goujons. They bring with it a small plate sharing format and a smart, yet softly rustic interior. Petit Pois is run by husband and wife team, David and Ivana Roy, who both hail from Riddle and Finns. I have a good feeling about this one too.

10 Radius
Brand new to the thriving supper club market is 10 Radius. What sets them apart is that their key ingredients all come from within 10 miles of Brighton. Luckily for them we have the sea and a bounty of incredible food and drink produce within that area. Chef Leslie Nkansah brings with him an impressive CV and a boundless enthusiasm for celebrating the best of Sussex with his own flair and style. I was lucky enough to head down to the launch night and although the first week-long event has ended, you can keep up to date with the next ones via

Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival Trade Sussex Bus Tour
It was a gorgeous day to board the bus for a trip around Sussex visiting some key farms (in my wholly unsuitable footwear) and of course, a stop off at one of my favourite vineyards, Ridgeview. We were also treated to a BBQ at Jeremy's restaurant which featured Trenchmore beef, Dingley Dell pork, lush vegetables and fruit from Watts Farm and Gelato from Brighton's Boho Gelato. Stalls from local producers lined the gardens to keep our glasses filled and reminded us of how lucky we are to have Sussex on the doorstep.

And it was just really lovely catching up with all the restaurant owners, producers and food writers too.

The Autumn Brighton Food & Drink Festival is just around the corner and I'll be writing about the highlights soon - So many unmissable dinners and events!

The Brighton Wine Tour
I'm not adverse to being a Guinea pig for a trial, particularly if that trial involves wine. The brilliant Brighton Food Tours have teamed up with The Rebel Sommeliers for a relaxed wine tasting across Brighton, stopping off at various key points for a glass of the good stuff and some nibbles. I much prefer it when wine events become accessible, whilst still being informative. The range of wines and style of venues they offered were really enjoyable and I think it will be a cracking tour. You'll be able to book these from the end of September via

As you can see from my social feeds, I have been dining out a fair bit this month but the highlights go to Cin Cin and 64 Degrees. Cin Cin wowed myself and my girlfriends with decadent and silky pastas (best in town), summery gazpacho and Parma ham and melon salad washed down with plenty of bubbles and the most gorgeous wines.

For my birthday meal I finally ticked the 64 Degrees Rum Bear off the list and even got a sparkler thrown in for good measure. It had been ages since my last visit but a distinct reminder as to why it still tops the best Brighton restaurant listings. Full review of that one soon.

I reviewed some great places this month too:

Zona Rosa is a great Mexican neighbourhood restaurant in Kemptown. Full review >

The Jolly Sportsman Although I didn't have too much success in their sister restaurant, The Jolly Poacher, The Jolly Sportsman proved to be one of the best pub lunches I've ever had. Full review >

REVIEW: Zona Rosa, Brighton

It was surprising to see the transformation of a former coffee shop in Kemptown into a hot pink and teal "Cocina Mexicana". Tucked up a side street I had wondered if the location would be right for the reinvention. But it continues to be open all day, serving breakfasts and lunches before turning into a restaurant in the evening. On paper, this seems an odd concept but cafes are turning into pop-ups and restaurants in the evening and restaurants are trying to claim additional daytime trade - it's nothing new and actually, with the full length windows open and the pretty tables and chairs on the pavement, it's an attractive little place day or night.

Our waitress recommended the nachos and, after informing us the ceviche was sadly off the menu, offered the "Playa Brighton" as the fishy alternative. I immediately ignored this and headed back to the menu, but Rosie, the little pickle, took her up despite sounding the least authentic options on the menu.

The tamale was the standout dish of the night for me. Traditional, yet something I've not seen on many Mexican menus in these parts (but then Brighton is hardly blessed with options). I'm no stranger to polenta as an Italian, but as much as it pains me to say, this was the best way I've tried it. Mexicans 1 - Italy 0. Stuffed with roast jalapenos and Sussex High Wield Ricotta (a local nod to queso fresca I imagine), this was topped with hot jalapenos and fresh coriander and wrapped in a corn husk before being steamed. Cornmeal is such a vehicle for flavour and this had it all, as well as being supremely light. It certainly gave me a taste for more typical dishes than the ones that have been tailored to the UK market. You must to order this.

Nachos - everyone's favourite. I can give or take them and can't help feeling they were an American invention or something. Huge globs of congealed cheese commonly on top is never something I want to eat. The fact that that the tortillas here were different flavours and therefore attractively mixed colours was a bonus, and the topping was fresh with a pico de gallo salsa, guacamole and sour cream. They're fine, I'd eat them, but I put them in the stadium food bracket as an overall concept.

Back to tradition were the empanadas, stuffed with a potato and pea filling. Nicely seasoned, crisp and not too heavy or stodgy on either filling or pastry. Really enjoyable and the coriander and lime yogurt added a needed zing.

Pork Pibil Tacos were smoky, aromatic and the pulled meat tender, clearly benefiting from a decent marinade imparting both sweetness and heat. There was enough contrast between the meat and the fresher flavours from the coriander, lime and khol rabi which made the dish interesting from start to finish. The extra tortillas tucked under the tacos were both appreciated and needed. Making the whole meal substantial was a side of coriander rice and salsa.

The Playa Brighton was a mush of fish and chippy ingredients with a vaguely Mexican vibe in a wrap. I'm not entirely sure what else to say from the bite I had of it. It's a nice idea I suppose, it didn't offend but I think they do other dishes so much better.

Churros (the obvious choice) were delicious and made me realise why they are so darn popular. Crisp, light and indulgent with a decent chocolate dip. Some of the best ones I've had for sure.

Normally I would order something more like this toasted cornbread with berries and vanilla and it arrived exactly as I wanted it, not too sweet but satisfied that need to punctuate a meal with a little something something. The cornbread had soaked up the juice from the berries - so lovely.

The special that they insisted we try, a fried pastry with banana filling, was ok. Fried things, hot bananas and beige tick none of my boxes really but if you like things like apple turnovers, I'm sure you'd like it (Mr GF, King of Stodge, I'm talking to you).

My hibiscus Margarita was great. Punchy and vibrant, but why it was served in a tall glass I have no idea, and I missed the salty rim (sorry, how the hell else do I describe it?!). There's a pretty good drinks menu overall - tequila, Mexican beer, horchata and aguas frescas.

On the food menu there are the the classics that you'd expect to see in a UK Mexican restaurant, but the really traditional dishes I think are ones to watch and something I hope they get a name for and expand upon. Salt cod fritters, cactus tostatas...I'll return for them all. As it's an all-day eatery, the salads and some genuinely healthy options are attractive too - quinoa, roast corn, pinto beans and spinach salads or the superfood burrito for example.

Although the atmosphere, unlike the vibrant, colourful interior, was as grey as an accountant's underpants on entering, a change of staff midway through service certainly made a difference. Our new waiter was enthusiastic, informed and delightful, and a sure example of how service can affect a dining experience. 

This place used to be Spinelli cafe for about a decade, and one of the very few (if not the first) coffee shops before Kemptown scrubbed up and became all glitzy. It's been my neck of the woods all my life and I welcome the change; we have so many more options from the higher end, to classic pub food as well as bakeries, grocers and all the things that come with an invasion of monied immigration from the capital, notably the boom of cafes. Spinelli, I suppose just got a bit lost in the caffeinated noise so a smart move to evolve into something else rather than battle with increasing competition.

Saying that, a Mexican option does feel a little brave but there are plenty of diners in the area that these neighbourhood restaurants can thrive on if done well, which Zona Rosa certainly does. Meeting the owner later clearly highlighted a real passion for what they are doing and it's these independent restaurants that need supporting. Even if you don't live in this area, I think it's well worth a journey across town for. Order that tamale though, yeah.

Zona Rosa
College Road

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

Finalists announced for the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2018

It's great being your own boss, allowing myself to steal a couple of hours out of the studio on Monday, to toast the announcement of the finalists for the Sussex Food and Drink Awards 2018. The glorious sunshine and beautiful surroundings at the Bedlam Brewery and Albourne Estate made it even better, far better that staring at website code!

It was so nice to see where Bedlam Brewery do their thing (such lovely people too) and I had yet to discover their neighbours, Albourne Estate. It's a young vineyard a stone's throw from Brighton on the Sussex Downs and they have just released their first sparkling this year. The Blanc De Blancs (you know I love it) was lovely as was the elegant labelling with illustrations of wildlife commonly seen on the estate. Grab a glass if you can now it's available.

The full finalist listings are below but it's telling how good the Brighton restaurant scene is getting. Taking up a number of the nominated spots for the Sussex Eating Experience of the Year are some of the city's finest; 64 Degrees (natch), Issac At, The Set and Etch - particularly relevant as Steven Edwards won young chef of the year in 2010 at these awards. Seems to be doing alright for himself since! Also good to see so many other Sussex businesses that I value, a reminder of what a great region we live in for brilliant produce.

A whopping 13,000 votes were received last year and voting is now open so you can champion your favourite Sussex Food Businesses at this year's awards. You can vote here until 19 September:

The four categories that remain open for your own nominations are:
  • Young Sussex Farmer of the Year
  • Sussex Newcomer of the Year 
  • Sussex Young Chef of the Year
  • Sussex Street Food of the Year 
Sussex Eating Experience of the Year, sponsored by Blakes Foods
  • 64 Degrees, Brighton and Hove
  • Cowdray Farm Shop Café, Easebourne, West Sussex
  • etch., Brighton and Hove
  • Isaac At, Brighton and Hove
  • The Artisan Bakehouse, Ashurst, West Sussex
  • The Milk Churn, Rudgwick, West Sussex
  • The Parsons Table, Arundel, West Sussex
  • The Ram Inn, Firle, East Sussex
  • The Set, Brighton and Hove
  • Zari Restaurant and Lounge, Ifield, West Sussex
Sussex Food Producer of the Year, sponsored by Southern Co-op
  • Bookham Harrison Farms, Rudgwick, West Sussex
  • Ginger’s Kitchen, Partridge Green, West Sussex
  • Just Brownies, Shipley, West Sussex
  • Lighthouse bakery & school, Robertsbridge, East Sussex
  • Nutbourne Nursery, Pulborough, West Sussex
  • Piglets Pantry, Worthing, West Sussex
  • Southdowns Honey, Lancing, West Sussex
  • Springs’ Smokery, Edburton, West 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
  • Bedlam Brewery, Albourne, West Sussex
  • Brighton Gin, Brighton and Hove
  • Chilgrove Spirits, Chilgrove, West Sussex
  • Gran Stead’s Ginger Co, Portslade, West Sussex
  • Hepworth and Co Brewers Ltd, Pulborough, West Sussex
  • Langham Brewery, Lodsworth, West Sussex
  • Plumpton Estate, Plumpton, East Sussex
  • Ridgeview Estate Winery, Ditchling Common, East Sussex
  • Tinwood Estate, Halnaker, West Sussex
  • Wobblegate, Bolney, West Sussex 
Sussex Food Shop of the Year, sponsored by Wealden District Council
  • Barley Sugar artisan deli, Eastbourne, East Sussex
  • Crates Local Produce, Horsham, West Sussex
  • Eggs to Apples, Etchingham, East Sussex
  • Holmansbridge Farm Shop, Barcombe, East Sussex
  • Judges Bakery, Hastings, East Sussex
  • Oast Farm Shop, Buxted, East Sussex
  • Plaw Hatch Farm Shop, Sharpthorne, West Sussex
  • Rushfields Farm Shop, Poynings, West Sussex
  • The Sussex Produce Company, Steyning, West Sussex
  • Veasey and Sons Fishmongers, Forest Row, East Sussex
Sussex Butcher of the Year, sponsored by RP Meats Wholesale Ltd
  • Archers of Westfield, Westfield, East Sussex
  • Barfields Butchers, Brighton and Hove
  • Bramptons Butchers Ltd, Brighton and Hove
  • Garlic Wood Butchery, Steyning, West Sussex
  • J. Heath and Son, Eastbourne, East Sussex
  • May’s Farm Cart, Lewes, East Sussex
  • Michael Courtney Family Butchers, Midhurst, West Sussex
  • New Street Butchers & Deli, Horsham, West Sussex
  • Steyning Butchers, Steyning, West Sussex
  • Tablehurst Farm, Forest Row, East Sussex
Sussex Farmers Market of the Year, sponsored by Harvey’s Brewery
  • Chichester Farmers Market, West Sussex
  • Horsham Markets, West Sussex
  • Lewes Farmers Market, Cliffe Precinct (monthly), East Sussex
  • Lewes Food Market, Market Tower (weekly), East Sussex
  • Shoreham Farmers Market, West Sussex
  • Steyning Farmers Market, West Sussex