REVIEW: Mediterraneo, Brighton

romantic interior at Mediterraneo, Italian restaurant Brighton

Ah, Mediterraneo! Although Italian food in Brighton isn't quite as dire as it used to be (with Cin Cin and real Neapolitan pizzerias finally giving us the real deal), there will always be a place in my heart for this restaurant.

romantic interior at Mediterraneo, Italian restaurant Brighton

Whilst the new places have appeared with their modern aesthetic and Instagramable fixtures, Mediterraneo is one of those increasingly rare restaurants; cosy, warm and hopelessly romantic. They have it all with their candelabras, crystal water decanters, baroque tablecloths and silver napkin rings, yes NAPKIN RINGS!

Their set up is also their USP. Run solely by a husband and wife team, their attention to diners in their tiny restaurant, open Friday and Saturday evenings only by reservation, is second to none. Giorgio out the front is probably the best host in Brighton.

The menu doesn't change very often. Hardly at all in the past year I'd say, but it doesn't matter. Although the food isn't the best Italian food on the planet, and reinvents nothing, Sonia isn't a professional chef but she does put out beautifully presented food served with a lot of love.

arancini at Mediterraneo, Italian restaurant Brighton

The arancini mignion were still there, each with a different filling and served with a cute decorated bread basket. It's a lovely little starter and I prefer arancini small like this. These are filled each with ragu, spinach and salmon.

aubergines at Mediterraneo, Italian restaurant Brighton

rolled meat and salad at Mediterraneo, Italian restaurant Brighton

For mains they have stuffed peppers, aubergine parmigiana, lasagne, and a spinach and lemon pasta dish I almost opted for. Normally I'd go for one of the rolled and filled meat dishes which are still quite delicate and a good option.

steamed cod at Mediterraneo, Italian restaurant Brighton

This time I chose the cod dish which was a beautifully light dish. The fish is steamed and served with courgettes, capers and garlic in white wine. I don't know what variety of potato they use but they were so sweet and perfect with the delicate fish.  If this is on the menu on my next visit, which it probably will, it will be hard not to order again.

chocolate and amaretto cake at Mediterraneo, Italian restaurant Brighton

Sonia's real talents lie with dessert though. The cakes I've had here have been some of the best I've tried. The limoncello torta is good but I adore amaretto and the fluffy layers of sponge with cream were just gorgeous.

The wine list has been well considered and Giorgio takes great care to ensure you choose a good option for your food choices. Also, they have the best stocked Italian liqueur selection in Brighton. Vecchia Romana, grappa, marsala...most Italians finish the meals with a digestive and possibly some cantucci biscuits, so it would be rude not to indulge.

interior at Mediterraneo, Italian restaurant Brighton

I've been out of the dating game for many moons (thankfully, looking at the scene these days) but this place is ideal for that special dinner. I say put that stupid Tinder app down and go for an old fashioned, classic date here. It's perfect.

Mediterraneo
2A Clyde Road
Brighton BN1 4NP
01273 674350

REVIEW: Vegetarian dining at MEATLiquor, Brighton

vegetarian food at MEATLiquor, Brighton

You'd think that vegetarians would burst into flames on passing the doors of MEATLiquor wouldn't you? Home of those messy, naughty burgers that everyone loves diving into, surrounded by graffiti, neon, chain mail booths and nightclub lighting. There's the name too. But here we are, behind the beast it's a pretty inclusive place.

Graffiti interior at MEATLiquor, Brighton

I still can't get over how much I like it here. Anyone that knows me would probably laugh at this - you wouldn't think it would be my thing, but then my collection of heavy metal normally raises a few eyebrows too!

Although I like the standard burgers, being the carnivore I am, today was all about the vegetarian specials and the "dry" cocktails.

cheese and jalapeno poppaz at MEATLiquor, Brighton

Starting with the "Poppaz", which were cheese and jalapeño croquettes, crumbed and deep fried. Eaten molten hot, there's not really too much to complain about. The ranch dressing served with them helped cool down the spice.

mixed salad with blue corn tortillas

I can't imagine salad is the first thing on any one's mind here but after trying it, I would definitely order the Blue Corn Tortilla Salad again. Probably one of the genuine healthier options, this included a decent portion toward your five a day in the beetroot, corn, cucumber, tomato and lettuce. There was a sprinkling of feta and serious crunch from the crushed blue corn tortilla chips and sunflower seeds. It's a really generous size too - at £6.75 a bargain for lunch.

vegetarian, black bean chilli fries at MEATLiquor, Brighton

On the other end of the health scale were the Black Bean Chilli Fries. Beautifully thin fries topped with a well seasoned black bean chilli, jalapeño, finely diced white onion and mustard. (These are vegan without the cheese option by the way.)

Although I really like the chicken Monkey Fingers on the menu, the paneer version made a really nice alternative, the firm texture holding up well. Still slathered in that finger licking hot sauce and served with a blue cheese dip.

blue corn tortillas and cheese dip at MEATLiquor, Brighton

As there was so much food to get through, the cheddar and Hobo Beer dip for the tortillas had congealed a bit as it cooled. That savoury beery taste was there though and eaten hot this would not have been an issue.

dry cocktails at MEATLiquor, Brighton

Drinks were lush and even without the recommended booze addition for each, were really interesting. I hate fizzy soda (cola is the DEVIL), so if I'm not drinking booze I tend to struggle with drinks. Hopefully they'll keep these on past January. Root 69 with it's vibrant colour from the beetroot was fresh and zingy with soda and lemon juice and the Carrot Top with turmeric I could have been drinking in some clean eating cafe for twice the price.

graffiti interior at MEATLiquor, Brighton

Although people should be well and truly off the January wagon by now (MEATliquor even did a ‘Falling Off the MEATwagon’ package deal to celebrate), don't rule this place out if you are going easy on meat or if you are vegetarian/vegan. There are of course still the vegetarian and vegan options on the burger menus as well as the Setan Fingers and sides you can bolt on to the specials. Whilst I would still opt for a Dead Hippie or buffalo wings on future visits (because, you know...MEAT) I would absolutely consider the meat free options again after trying them out.

menu covers at MEATLiquor, Brighton

(Excuse the odd colour on the photography, the interior is bathed in a red light district ambiance.)

MEATLiquor Brighton
22-23 York Place
Brighton BN1 4GU

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

REVIEW: Holy Phok, Brighton

wanties starter at Holy Phok Vietnamese restaurant brighton

Holy Phok has certainly been one of the hottest new openings since they launched last December. The provoking name and cheeky copy writing probably adds a reasonable amount of spice to the interest, but still, we can always eat more Vietnamese food. 

Interior at Holy Phok Vietnamese restaurant brighton

The space may be small but the interior is a style triumph. Pillar box reds, graphic monochrome flooring, THAT Hague Blue hue, neon signage and an entire wall of waving lucky cats create a quirky, fun and stylish setting. I love it. The branding has also been invested in which really adds to the visual experience (I would say that as a branding designer, but it's true). They also talk the talk with the ingredients and sourcing too. Attention to detail? Ten points and a gold star.

Better than squid at Holy Phok Vietnamese restaurant brighton

We started with the "Better Than Squid" dish which was slices of meaty oyster mushrooms marinated in turmeric and garlic, given a crisp coating then deep fried. I get where they were going with this  - the texture was quite like very tender squid strips but I couldn't help but think it would have been glorious with the real deal in there. Still, it was different and happily eaten, dipped in the chilli sauce.

The Wanties were pretty but a fiddle to eat; a thin, crisp waved wonton with a pile of delicious prawns, coriander, thai basil, mint, mango and shallots. One bite and the base shatters into smithereens, dumping the topping on the table, but no matter, I wasn't on a first date and I really enjoyed the light, fresh flavours that I expect from Vietnamese food.

pho at Holy Phok Vietnamese restaurant brighton

Now, you can't go to a place called Holy Phok and not have the pho can you? Plus I love the stuff, and what's not to like? Rich, deep stock filled with vibrant, fresh flavours. Bring on the cold snap because a bowl of this will fend it all off along with any ailment. Sadly though I have had much better, and dare I say it, even in our favourite Vietnamese chain restaurant too. The pho here—I opted for the chicken (£9.25)—lacked the depth and seasoning that pho lives or dies by. The chicken was tender and there was enough texture from the spring onions, fresh herbs and bean sprouts. Thin slices of chilli brought plenty of heat but this was a perfect level for me. Although pleasant and certainly filling, the "life-enhancing" billing was probably a little strong. I also like to interact with my pho, adding herbs, heat and lime to my taste rather than it to be already included in he dish.

chicken salad at Holy Phok Vietnamese restaurant brighton

The ginger beer chicken salad also promised a lot but failed to deliver on expectations a little. Although the flavours were almost there, it was just very cold and very wet. I'm not sure I could detect the ginger beer marinade in the chicken but the nuoc cham dressing had the sweet/sour balance right with sugar, fish sauce and lime. Plenty of Vietnamese herbs, toasted peanuts and sesame added the crunch and the glass noodles made it a substantial main.

However, I noticed that everyone around us were ordering the bao buns which, to be fair, looked really enticing and we may have missed a seriously big trick.

wosock drink at Holy Phok Vietnamese restaurant brighton

Soft drink aficionados, one of which I am not, will appreciate the unusual selection on offer. I drove (dumb ass) so chose the Tarragon Ginger Wostock, a drink based on Baikal from Russia. It was very green and very sweet I suppose. As I say, wine, water, coffee are my choice of hydration so all this is lost on me. The slurp of Funky Monkey cocktail I had was gorgeous though, with a cheeky little hit of chilli heat on the back of the raspberry fruitiness. There is a decent selection of wines and beers from Bedlam if you are sensibly on the booze.

lucky cats at Holy Phok Vietnamese restaurant brighton

Portions are generous, service is friendly and the place is stylish and fun and certainly won't break the bank. They also do kid's meals and a short and sweet dessert menu - kids would love it here although they are only open 6-10pm Wednesday - Saturday for now, past most little one's bedtimes.

Although I had hoped the food would be better, it was still a good level and I would return, particularly for those buns. I'm sure in time they will go from good to great as the foundations seem pretty solid.

Holy Phok
52 Lansdowne Place, Hove (entrance Western Road side)

REVIEW: BeFries, Brighton

a cone of fries at BeFries in Brighton

Is there anything better than a fried potato?*

BeFries has been quite a hit since opening, simply offering Belgian style fries with a plethora of sauces to dip them into. It's located right at the top of West Street (this is my third visit to this street in a week for dining, something I never thought I would say, but there we are - places change!)

Brighton champions the independent and it's great that BeFries have chosen to open here, run by a sibling team with a Belgian background and boundless enthusiasm for what they do. 

Amazingly, there is a ridiculous level of food geekiness with Belgian Fries that appeals to my inner dork. They need to be between 8mm and 14mm (they are 12mm here, for those that are interested), must be hand cut (seriously, they hand cut EVERY SINGLE POTATO), need to be of a certain variety (Agria - low water content, yellow flesh and fry well), be double cooked, and served in a paper cone. 

What makes BeFries so crisp is the double cooking. They are fried for a first time then blow dried (yup, really) before frying again to order. This take any excess moisture out and allows then the crisp fully without browning too much. Potato science innit. The centre is super light and fluffy too.

sauces  at BeFries in Brighton

Now for the other element - the sauces. Most of these are now made in-house and some are from boutique local sauce makers. You will probably only choose a couple, but I was given a huge selection, all of which I'd happily eat. Of course you have all the mayos - Belgian (slightly sour), Dutch (sweeter), garlic...and other classics like ketchup. The sate peanut sauce was particularly good with the fries as was the Sambal indonesian chilli paste. They also have vegan options - the vegan basil mayo was one of my favourites and there are specials on like the dill and gherkin fritte sauce. You can also have the fries served as you would have them on the street, with two sauces on top and finely diced white onion.

Looza strawberry drink at BeFries in Brighton

To wash down the fries they have a range of unusual European drinks - a welcome break from the Colas and Fanta cans.


The venue is a strange shape, long and thin with an imposing bar in front of the fryers and some small tables right at the back. It's not the most comfortable dining, but you'll only be propping up the bar for a short while as you will quickly demolish the fries. The flower arrangements on the wall are a surprising feature for a place like this but really beautiful. You'll also notice holes on all of the surfaces that the cones of fries are slotted into - smart!

staff working at BeFries in Brighton

Although niche restaurants that focus on one ingredient or dish can sometimes be quite tedious, I think there is definitely a demand for a Belgian Fries shop, especially one as good as this. I really enjoyed my visit here and will absolutely be back. It's hugely affordable (cones range from £2.80-£4), accessible and a delicious snack right in the centre of town to fuel a shopping trip or pit stop between drinks.

BeFries
46 West Street, Brighton

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

*No.

Spritz Saturdays at Polpo, Brighton

Polpo Brighton pickled octopus

Fancy doing something different for a lazy Saturday lunch? How about a cocktail masterclass where you can learn to make (and drink!) three of Polpo’s classic spritz cocktails. You will also enjoy three of their chicchetti dishes, typical of their Venetian bàcaro style. It's an absolute bargain at £14.50 per person and on every Saturday lunchtime, fabulous for a daytime date.


I was invited to try it out and had a really fun night. One thing I really like about Polpo is the bar area. The embroidered napkins hanging from the lights are just gorgeous. Propped up on a bar stool, and determined not to fall off it, we were taken through three versions of a spritz cocktail - historically a wine and bitter liquer based drink you would have as an aperitif. We started with the most commonly known one in the UK, and one that's increasing in popularity, the Aperol Spritz. This was quite classic although instead of prosecco, they use their house garganega wine. I love these, so refreshing and easy to drink, and the fluro orange colour is as stunning as the flavour.

Polpo Brighton negroni cocktail

Next was a Brighton negroni and a cocktail not for the faint hearted. It's pure alcohol with an equal split of Brighton Gin, red vermouth and Campari with just a slice of orange for company.


We finished with a Cynar gin fizz. I'm no stranger to random Italian herb based liqueurs - my family make booze out of all sorts of stuff back in Italy and there is one for every ailment. The cellar is stacked high with bottles of green, brown and yellow liquids - a Russian roulette of hangover awaits. Cynar is made (thankfully in a far more controlled environment) from 13 herbs and plants, predominantly the artichoke as shown on the front of bottle. Mixed with gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and prosecco, it was remarkably light and refreshing though.

Polpo Brighton chicchetti small plate food

We supplemented our drinks with delicious small plates of pickled octopus, potato croquettes, fried, stuffed olives and slices of chocolate sausage. It was informal and fun with the right amount of interaction and being left to enjoy the drinks and food. Highly recommended!

Polpo Brighton bar area

Polpo Brighton

New Road
Brighton

I was invited to try out Spritz Saturdays. Words and thoughts, as always, my own. 

Cafe Domenica, Brighton

interior at cafe domenica brighton

There's a huge drive to shun the big brand chain coffee shops and to support independent cafes, but what if we went one step further?

menu at cafe domenica brighton

Right in front of the Brighton Pavilion sits Team Domenica, a social enterprise charity which helps young adults with learning disabilities find and retain employment. There are approximately 1.5 million people in the UK with learning disabilities and young adults within this group are faced with less than a 6% chance of finding employment after leaving education. Over 65% of people with learning disabilities want to work, yet there is no sustainable way for them to enter the workforce. And I'm so proud that there are a number of excellent businesses in Brighton that support vocational places to the candidates here.

food at cafe domenica brighton

Under the centre itself is a cafe where candidates are able to practice their catering and social skills by serving the public. And it's a really gorgeous space too, designed in keeping with the oriental style of the Pavilion it sits near, the cafe is light, bright and modern. They serve Small Batch coffee and offer simple, fresh cafe food like filled croissants, soup, toasted panini, sandwiches and homemade cakes -along with the classic chocolate cake were some quirkier options like the courgette and poppyseed cake.

flat white at cafe domenica brighton

This is a brilliant alternative to the cafes around the town centre, especially if you are visiting the museums. The coffee is excellent and served by the loveliest of people. Prices are kept low (sandwiches £3, cakes £1.50 and coffee around £2) and all profits go straight back into the charity to help them do their good work. You can also get takeaway so ideal if you are freezing at the bus stops outside!

candidate at cafe domenica brighton

candidate at cafe domenica brighton

I loved meeting the candidates that were staffing the cafe that day, hearing about the places they have been working and seeing the beneficial impact it has on their lives. It makes complete sense to support this charity just by choosing to pop in for coffee.

flower decoration at cafe domenica brighton

Cafe Domenica
62-63 Old Steine
Brighton

I'm also going to pay a visit to Dottie's Cafe in East Brighton Park soon. They have taken over the cricket club house cafe (it's not changed since I was a kid!) and is staffed by deaf people. They even encourage you to sign your order! 

REVIEW: The Jolly Poacher, Brighton

confit duck at The Jolly Poacher pub in Brighton

I have been meaning to get out to the The Jolly Poacher—a neighbourhood food pub on Ditchling Road—since they opened in 2012, particularly as they are related to the acclaimed Jolly Sportsman in East Chiltington. So it was with some serious anticipation that I finally made it through the door.

The space is charming and pleasant in many ways, far brighter and modern than I was expecting, yet it had a strange feel that I couldn't quite place. Saying that I don't tend to dine in pubs often, so maybe I wasn't at home as most people would feel in the environment. Their imposing gold coffee machine is quite something though - topped with a gold falcon, it looked like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate factory. Who doesn't like a bit of quirk? 

It's a small point but the menu was peppered with spelling mistakes (probably much like this post before anyone calls me out on it). I think places that promise quality like this need to get the details right and the menu read is the first taste of the dining experience. Anyway, the menu was also full of winter warmers that had been given a decadent twist; pickled quail with spiced cauliflower, scorched corn and jalepeno croquettes with oysters, pork belly with black pudding and chorizo.

Goose liver parfait at The Jolly Poacher pub in Brighton

I finally settled on the "goose liver" parfait (a nice way of avoiding the f word), £7.50. I really love a silky, smooth pate and this didn't disappoint. The sweet wine jelly around the plate gave a welcome floral and acidic contrast to the parfait and the toasted bricohe added sweetness. Perfectly balanced and incredibly pleasant to eat, but as usual the toast was long gone before I had finished the parfait so I had to gobble it up with the salad garnish. I'm starting to think Busby & Wilds in Kemptown is the ONLY restaurant in the world to get the toast/pate balance right.

Crab fritters at The Jolly Poacher pub in Brighton

Rosie's thai spiced crab fritters (£7.50) were a little wet in the middle despite the perfectly crisp crumb coating. I'm not sure what they lacked exactly - she's not the sort of girl you'd want to steal too much food from to find out.

A confit duck leg (£16.50) is exactly what I wanted on a chilly night. The leg itself was tender but often needs a sauce as it can be a bit dry, which I suppose is why they often serve it with a bean stew. Here it was presented with a gorgeous, slightly spiced carrot and orange puree, but it needed far more of it along with more than the tiny trickle of jus on the edge of the plate. The herbed potato croquette made the dish more substantial and as much as I love cavolo nero, I was a bit miffed it didn't come with the chicory as advertised (and no mention of the change either at ordering).

Beef cheek at The Jolly Poacher pub in Brighton

The beef cheek (£19.50) was meltingly soft and served with a battered oyster making the dish more impressive. As per my main though, Rosie wasn't overly excited by it.

I rarely want a dessert but crave one when I haven't enjoyed my meal as much as I had hoped. Saying that there was nothing that took my fancy, the desserts included a crumble, creme brulee and cheeses. The people next to us ordered the chocolate torte which was the tiniest of slithers and at £8.50 a pop, I didn't think was worth the hit. 

If you live locally then I would say The Jolly Poacher is well worth a shot, certainly for the £17 set menu or the Sunday roast that Rosie (who has done her homework and some) rated quite highly. But otherwise I'm not sure a trip across town is worth the effort. Despite being of a good level food wise, it's jolly expensive for sure and there are plenty of other places in Brighton your money might be better spent.

The Jolly Poacher
100 Ditchling Rd
Brighton