REVIEW: V and H Cafe, Holland Road, Hove


I don't often review many cafes, or breakfasts, on the blog mainly because I don't tend to go out to eat breakfast (neither would you if you could eat Mr GF's pancakes) but I do go to plenty of cafes and definitely have my favourites. Even so a whole blog post on a chicken salad on toast or a piece of cake and a coffee is hardly riveting stuff. 


But sometimes there's more to a place than you'd expect. As you walk in to V and H Cafe, a painted mural lists their main suppliers. It's a celebration of Sussex produce really and why not get everything locally if you can? 

This is a real USP of this cafe. When food is as simple as breakfast, sandwiches and salads, quality of ingredient and attention to detail is what sets you apart.  


As soon as my Eggs Florentine arrived I knew that these values were strong. Two perfectly poached eggs from Five Chimneys Farm in Hadlow Down (laid on the day of delivery) sat on my favourite chewy brown bread from Real Patisserie, with lightly cooked kale, mushrooms and frisee salad. And not too much Hollandaise sauce either. A gorgeous combination, much better than the typical spinach in the dish with the more robust kale. I wolfed the lot down. 


My dining companion was the other man in my life, my five year old son, whose love of breakfast is making me more enthusiastic about it too. His face was a picture when his breakfast turned up, tailored from the standard menu and fit for a small prince! You see some really sad sausages in breakfast shots but this free range one from Westdene Butchers was fanastic, free from any fillers. The thickly cut rasher of bacon also came from them too. Soldiers cut from chewy brown and a generous helping of butter rich, golden scrambled eggs. 

A nice touch was the homemade baked beans, made from a mix of butter, kidney and haricot given a slight kick of heat from chilli. So much nicer than tinned.

A lot of the menu can be adapted like this, the possibilities are endless but unlike some cafes who refuse to deviate from the menu, they are quite happy for you to customise - a particular bonus for those dining with little ones. 


Coffee was great from Roasted in Henfield, as was the freshly squeezed juice made even more invigorating with ginger and turmeric.  


We took some cakes home, made by Matthew Drennan from The Cake Time (who ran Flourtown Bakery and cafe which was here before V and H Cafe took over). The slice of walnut and banana cake was really lovely. Traditional, honest and light, just as I like it. (I really have zero time for lurid, over the top cakes with piles of frosting and decoration.) The salted chocolate brownie though - this was the best textured brownie I've had. Not overly gooey but melting and crisp with a tinge of saltiness that makes it more grown up. I'd walk to Palmeira Square from Kemptown just for this.

The interior has been nicely done. It feels beachy without being themed, a lovely space to drop in any time (they also do salads and sandwiches for lunch too.)

Service is faultless, friendly and welcoming. I noticed a table of clearly well treated regulars that small businesses like this do well to retain. 

I'm really glad I trekked over. This isn't my neck of the woods but if it were, I'd be in a lot, believe me. You can't fault the quality, service or attention to detail at all.

Holland Road
Hove

I dined as a guest of V and H Cafe. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.

BRIGHTON SNIPPEATS: Bluebird Tea Co., Brighton Bierhaus, Brighton Tap Takeover, Foodies Festival



The Easter treats have been arriving this week but one not so bad for the waist are goodies from Bluebird Tea Co. Along with their gorgeous packaging - those little tea filled eggs! - they have some lovely flavours for the season. I really liked Easter Egg Nests which is like their Choco Pops blend with chocolate, marshmallows and toasted rice puffs. The Carrot Cake, in a little carrot shaped packet, was in a caffeine-free Rooibos base with cinnamon, caramelised hazelnut, carrot flakes and mallow flowers and finally the Hot Cross Bun blend with cinnamon, hibiscus, apple pieces, rosehip, orange peel and cranberry pieces. Just lovely and such a nice alternative to all that chocolate.

Order in-store or via bluebirdteaco.com


Brighton Bierhaus
Now open and looking rather splendid, the Bierhaus has 6 cask lines and a further 13 keg lines so they’ll be a great range of beers available from the brewery and then guest beers from around the world, including the legendary Firestone Walker from California and new Dry & Bitter from Denmark. In addition to the beers, they'll have 4 dedicated wine keg lines, including one for Prosecco. YES PROSECCO.

Visit brighton.beer or a really handy site is Untappd to see whats pouring where. 



I joined Brighton Tap Takeover this year for the first time. Although beer isn't normally my thing, the more I try, the more I like it, particularly when you can have your fill of some of the best and quirkiest breweries. I tried "Brighton in a glass" brewed by the Laine Brew Co which included Brighton rock, seaweed and sea water from under the pier (!). And I also discovered I still do love stouts and porter of any kind. Good for you innit. 

taptakeover.co.uk Don't miss it next year!



The Foodies Festival returns on Hove lawns on April 29, 30 and May 1. Not to be confused with the Brighton Food Festival which is free, this is a ticketed event but includes all of the usual food festival activities, workshops, food trucks, producers market and music. You'll also spy a few of our local and celebrity chefs cooking on stage like Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees, Michelin starred Matt Gillan, Alun Sperring of Chilli Pickle, Stephen Crane of Ockenden Manor and Doug McMaster of SILO.

Get 30% off with the voucher code BRIGHTON30 www.foodiesfestival.com 

REVIEW: MAW pop up restaurant, Brighton


Supper clubs come in various guises and it's been a while since I've dined at one in a more traditional format, in a home. But, Brighton being Brighton, this was not your average home, tucked in a quiet street and with a former life as a coach house. The space was huge, modern and stylish and the chef at the stove was Mark Wadsworth who you may have spied on last season's Masterchef. Following a stint last year with a series of successful pop ups in Brighton Square, they are now back with a new 8 course tasting menu, appearing every six weeks in various locations across the city.

So after we settled down on the huge communal table and made friends with the strangers around us we tucked into the food. A food trend I'm really on board with is the real celebration of butter. It started off with adorning the good stuff with a few salt crystals, now toppings are getting more elaborate. But this was the best yet, topped with a dust of truffle, mushroom, leek and chicken and dangerously addictive. Being honest, I would have been happy with an entire loaf of bread and a slab of this for the whole evening. Even though I hate the word "umami", I can't think of a better description. Anyway, before this turns out to be a whole post on butter...


We were served three snacks; a delicious rare torched beef (although not sure it had been torched) on a bread crisp with sake and truffle mayo, a poached oyster with warm stout and my favourite, a pressed chicken skin crisp topped with dots of coriander, lemongrass and coconut sauce. Again, chicken skin has been cropping up a bit recently and happy with that I am too.


This followed with a really delicate Alaskan king crab dish, light and fresh and superb with the gentle heat from the crisp mouli. 

Almost the dish of the night was the quail (pictured on the top of this post). The fragrant Asian pear and truffle honey really accentuated the sweetness of the meat, whereas the pickled radish and burnt leek contrasted with it perfectly. A really clever dish this one and I can't get enough of the smoke element charred vegetables add to a meat course. 


The cod was an enjoyable dish, the fish poached in butter and given a Mediterranean holiday vibe with red pepper puree, mussels, chorizo and topped with paper thin tomato crisps - an ingredient that works particularly well in dehydration to intensify the flavour. 


Just pipping the quail for dish of the night though goes to the miso beef fillet though which packed a punch of juicy flavour. Served with a 50/50 butter mash (low cholesterol is so overrated), shitake mushroom and burnt onion, its simplicity really allowed the hero ingredient to shine. 


Dessert was a bit of a crowd splitter. Kudos for serving banana in a fine dining setting - you don't often see the humble 'nana glorified in elegant dishes, but this was pleasant with crystallised pecans and a matcha tea and white chocolate ice cream. It was different, quirky and interesting but not my favourite of desserts. 

The quality of supper clubs at this level is certainly on the rise and MAW is up there with the finest. Although I do enjoy suppers organised by home cooks or producers, there's something really special about a professional chef creatively let loose without constraints or house-style of a restaurant. The diner may be the guinea pig for some experimentation which can be contentious, but it always makes for an interesting dining experience.

Vegetarians are catered for with advanced notice and drinks are BYO. Tickets are £45 plus booking fee per person. For next events follow @mawpopup or visit https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/maw-popup-tickets-31943314313#

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

REVIEW: Driftwood, Bexhill



Austrian food is a relatively new one on me as I imagine for most outside London, who have some decent looking options. "Fancy going out for an Austrian?" Said no one, ever. But here we are in Bexhill at the newly opened Driftwood restaurant and hotel. Taking the helm in the kitchen is the talented (and remarkably young) chef Michael Roessl who brings with him some traditional cooking from his home in Styria.


The restaurant space feels really sumptuous. Masculine and refined with rich colours and clean lines. It's not what you'd expect to see along Bexhill's Sackville Road which seems to have remained untouched since 1983 with fax and copy shop, vinyl emporium and a shoe store fully equipped with a swirly patterned carpet, chandeliers and guilded signage (it's REALLY something). But Driftwood owner Seng Loy seems to be a man with his finger on the pulse of areas ripe for regeneration. With decades of experience in the hospitality sector and two other successful boutique hotels, he know the good travel links and decent house stock means Bexhill is the next hot location ticket.

But before you call your financial advisor about that investment property to add to your portfolio (you're welcome), let's dive into the food.


We started with a fusion dish and an invention of Roessi's, the Styrian Spring Roll. Typical vegetables of the region, along with apple cider vinegar and finely chopped pumpkin seeds (another Styrian delicacy) are rolled in a strudel pastry before being deep fried. These were delicious, the pastry as crisp as can be and the filling lightly spiced and flavoursome. The accompanying Asian style salad and pickled ginger was possibly a contrast too far but an enjoyable dish none the less.


Mr GF went for a crowd pleasing dish with smoked bacon wrapped feta cheese (what's not to like) that had been elegantly served with a pumpkin seed emulsion and pepper vinaigrette.

The main that really was the highlight of the meal, and showcased Austrian food at its best, was the Tafelspitz (shown at the top of this post), a hearty slice of tender beef that had been slow cooked in broth. This came with sauteed potatoes cooked with caraway seed, giving a hit of subtle sweetness. A small dish of apples and horseradish added heat and the chive mayo a cooling element. The rain that had been beating down on us all day was no match for the comfort of this dish, I enjoyed it so much and left me wanting to try more of this cuisine.


More widely known is the Wienner Schnitzel, the classic breaded veal escalope which arrived with a dish of Austrian potato salad, softer than we are used to with a hit of horseradish, vinegar and white onion and a Viennese cucumber salad which had been partially picked in vinegar then added to a sour cream and dill sauce. 


The Apple Strudel was something else, crisp and light pastry with a fruity apple filling. The little jar of warm vanilla custard, berry compote and cream was perfect with it.


I've always wanted to try Sachertorte (remember this from Bake Off?). It's a close crumb chocolate torte made with ground almonds and filled with apricot jam before being given a thick coating of glossy chocolate icing. I don't normally go for chocolate to finish a meal but this was a grown up chocolate cake, not overly sweet and very elegant too. 

The little touches throughout the meal are evident in Seng Loy's experience, the weight of the cutlery, the piped butter for the bread...it doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated.


The Driftwood's six rooms are really rather gorgeous too and a stone's throw from the beach. I absolutely love a boutique hotel and this has been finished to a really good standard with a great eye for design. The marble touches in the bathroom, the quirky retro radios and coffee machines - even the mini fridge isn't the typical white cube you'd expect.

The weather was atrocious on the day we visited but we still popped into the magnificent De La Warr Pavilion that is round the corner from the Driftwood and on a nicer day a post meal stroll along the promenade would have been lovely too. Even if you aren't staying at the hotel, a day trip is well worth it for a bit of old school seaside action, a culture fill and a darn good feed.

The Driftwood
40 Sackville Road
Bexhill
TN39 3JE

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

Action Against Hunger Too Many Critics Dinner, Brighton 2017


A little while back Dan from The Set Restaurant asked me if I'd cook for a charity event at the restaurant. My inability to say no (to anything - seriously, I have issues) had me agreeing before I could process what exactly I was getting myself into. Turns out it was for the Too Many Critics dinner which is an annual event in aid of Action Against Hunger - the charity who save the lives of malnourished children. Since having kids of my own, it pangs me even harder to see any child suffering, particularly for a basic need most of us have the luxury of taking for granted on a daily basis. So it's an absolute pleasure to be involved in raising money for such a worthy cause.

The dinner involves six food critics, writers and bloggers to each cook a course for a room full of acclaimed chefs who will be judging us for a change. Feeling the heat in the kitchen with me is Andy Lynes, Tom Flint (Food Booze Reviews), Euan MacDonald, Rosie Swaffer (Rosie Posie Puddings and Pies) and Eshe Brown (Foodie Eshe). Having successfully been hosted in London and Manchester, this is the first in Brighton and we'll be cooking for the local chef and food industry elite; the calibre of which makes me quite uneasy!

Now I'm quite happy in my kitchen cooking for friends and family and I don't think I'm too shabby at it, but this is something else. And in a professional kitchen. And for 34 covers. I don't think my spaghetti cacio pepe is going to cut the mustard here.

What has been nice is focusing on a dish and working at it - I have the vegetable starter so have dug into my Italian heritage and crafted a dish which celebrates Radhiccio, a really underused vegetable here. Italians love bitter flavours more so this could be a room splitter but I'm hoping to make it work!

100% of proceeds, including ticket and bar sales, will be going to AAH and there will be an auction to top up the money raised. The restaurant suppliers and The Set are kindly providing the venue, sponsoring ingredients and Ridgeview, Black Down Spirits and Sheridan Cooper will be sponsoring the alcohol.

The week building up to the event (3rd April - 9th April) The Cocktail Shack will be creating an AAH themed cocktail with all 100% proceeds going to the charity so do your bit and drink up!  

Anyway, I'll try and Instagram or Tweet from the event, if I'm not crying in the cupboard that is. You can follow updates via #TooManyCritics #charitycriticsbrighton

More from The Set
Co-owners of The Set, Bonner and Dan, are dedicated supporters of Action Against Hunger. As well as taking part in restaurant fundraising campaigns for the charity, Bonner has undertaken a 100km run and will be running the London Marathon in April this year. For those who can’t attend Too Many Critics but still wish to support The Set’s fundraising appeal, you can donate to their fundraising page here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/The-Set-Restaurant2

More about Action Against Hunger
Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organisation that takes decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger. The charity works in nearly 50 countries worldwide to save the lives of malnourished children. Action Against Hunger works to ensure everyone can access clean water, food, training and healthcare, enabling entire communities to be free from hunger.

Action Against Hunger is recognised as one of the leading charities to support within the UK food and drinks industry, and the charity has worked with restaurants, chefs and food brands for over 18 years. Hundreds of restaurants across the UK take part in the annual fundraising campaign ‘Love Food Give Food’ in September and October, where restaurants invite their diners to make a £1 voluntary contribution with their bill. 

Donating
You can also find out more and donate direct via www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk.

Image rights - Lys Arango 2016

BRIGHTON SNIPPEATS: Gluten free pizza in Brighton, Brighton Tap Takeover, Brighton Food Tours booze edition, Am.Lou. spread and SODT


Last week I headed over to Fatto A Mano to try out their gluten free pizza bases. Now this was my first sample of gluten free pizza but in the past I have seen some very sorry examples, either tiny, pre-frozen or just very, very sad. FAM have waited until now as they have been perfecting the dough which uses a rice and potato based flour blend. Impressive to look at (almost identical to a regular pizza) with a real cornicone and blistering to boot. It was a little spongy for me but Alice Reeves over at Gluten Free Dining RAVES about it in her review so I would say it's the answer to Gluten Free diners prayers. You can top it with vegan cheese and even wash it down with gluten free beer. Bravo fattoamanopizza.com


Brighton Tap Takeover is back on 31 March to 2 April 2017 in pubs across Brighton which sees craft beer breweries taking over the taps at 14 of our best Brighton pubs. Each of the brewers takes over the taps of their partnered pubs to create the world’s greatest pub crawl, with each of the city centre pubs within a 10 minute walk. As well as great beer, the pubs are gearing up for a weekend of fun, food, beer education and great music. Wristbands for the event - which come pre-loaded with four beers, swag bag and priority entry are available now for £15 from www.taptakeover.co.uk. I'll be running a competition for wristbands over on my Instagram page shortly!


Also on the booze are the fabulous team over at Brighton Food Tours who are offering a monthly drinks special, starting Sat 8th April 3-6pm - featuring mostly alcoholic drinks, some not… but all designed to surprise and delight. Their tours are really fun and informative with plenty of hidden gems which showcase our city's best food and drink spots and producers.
There have been a few really good new Brighton boutique food producers cropping up this year. One is AM.LOU, a Moroccan inspired breakfast spread made from 3 organic ingredients; almonds, culinary argan oil and honey. It's flipping delicious! I polished off the whole jar bar what my kids could tear away from me. It's like a rich, decadent and grown up version of peanut butter, toasted, sweet almonds with a real savoury kick from the argan oil. It's made by hand in small batches here in Brighton and available in Flour Pot Bakery, Hisbe or via their website. A must try. amloutree.com


Hygge was a MASSIVE trend for this year and nothing says it more than big blankets and comfort eating. But slaving away in the kitchen for hours on hend is not hygge - no, no. Enter SØDT (pronounced soot, which means sweet in Danish) who hand make frozen, ready to bake Danish pastries. Take them out of your freezer, heat the oven and 20 minutes later you have delicious freshly baked treats. Order from www.sodt.co.uk

REVIEW: Afternoon Tea at The Salt Room

Afternoon tea at The Salt Room Brighton savoury layer

I love the tradition of proper afternoon tea. Impeccable service, starched tablecloths, someone tinkling the ivories, fine china and silverware and an eye-watering bill to finish. But this has always involved a trip up to London where they have a wealth of options for the experience. Brighton just doesn't have the same attitude to luxury, I don't know why, we just don't seem to do it in the traditional sense - if we do it's always with a twist or quirk and that suits us just fine.

Which leads us onto the newly launched Afternoon Tea at The Salt Room, who are still flying high from that glowing review by Jay Rayner. The interior here is refined with a healthy dose of on-trend industrial aesthetic. Everything is well considered and the staff are stylish and professional in equal measure. Instead of a crisp white jacket and a plummy accent, our waitress had soft pink hair and a flower tucked behind her ear and had such a brilliant demeanour, both charming and fun, that she genuinely added to the experience.

Afternoon tea stand and table at The Salt Room Brighton

Every head in the room turned as the stand was brought in topped with two candy floss (could it scream Brighton any louder??), the visual is certainly impressive and a nod to The Salt Room's now infamous Taste Of The Pier dessert plate. Noone could help being impressed with this, it was absolutely beautiful.

Afternoon tea at The Salt Room Brighton savoury layer

Starting with the fish-based savoury layer, the Crab Scotch Egg was fragrant with tarragon and a nip of chilli and worked perfectly with the sweetness of the crab meat. I think Truffled Grilled Cheese is quite possibly the nicest things you could put in your mouth. Anything truffle and I'm in - this was glorious and such a welcome break from the finger sandwiches you'd expect. The Salmon and Squid Ink Bun was striking but somehow needed something, more seasoning maybe or more of a hit of flavour in the bun as it diluted the salmon and horseradish filling. A pig to eat was the Aged Beef Tartare & Egg Yolk Jam Sandwich, served between two crisp pastry layers that shattered on bite impact, but utterly, utterly delicious. Egg yolk and raw beef is a classic pairing but reworked into this little gem was inspired.

Scones and jam at Afternoon tea at The Salt Room Brighton

The little scones, served with home-made clotted cream and strawberry elderflower jam were the perfect size, not too filling and the only real nod to tradition. Still, I was happy they were there.

Sweet layer of cakes and chocolate Afternoon tea at The Salt Room Brighton

The sweet layer is a picture right? The crowning glory of the event. Present were the Chocolate Pebbles everyone seems to go crazy for - sugar coated chocolate truffles that are too sweet for me but I'm not a huge fan of chocolates (give me another slice of that truffled grilled cheese any day). Sadly our Rhubarb and Custard Macaroon had disintegrated into the plate - maybe we had been talking too long. Shame as they were nicely flavoured and the dehydrated rhubarb shards that topped them deliciously tart in themselves. Disappointing was the slice of heavy and claggy Pistachio & Raspberry Battenberg, I'm not really sure what the issue was here but Paul Hollywood would have pulled one of his faces for sure. Whilst I think they probably need to bring the sweet elements to the same exceptional standard as the savoury, we ended on a high with the most beautiful Orange & Yuzu Posset, really refreshing and light, served in a delicate meringue case.

Interior at The Salt Room Brighton

I have to say we didn't sample any of the tea - why would you when the bar here is one of the best in town and there's a Champagne option. Plus, I was with the effortlessly stylish Alexis from Style Memos - a dear friend and one serious social influencer, and meeting her always calls for a celebratory drink to supplement our hundred mile an hour chatter.

The teas are from JING and there is a reasonable selection or you can opt for a gin and tonic, Champagne or sweet wine (nice to see an ice wine on the list) or a tea-tail which is a cocktail with tea infused gin and vodka.

As the afternoon tea here is fish based I chose a Gin Mare which is becoming a bit of a favourite. It's slightly savoury with Mediterranean herbs and olive notes and served with samphire. Perfect choice for the savoury layer of food.

Price-wise it's a fraction of the cost of what you'd pay in the capital and excellent value for money too, starting at £24.95 with coffee or tea, £29.95 with gin and £34.95 with a glass of Taittinger Champagne.

Interior and Afternoon tea at The Salt Room Brighton

I always get asked for afternoon tea recommendations in Brighton and historically struggled, but now there are a few decent options (none in the main hotels you would expect). This one here at The Salt Room would certainly be up there, particularly for its celebration of the city and position by the sea.

The Salt Room
106 King's Road
Brighton

I dined as a guest of The Salt Room. However words and thoughts, as always, are my own.