REVIEW: Hotel Du Vin Bistro, Brighton

As wonderfully varied, eclectic and culturally rich as Brighton is, we are sadly rather low on high end dining. I could probably count on one hand the restaurants I would choose for that particularly special meal. One of them, however would have to be Hotel Du Vin. This would be my fourth meal here and it has always delivered at least one memorable dish with each visit.

The mood of the interior is spot on, I like the cleverly lit bistro style dining room and the cleanly designed yet comfortable bar area (which has now been extended). Its smart, formal yet relaxed at the same time. I'm still not a fan of their newer addition next door, Pub Du Vin, as the interior looks like a car crash between Walt Disney and Van Helsing, so I stick to the bar here for pre (and post) drinks.

Normally opting for a terrine, paté or rillettes starter from HDV menu, I went a little off piste and chose a Smoked Haddock Gougere which was feather light and creamy. Enjoyable in a fancy-fish-pie kind of way with beautiful flakes of smoked haddock but I did miss the flavour hit of one of their terrines.

Mr Graphic Foodie chose the impressive looking Pan-Fried Squid, with a Mushroom and Barley Broth. This was a nicely textured and interesting starter. Squid is notoriously difficult, rarely ordering it as nine times out of ten I end up chewing on fat elastic bands which is no fun for anyone, but this one had acceptable chewiness.

You know I love a confit duck, and there was plenty to love about this one along with the fennel gallette. I did find the sauce a touch sweet but it did work well as a dish overall. I was more than happy with the succulent pockets of meat hiding underneath the irresistibly crisp skin.

As enjoyable as my duck was, the main course winner of the evening award went to Mr GF's perfectly cooked venison with fondant potato and celeriac puree. Classic, fantastic quality produce, cooked with confidence which has no need to try too hard.

I could take or leave sticky toffee pudding and there were plenty of other desserts on the menu that caught my eye like the cherry clafoutis, tarte tatin or homemade sorbets but as I was dining with the sticky toffee pudding monster AKA Mr. Graphic Foodie, this is what we shared. This delivered the buttery sweet hit you'd expect from it. Monster gave it the thumbs up.

It's worth mentioning that HDV has quite possibly the best service in town. Their gliding staff are sharp, knowledgeable and polite, but most (and foremost) friendly to boot. Their sommelier recommended us a bottle of the St Hallett Faith Shiraz which worked perfectly with our main course choices. The wine list may generally be on the pricey side but there is plenty to choose from for a wide variety of budgets and even their wines by the glass, although limited, are not too shabby. In any case it is worth asking for help from the sommelier rather than put yourself through the exhausting task of reading the weighty list.

The food on offer at Hotel Du Vin isn't going to blow your socks off with inventiveness but that's not what it is about. I'd rather eat the classic, solid and robust meals on offer here than any gimmicky fine dining. The food prices are just a little higher than mid-range dining in the city yet the quality and service so much more so that really this is good value dining, but you can rack up a portly bill with booze. However, I noticed that they have some rather good lunch and dinner offers which would be worth taking advantage of and even if you choose not to dine, the bar is worth knowing about for a drink in central Brighton avoiding the riff raff.

Hotel Du Vin Brighton
2-6 Ship St

EVENT: Best of Brighton, Saturday 9th April 2011 (plus other events)

What a lush day today! Brighton is always at its best when the sun shines and hopefully it will continue to gleam for the upcoming Spring Brighton Food Festival, 1st-10th April.

One really good idea is the Best of Brighton live food event where there will be three forty minute demonstrations from some of the highest acclaimed local restaurants. But better than just watching them in a crowded marquee somewhere, you will be able to really enjoy their efforts with a relaxed sit down 3 course lunch with wine matched by Henry Butler. Excellent, where else can you visit all your favourite restaurants, enjoying a course from each of them in one sitting?

The event starts at 9.30am with tea served in the Radisson Blu Hotel. This is followed by the three demonstrations in the Cooking Theatre by chefs from highly acclaimed restaurants such as Terre a Terre, Sam’s Of Sevendials and Drakes.

The menu will be:
Twice Baked Soufflé by Terre a Terre
Crab and Soft Herb Ravioli by Sam's of Sevendials
Trio of Pork by Drakes (pictured above)
Tarte Tatin plus homemade truffles by Cocoa Patisserie

After the 3 savoury courses, Cocoa (my favourite local patisserie) will hold a final demonstration.

The Best Of Brighton event is a bargain at £45 per person, including chef demonstrations, 3 course lunch, wine and afternoon tea.

Along with this event there is plenty more happening in the festival. Tickets have sold out for my favouite event which is the Taste of Sussex Gourmet Bus Tour but Restaurant Week will be running with some real dining bargains (remember to book ahead), Dining in the Dark night, Fish Festival, wild food cookery course and special restaurant events.

For tickets or full listings, visit Brighton Visitor or call 01273 770044

Jamie Magazine, The Italian Issue

I love this month's issue of Jamie Magazine which is an Italian issue special.

*Warning I am going off on a design bender here - skip for information on contents and food!* What really stands out in general about this magazine is the uncoated paper, wonderful type, detail and phenomenal amount of original illustration commissions. I mean it's so beautiful. Every feature and snippet has been represented with thought and not solely relying on press release snaps. I particularly like the feature on Amaro whose classically Italian illustration reminds me of the buxom lady on De Cecco packaging and the lovely type on the Order Like An Italian feature.

Content wise, Jamie seems to "get" Italian food like no other (non Italian) celeb chef. He seems to be attracted to real, regional Italian dishes and it's exciting for me to read about as it drills down deeper than the pizza and pasta level into the real cultural crevices. This issue features classic Roman pastas, a very interesting article on the digestive of even aperatif Amaro (relitively unknown on these shores), a piece on Cutello (little bum!) di Zibello which is a niche type of Prosciutto and of course may favouirite Italian chef personalities, Carluccio and Contaldo, travel back to Carluccio's village for a bite or twelve to eat. It's a top issue and well worth a read if you pick it up - hurry though as I think it's nearing the end of it's publication but back issues can be purchased here.

Mangia! Mangia!

A cocktail for 150 years of Italian unity

So Italy celebrated 150 years as a united nation on the 17th of March. Although in reality for most parts of Italy this notion of unity is still laughably questionable with neighbouring regions commonly arguing that their region's food/drink/people/culture/water/air is superior to all others!

I noticed my cousin, Natalia, who owns the bar in the village my family are from, had posted the bar's celebration cocktail on Facebook. This is the Garibaldi cocktail apparently - isn't it a beauty? Apparently it contains Grenadine, sambuca and the green layer is a liqueur called Centerbe from the region of Abruzzo. Centerbe means "100 herbs" and is a potent (70%!!!) mix of herbs found naturally in the Majella, the mountains we can see from the balcony of our home there. I struggle to think of all the 100 herbs in this liqueur (which is a secret recipe) but from what I've seen growing, it must contain the likes of mint, basil, rosemary, saffron, juniper berries, sage and chamomile. As well as a drink, it is used as a medicine, digestive, antiseptic and I suspect a very effective limescale remover :) Below is a picture of Monte Amare (Bitter mountain) the highest point in the Majella.

Not sure how the cocktail tasted but it does look beautiful indeed. I expect it would make your eyebrows ping clean of your face with it's potency though!

Anyway, happy unity anniversary Italy!

DESIGN: Wearable food by Sung Yeon Ju

I've been going Gaga for these wearable food dresses by phenomenal artist Sung Yeon Ju. Beautiful.


Winter Mushroom:

Lotus Root:


Via Creative Review / Images via

COMPETITION: Win a nights stay in the glamorous penthouse suite, spa treatments and dinner at the Brighton Thistle hotel

If you are not lucky enough to live in Brighton it is a fun place to visit for the weekend and one of the reasons I started this blog was to help visitors (and residents alike) find good food in the city. It is easy to get lured by the tourist fodder, but with so many local cafes, restaurants and bars doing incredible things, I hope yours truly can point you in the right direction on your visit.

To make your stay even more fabulous, how about a stay in the Thistle's penthouse suite? Don't say I don't give you anything! I have a wonderful one nights stay for two people worth £650 as well as some extra goodies. Unfortunately the only image I have is this slightly cheesy shot but I've been along to the suite personally to see if it is worthy of my attractive and stylish readers!! The best bit is the hot tub on the outside decked balcony, overlooking over the seafront and the suite itself is nicely decorated and very glam.

In addition to the suite, you will also receive a free pass to the recently refurbished Otium Health & Leisure Club or you could use your pass to indulge yourself with a massage or treatment in the beauty rooms (one per person). A complimentary Dinner for two will also be offered in the Promenade Restaurant, overlooking Brighton Pier and the sea.

Nice huh! Shame I can't enter but y'know - I'll be ok in my 2 up 2 down round the corner in the cheap seats while you live the high life!

Entry: To stand a chance of winning all you need to do is visit the competition page here and answer the following question: Why should you win a night in a luxury Thistle hotel suite? The most deserving entry judged by Thistle Hotel will win.
The closing date for this competition is 31st March 2011 at 5pm. Entrants must be 18yrs or over to enter this competition. Other T&Cs are also available on the page.

The Graphic Foodie's Off The Beaten Path Tour of Brighton!
If you do win, here is my suggested itinerary for a top day in Brighton. If you haven't been to the Pavillion or the Pier, you have to go - I've lived here all my life and still need my annual fix of both. Assuming you have visited before, I suggest The Graphic Foodie's Off The Beaten Path Tour of Brighton! After your morning chill and massage, take a walk and grab a coffee and mid-morning pastries at Cocoa, my favourite patisserie in town. You will then have summoned the energy for some shopping round the Laines where I like to pick up fab vintage cookware and china, design focused homeware or some boutique jewelry.

I would then suggest an Indian street food style lunch at The Chilli Pickle. It ain’t no visit to Brighton without an ice cream so squeeze in a visit to Boho - my go to for gelato. Gelato in hand, have a mooch down to the seafront for a walk and a nose around Castor and Pollux design/art gallery and shop and then maybe play on some vintage slot machines at the charming Old Penny Arcade before heading back to The Thistle. After dining, grab some post dinner drinks at Hotel Du Vin, or if warm enough, grab a space on the beach and order some drinks from one of the seafront bars.

Good luck! x

RECIPE: Sussex Pond Pudding

You may have gathered that this isn't a typical dish to come out of my kitchen but I have written an article on Sussex historic recipes for this year's Brighton Spring Food Festival*. In the name of research *cough* I am making a few of the recipes I come across. God help my waistline.

One pudding that came up time and time again–and I suppose is the most well known today due to its kooky name and resurrection on restaurant menus–is the Sussex Pond Pudding, a suet crust holding a melting butter and sugar filling infused with a whole lemon. I also have a sneaky suspicion that Heston may have used this as the inspiration for his now infamous Christmas Hidden Orange Pudding, such is his interest in historic recipes and I believe this pudding is available at his new Dinner restaurant "inspired by historic British gastronomy".

Interestingly, the pudding in some of the earlier recipes do not use a lemon at all, sticking to the butter and sugar filling but I like that the lengthy steaming time (3.5 hours) creates a rich and sharp sauce with the help of the lemon. Once cut into, the name "pond" is illustrated as the pool of sauce circles the pudding, however there are references to this pudding previously being called "pound pudding" as the measurements were generally a pound of everything which would also explain the term.

You can add some currents to the filling if you like which is a common acceptable variant of this pudding. You will need a 1 litre pudding basin, some greaseproof paper, foil and string.

Serves 4

200g self raising flour
100g shredded beef suet (you could use vegetarian)
about 100ml milk cold
140g cold butter
100g soft brown sugar
a large lemon

Grease your pudding basin well with butter.

Combine the flour and suet in a large bowl and add a little of the milk at a time until you get a firm, manageable pastry, one that isn't too sticky or too dry. You may need more of less of the milk.

Lightly dust the kitchen worktop and roll out two thirds of the pastry into a round to fit the inside of your basin, allowing for a little overhang. Once your pudding basin has been lined with the pastry, cut the butter into small cubes and mix in the brown sugar gently in a separate bowl. Put half of this mixture into the lined pudding bowl. Using a wood or metal skewer, make holes all over the surface of the lemon and then place this on top of the butter sugar mixture. Add the remaining butter and sugar mixture on top of the lemon.

Roll out the reserved pastry to create a lid. Moisten the edges of the pastry base with a little milk and lay on the lid, using your fingers to securely fasten the two together. Trim of any pastry excess.

Grease your baking paper with a little more butter and fold it with some pleats. Place this over the pudding as well as a double layer of foil and secure tightly with string. Trim off the excess paper and foil.

Place the pudding in a large saucepan and fill half way up the pudding with boiling water. Steam the pudding for about 3.5 hours, checking the pan regularly to top up the water levels.

Serve with thick cream and then go for a very, very long run.

*Which I will pop up shortly.

On the menu in Brighton for Shrove Tuesday / Pancake day 2011 (or some recipes for Martedí Grasso)

I do love pancake day, or what ever you want to call it, but sometimes it rockets past and you have missed out on the pancake goodness. Horror. To help get your fill, here are my top Brighton picks as well as a couple of my sweet and savory recipes at the bottom (with an Italian twist), if you are staying at home.

L'Eglise will be celebrating "La Chandeleur" as they call it in France, with some crepe lessons. From 3.30 to 5.30pm, children are invited to eat and make their own pancakes on a super-safe portable induction burner for £5 including an orange juice. For the adults, you will be shown how to make a crepe Suzette, also for £5 and cocktails will also be available. Booking is strongly recommended.

It wouldn't be an event in the calendar if Boho Gelato didn't come up with a special flavour. This year sees a classic, the crepe Suzette, incarnated into glorious gelato using oranges, custard and Grand Marnier. Boho, we salute you!

Brighton's vegetarian favourite Terre a Terre will be serving a divine sounding pancake filled with lemon and lime curd in caramelised orange syrup, served with yogurt sorbet.

The Gingerman Group will be offering a pancake dessert special on their pub boards and £1 from each order will go to the Rockinghorse Appeal. This will hopefully go to a new Children’s Emergency Unit at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton, bless them.

For breakfast and brunching, Bill's will be offering pancakes with maple syrup or vanilla pod ice cream and fresh fruits from 8am until 5pm.

Nia Cafe will have not one, but three options. For savory, the crepes will be served with toasted walnuts, herb and cream cheese, crispy bacon and maple syrup. Yum! For sweet you have the choice of lemon curd, citrus reduction, lemon and lime segments and candied lemon peel or crème fraiche with berry coulis.

Cote in town do a really nice crepe with Grand Marnier and oranges on their standard menu which I love (top pic). I've ordered this a few times now!

The bright and cheery Giraffe are inviting you to Pimp Your Pancake. Available 8th - 11th March until 5pm get a pile of US style pancakes with 4 toppings of your choice including chocolate chips, vanilla ice cream, blueberry compote, walnuts, chocolate, caramel or berry sauce. Adults can add a dash of the strong stuff for a little extra. Take a picture of your creation and post it to their Facebook page and you could win a meal for 6 people.

Alternatively if you are staying in and risking batter on your ceiling you could try my Italian twist for Shrove Tuesday (or Martedí Grasso) with my Baked Crespelle with Celeriac, Pancetta and Thyme or for a sweet version my Sicilian Cannoli Inspired Pancakes with Sweet Ricotta, Orange and Toasted Almonds.

Happy flipping!

RECIPE: "Use Every Scrap" Artichoke and Asparagus Risotto with Crispy Prosciutto

I adore fresh artichokes but they are such a pig to prepare and often you are rewarded with very little for your efforts other than black fingers. This risotto however, makes it all worth while as you do not waste a single leaf or stalk of the artichoke, using everything you normally discard to make a beautiful gold stock full of flavour. So thrifty that even the tough ends of the asparagus are used! I have also been known to nibble on the tiny fleshy bits attached to the artichoke leaves as a post dinner treat clearing up the stock pot.

The delicate flavour of this risotto is pepped up with a slice of dry fried prosciutto which you can omit for a vegetarian option if you need to.

Serves 2

2 fresh artichokes
1 onion, half left intact, half chopped finely
2 slices of prosciutto
olive oil
175g risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
Bunch of asparagus, tough end of the stalks removed and reserved for the stock, remaining stalk sliced into 5mm slices and the very tips kept intact
1 glass of dry white wine
30g Parmesan, grated

Prepare the stock and artichoke hearts (You may want to protect your hands with latex gloves from the artichokes which will turn your fingers black!)
Heat a large pan with 700ml water to boiling for the stock. Fill a small bowl with cold water and the juice of half a lemon which you will put the hearts into.

Cut the top of the artichoke (more than you think) and the stalk with some of the base. The hard leaves should now come away, peel these away until you are left with just the artichoke heart. Place the stalks and leaves into the stock pan along with the half onion and tough asparagus stalk bases. Simmer gently to create the stock.

Cut the hearts in half and remove the "choke" and discard. Tidy the base and any tough pieces you cut off can be thrown into the stock pan as well. Finely slice the heart. Place the prepared heart slices inside the water with the lemon juice and dip your fingers in as well if you haven't put on latex gloves.

Make the risotto
Put a heavy bottomed pan on the stove on a high heat. Fry off the prosciutto until brittle, remove and set aside. Cool the pan a little before adding a glug of olive oil. Add the finely chopped onion and gently fry until soft. Add the risotto rice and coat in the oil. Add a glass of white wine to the rice and stir until absorbed. Begin to add the artichoke stock ladle by ladle, stirring until absorbed before adding the next ladle. The more work you put in the better.

After abut 10 minutes add the artichoke slices and the sliced stalks of the asparagus (NOT the tips) and continue to cook the risotto, adding the stock. After another 5 minutes, add the asparagus tips. Continue to cook until the rice is cooked but still has a little bite and the vegetables are tender (about 5-8 minutes).

Take off the heat, add the grated Parmesan, season well and stir through.

Serve on warmed plates topped with the crispy prosciutto shards.