Isaac At is one place that's been on my list for a while due to having one of the more unusual locations and formats in town. Located in Gloucester Street in some sort of former shop, this little space has been transformed into a quirky (but elegantly executed), intimate restaurant. A close team of chefs, headed by owner Isaac Bartlett Copeland, silently work in an impossibly tiny open kitchen and engage with you throughout your meal, introducing each course to explain the ingredients and methods. They only open two nights a week (the rest is for food development) which adds to the exclusivity.
The room is served together and although there are vegetarian and pescatarian options, the menu is set, so this does feel like an event rather than traditional dining.
So to the food...we started with (yes, it's the sort of place that lists four ingredients on the menu) Charred and Roasted Carrot, Puffed Rice and Star Anise. The humble carrot was definitely given a makeover here, with superb flavour from the charring. Although my "I don't want cereal with my dinner" klaxon was going off in my head, I'd say this was one of the very few occasions that I think it worked, complementing the smoke and earthiness of the carrot well.
Next was Baked Cod, Salt Baked Celeriac, Smoked Apple and Rosemary. This was a subtle, sweet dish with the mellow flavours of the cod and celeriac. The rosemary dust and oil here really transformed the plate though, adding a much needed punch. Again, the fish and fruit is a combination that shouldn't work in my head but The Little Fish Market's seabass and grapefruit dish I had in 2013 is still one of the nicest and most memorable dishes I've eaten, so maybe I'll just have to embrace it.
Dish of the night for this carnivorous girl though was the Beef Jacobs Ladder, Parsley Root, Wild Garlic and Wilted Gem. This is a fantastic cut, the thin layers of fat that run through it give it a soft, tender texture and rich flavour. It was perfectly put together with wild garlic emulsion and I always have time for charred lettuce, it's lovely.
I could have easily eaten a whole bowl of the Rhubarb Sorbet and Thyme palette cleanser that came next. So prettily pink with new season rhubarb too.
The Apple, Oats and Whisky Ice Cream was more elegant than I was expecting with a real lightness of touch. I will always choose fruit based desserts over chocolate so the tart granny smith butter puree was right up my street.
Big shout out to the little treacle and stout bread as well. I appreciate attention given to the breads and this was so good, almost cake-like and I always think you need bread on the table. To hell with all this anti-gluten business.
We polished off the meal with some petit fours; a lemon and almond drizzle cake and fennel shortbread with chocolate ganache.
The food is fastidiously well sourced, plenty of which is local and shows off the asset of living near both the coast and the South Downs, lucky us. Part of the menu gives the distance in miles to every ingredient used which I think is the only restaurant in Brighton that does so. The wine list here could also be my favourite in the city. I wish all my meals started with a glass of Ridgeview Bloomsbury Sparkling. We also had wines from Sedlescombe Vineyard and an amazing white - the Horsmondern Dry from Davenport Vineyards.
I also bloody love Blackdown drinks but this was my first taste of their Elderberry Port which is a must-try, really fruity but with liquorice undertones. This will be on my Christmas table this year for sure.
So yes, there were some fashionably cheffy dusts and the like but they were used with purpose and in moderation here. Dishes here show some innovative touches but it still feels quite sensible - food that diners are still happy to eat. Sometimes I feel that these flourishes are on the plate for dramatic effect (really, noone wants to eat lambs heart dust or dehydrated trout tail...noone). It's interesting to know that when they opened a year ago the food was more complex with up to 13 elements but they have the balance right now. As with all creatives, me included, it's hard to step back when you are trying so hard to impress with your work. Simplicity is actually quite an art.
Everything has been nicely done, the attention to detail in the interior, table setting and food is good and the presentation slick. For such a young chef in quite the early stages of his career, it's impressive stuff not just for cooking skill but for the balls to branch out alone.
Seating can be communal but I have no issue with it, but I know some feel uncomfortable about it, including my dining partner on the night. To be fair, if the people next to you are the sort of couple that don't utter a word to one another it can feel like eves dropping but I've generally met some fun people in this situation. To overcome this you can actually pre-book a table online, including a few tables for two if you really don't like sharing.
In all, if you are interested in dining out then this should be on your visit list. For £45 for the meal, I think it's really decent value. Due to the quality of wines, these are of the higher price point but worth it to try them.
2 Gloucester Street
Brighton BN1 4EW