REVIEW: Med. restaurant, Brighton

Med is the Brighton restaurant I've been waiting for. A swathe of casual eateries have popped up in the city during Covid times and, hand on heart, my enthusiasm had been waning for local food for the first time in decades. Because, if I've been craving anything right now after a spot of enforced abstinence from restaurants, it's going to an actual restaurant. With napkins, plates, nice wines, a bit of pampering and food you eat with, you know, cutlery. 

Despite Covid, we have also had a large hole in our dining arsenal for simple, but elegant Mediterranean food. But Med has arrived with sunny small plates of holiday memories, which is what we all need right now, particularly those mourning the loss of their summer holibob abroad. 

Although I visited on the opening weekend and my rule of not reviewing until a few weeks have passed, due to common teething issues until a place beds in, plates and opinion have been pretty consistent from the off here. The people behind Med are by no means new kids on the block, having held up a pretty strong local presence with Wolfsmouth and their numerous pub popups, as well as  the slicker small plate operation at Paradiso Social. All of that is now concentrated into this new spot and their delivery seems rather faultless.

If you're an eye roller to the small plate format, this could well change your mind. Here it truly does work and you can mix and match to your heart's content without creating either a monstrosity of a meal nor a colossal bill. 

Grown up hummus was given a pop of flavour from the unquestionable flavours of crunchy dukkah sprinkled on top, and scooped up with their excellent focaccia is an easy way kick off to things here, washed down with one of their cocktails from the short and sweet menu -  a very good negroni sbagliato hit the spot for me. 

The main "big dish" option is a market fish of the day. A simple grilled fish to share is a thing of beauty and today the choice was plaice, one of my favourites. De-boning whole fish at the table is an enjoyable ritual, so glad we were left to our own devices with it. Add in the patatas bravas and charred artichokes and courgettes and that's a meal complete. 

Of course don't stop there though. Dish of the night for me were clams with chorizo in a fragrant wine broth, served with a spoon I imagine, not to serving the clams with but to ensure you drink up every last drop from the bowl. Do that.

Portuguese style chicken is worth the order, a gooey chourico croquette and piquant romesco.

Most surprising was the cantaloupe melon dish. I've had thousands before, mainly depressing fridge cold wedges at wedding receptions, but this was a head turner; dressed up with avocado and cured cucumbers, with a combination of gorgeous herbs making for a light, fresh, sweet and delicious dish.

Wines have been treated equally well with a carafe working out the same cost as half bottle so you can work your way around the list a little with your meal. The list is nicely curated and unpretentious too. 

Dining here was a true delight actually, and it wasn't just the thirst for returning back to restaurants. It really is good full stop; the attention to detail is everywhere. Crowd pleasing, simple food, which hits that sweet spot of being well executed but relaxed and priced honestly.
2/3 Little East Street
Brighton. BN1 1HT

REVIEW: The Ginger Dog, Brighton

The Brighton dining scene is crazy, even I can't keep up at times. Openings, closings, pop ups, residencies, collabs, start-ups, non-starters, and often don't get to a place before they shut the doors. The night before this I was in a box fresh opening being assaulted by a 100 dish strong menu, service from the textbooks of Faulty Towers and a tongue curling sauce that featured in almost every dish (I can't vouch for the dessert, I wasn't going to find out). It was new and packed to the rafters with excited diners...for now. It's easy to be carried away with novelty, but where the truly good stuff is often found is in ones that have survived the years.

And OGs of Brighton restaurants will always be The Gingerman Group, flying their flag since 1998. The Ginger Dog may have taken time to stand tall next to the Man, Pig and Fox (and Flint House) as the more casual sibling of the bunch, but I think it's very much ready to stand on its own four feet.

Refurbed with a more moody tone; less quirk, more luxe, it speaks volumes about the quality of the evening and food you can expect.

Don't overlook the snacks, even if you're fully dining; A classic hummus is given a sultry souk make-over with ras el hanout spicing and a lively, grassy green olive puree. Absolutely delicious dunked with fat soldiers of fried gluten-free bread. As I'm building myself up to being the leading local authority on margaritas (hells, everyone needs a hobby) I had to order for research and can vouch for the fact it's a good one. Lip puckeringly sour and the ideal aperitif to gently browse menus with. If you, however, prefer your drink like any good woman; pretty, cute, yet stealthily dangerous as hell, then the raspberry and lychee martini is a good choice, like drinking a Jo Malone candle, in a very good way.

You can tell the group have worked hard on their drinks menus throughout the restaurants, particularly the cocktails. You won't find showy garnishes like clouds of candy floss to navigate your philtrum around, just a carefully curated list of drinks as good as their food, yet another art most miss the mark on.

Surprisingly good was a vegan starter of fried, spiced cauliflower. This often overlooked veg was amplified with a perfectly acidic and spicy cucumber kimchi, cooled with the smooth cashew and miso puree.

Whilst that dish may have screamed January 2020, my Duck yolk with gently spiced duck leg ragu sat on top of fried bread was the opposite end of the spectrum; unctuous, rich and decadent in a classic, yet modernised way.

Talking of classic, can you really beat a good steak and chips? The Salt-aged Delmonico steak, translated to rib-eye in this instance, juicy and flavour loaded with possibly the best chips in East Brighton, prob the whole city. Simple is wonderful, if it's the best it can possibly be and this really was.

Showcasing more of the Ginger Dog's creativity however, was the roast cod with a substantial cauliflower steak, clementine, fennel, hazelnut dressing. Whilst I found the dense puree a little murky, the fresh, clean flavours of fennel and clementine were enough to brighten the dish and bring back the balance.

To finish, I chose a silky white chocolate delice with orange and thyme, any risk of sickly sweetness levelled out with a herbal tone, and I always welcome that in a dessert. The kitchen didn't flinch either at making up a dairy free pudding, they transformed the pineapple clafoutis effortlessly.

However, don't dare leave without trying the salted caramel martini. They are well known for their drinking desserts, I'm sure they'd be a protest if they ever took this particular one off the menu, and after finally trying one, I'd be painting up a placard myself. It also reminded me, being in my 'hood, that I should use the bar here more for drinking and save myself a shlep into town every now and then.

The Gingerman Group touch everything with class. It's all rather relaxed but service, environment and touch points of the meal are always well considered and elegant. Their formula of running successful restaurants despite a challenging time for hospitality is testament to their experience and confidence to stick to what they do, yet evolve only when they need to, whilst resisting the fads and trends, in order to create a brand that diners can trust in. Whilst the Ginger Dog has been tweaked, it is still, if not even more so, very much part of the family brand.

This may not be the cheapest pub meal in town, but it will exceed your expectations in terms of quality and finesse, and is the standard of what premium modern pub gastronomy should be.

The Ginger Dog
12 College Place,
Brighton BN2 1HN

I dined as a guest of The Ginger Dog. Words and thoughts, as always, my own. 

REVIEW: Nanninella Pizzeria, Brighton

Brighton's love affair with pizza continues, and you won't hear any complaining from me. I've even had to fire up a separate to eat list on my phone's notes app just for pizzerias. (Everyone has a to-eat list, right?) There are three new spots that I needed to try, three! Never would I thought I'd see the day where I couldn't keep up with my pizza schedule.

Anyway, top of this list was Nanninella in Brighton's revived restaurant row, Preston Street. Any new restaurant worth its salt builds up interest with social media tasters and they did a very good job here. Followers were brought along for the ride to see murals being painstakingly painted and the general graft of building a restaurant from scratch.

And because everything in Italy has to have significant meaning, Christ, refer to pasta shape names alone, the name "Nanninella" was taken from a traditional Neapolitan dream book, where each dream is given a specific number. The building number on Preston Street is number 26 so this dream is of Nanninella; a moniker for St. Anna, mother of the blessed Mary and protector of families.

Lucky as other dreams in the book include breasts, bedpans, death, nude women and thankfully they didn't move into number 16 or else their restaurant would be called "Bum". I digress.

I don't normally go for starters before a pizza but these seemed too good to miss. A mixture of stuffed fried Neapolitan street food was a delight to find on the menu; panzarotto (mashed potato balls with chesse), zeppoline (dough balls with seaweed), frittatini, calzocini and the more wider known arancini. Delicious and perfect with an aperativo, but something to dip them into would have been welcome.

Meatballs (I was with Rosie and god forbid we don't go whole hog with ordering) were traditionally made with coarse breadcrumbs, but these were sadly too cloying, dense and dry. Certainly not like my mamma makes.

Despite that, I will say that the selection of starters sound so good you could come here for these, reimagined as small plate dining. Parmigiana, a side of friarielli (broccoli hybrid), a caprese salad and some sgugnizielli (dough strips topped with tomatoes and basil) is a decent meal to wash down with one of their well-priced reds.

Anyway, the main draw is of course the pizza. The oven is electric (too much grief from the council for a wood burning one) but domed and traditionally built, so you do get results close to the real deal, but I'm yet to be convinced of electric mimicking wood entirely.

The pizzas checked a lot of boxes with the typical Neapolitan soupy centre, great leoparding, but I'd say oven temperature was a bit low so the cooking time was a little long resulting in a dryer base. We're talking seconds probably, but hey, I'm a pizza geek. Shame for me that I don't have the same understanding of the share market, eh. The crux of it is this is a good pizzeria, hugely enjoyable, generous toppings, good quality and balanced. I chose the Napoletana, my staple choice, and I was treated to quite a lot of capers and anchovies, resulting in a desert-like thirst the next morning but the suffering was worth it.

Nanninella will do well; it was chock full of Italians when I visited, a good sign, prices are spot on, service is charming, and the interior is a delight with cute booths, hand painted tiles and lots of lovely details (the painted ceilings in the loos are adorable). It just has that loving touch of an independent that the chains, even the small ones, can't compete with.

26 Preston Street
Brighton BN1 2HN

REVIEW: The Coal Shed, Brighton (Brunch)

New year resolutions eh. My inbox is flooded by restaurant veganuary invites (I'm ignoring you all), #dryjanuary is in full swing, my social feeds are promoting every diet under the sun and I'll be joined by tens of extra runners on the hills that will tail off before February, leaving me on my own again. (Great, because deep down, I really hate people.) But in amongst all that is somewhat of a backlash with #NewYearTrueMe and endless self love memes. Wince-worthy maybe, but I'm all for this new antidote to this month long macro guilt and pressure. Enjoy yourself in moderation all year round I say. Eat that cake, order those fries, drink the wine...and savour this gratuitous plate of meat. For breakfast.

I've been drooling at the pictures of The Coal Shed's brunch menu on the social media feeds. Headline act is of course this Surf n' Turf and in the flesh, it still commands a gasp.

And knowing what awaited me, I had purposely starved myself short of an espresso, rolling into the freshly refurbished restaurant at noon ravenous. Being a Saturday also made it entirely permissible to order cocktails - plural. Hell, let your hair down love.

It kind of feels like stage fright, the pause of not knowing where to start, but the plump, soft mussels cooked with nduja seemed a good a place as any quickly followed by the tiger prawns and scallop and pork belly skewers.

The flavour of the maple-cured Tamworth bacon chop, king of chops, was immense and a smart addition to make the dish more breakfast, along with the two fried eggs and smoked black pudding. However, when I think of The Coal Shed, I think steak and the salt aged sirloin didn't disappoint. The charcoal grills give the meat those delicious charred edges and undeniable smokey flavour whilst sealing in all that juicy goodness.

There's plenty of choice for your two sides; crisp, slightly charred broccoli with garlic and chilli or an iceberg wedge with blue cheese and stilton for a bit of greenery. For those blasĂ© about carbs or mortally hungover; beef dripping chips, truffle mac n’ cheese or mash with burnt ends. I chose one from each camp. Balance innit.

At £32.50 per head the Surf n' Turf platter may be at the top end of what you'd normally spend on brunch (lighter options are available) but along with hearty portions, quality is paramount here, so confident in both their produce and cooking, that they don't shy away from simplicity. Thoroughly enjoyed, I don't know of a more luxurious, or decadent brunch in this city.

And this ethos is evident throughout all their menus, wine selection and cocktails. The new decor is elegant, as moody and sexy as ever, a good eye for taste and refinement but still on-brand for an upmarket steakhouse and date night gold.

God, I need that run now though.

Brunch served Saturdays only 11am-4pm, alongside the a la carte menu.

The Coal Shed
8 Boyce's Street
Brighton BN1 1AN

also at

One Tower Bridge
London SE1 2SE

I dined as a guest of The Coal Shed. Words and thoughts, as always, my own. 

REVIEW: Franco's Osteria, Brighton & Hove

Ah, Franco's...that intimate and romantic little Italian you've been meaning to try for ages, but it's that bit of Hove that escapes your mind post 7pm. And I'm the same. I can't recall how many times I've banked that memo in my mind, probably from the days they still used to put the Italian Disney red and white checked tablecloths out. But when I speak to resident Hovites in the area, they are fierce in their protection of their 'hood restaurant. A good sign.

And it's a lovely place to come. Stripped back, simple, rustic, yet utterly laden in charm. The kitchen in full view from your table. Salami hang in the windows. I'm glad I'm finally here.

Format follows tradition here. Antipasti, Primi, Secondi and dessert. I felt very at home and could have been in any similar restaurant in Italy, the authenticity is refreshing. The owner is also very (like very - I was DMd about its importance) keen to let people know this is not a restaurant, but an "Osteria". So what the hell is that?

There’s a pecking order with eateries in Italy (we Italians love rules, man. That Catholic guilt runs deep). Restaurants are at the top; formal, larger menus, professional service and linens. Trattorias are small, often family-run and offer simple, home cooked food. An osteria is even more casual than a trattoria, they used to be more of a wine bar with a dish or two, but have evolved to be more in line with trattorias. And there’s more; tavola calda, rosticceria, taverna…get it? Frankly, I don’t really think people here care about that at all. A restaurant is a restaurant is a restaurant to most people's eyes, but for the nerds out there, you're welcome. 

You have the option of a la carte or the well priced sharing menu at £30.50 per person which I think reflected good value, even with its recent increase.

Antipasto lent on the gratuitous side as Italians like it. This part is a bit of a show off really, with the dishes arriving in stages. The cured meats were of great quality and surrounded with olives, cheeses, wonderful aged balsamic, cubes of home-made focaccia and fine little slices of tomato topped bruschetta. Then came buratta with pomegranate and beetroot, polpette (balls) of fennel sausage and aubergine in a fine deep-fried crumb with basil pesto and baked prawns with lemon and garlic. A feast to start a feast.

Primi, your pasta courses, come as a smaller portion as they should in this format. Tronchetti with a rich, deep ragu that had a hint of sweetness, maybe from a little nutmeg were delicious. The ravioli however were exceptional. Literally to-the-second perfection cooking on the pasta with an ideal thickness and texture. They were simply filled with vegetables and with a classic lemon, sage butter sauce. Had I a piece of bread I would have fa la scarpetta without hesitation.

The mixed roast meats for the secondo, were very typical and nice touch that the meat was sourced from the mighty Westdene Butchers. Between us there was a lamb chop, piece of steak and fennel-rich, course Italian sausage. All just simply grilled. The fish option was a large single fish I didn't make out, filleted at the table and looked equally as good.

For the sides, fried potatoes over fries would have been preferable to me, but grilled aubergine slices with pomegranate (nodding to a Sicilian influence in the kitchen I feel) made an ideal and interesting side.

Food-wise it can't be faulted. I love that the OSTERIA hasn't caved in to adapting the food, you certainly, and thankfully, would never find a spaghetti bolognese on the menu and dishes have not been tarted up or tweaked in any way.  No foams, smears, streaks or dots adorn the plates to confuse - just plain, old fashioned good cooking. 

Service was well-paced but could sharpen up. It was a bit young, bit absent minded in places yet friendly. The owner was away when I visited, thankfully it seems, as some messages I received alluded to a gruff and unwelcoming vibe on occasion. I looked up Trip Advisor and there seems to be a theme about this, the management replies on there only strengthening the claim. However it seems children are very welcome here, my kids would adore the food and I'd bring them in for lunch without hesitation. Family dining options that don't limit you to the chains get a big tick from me. 

Brighton is no longer a barren wasteland for Italian food. We were once left to fend for ourselves (well yourselves, I had my mamma's cooking) in the trenches of pizza pasta menus. Now there's a small celebration of good Italian food from some of our city's pizzarias, gelaterias, restaurants and of course, our only osteria.

Franco's Osteria
4 Victoria Terrace
Hove BN3 2WE

REVIEW: Amarillo (pop up) by Ian Swainson, Lost In The Lanes, Brighton

Opening a restaurant in Brighton isn't for the faint hearted and finding (and financing) permanent premises is a tough gig in these parts but not essential to making diners come to you. But the food industry can be resourceful little devils and many have started out by popping up restaurants in day-time eateries (I have high hopes for Tlaloc after my recent visit and remember the now two-site Cin Cin started out by selling antipasti out of a van).

They don't often all work though and sitting in a casual cafe in the evening can be a little awkward. Not here though as Lost in the Lanes is a cool little outfit; copper topped tables, bare plaster, naked Plumen bulbs all in a luxe, chic French farmhouse vibe. It almost lends itself to evenings more than day. And with With Ian Swainson's food on the tables, this certainly is a hot little ticket for date night. Swainson hails from The Pass (I've never forgotten that dessert and left my visit a fan of Ian's work) and led The Samling Hotel to a Michelin Star, so no surprise you'll find the refined touches and techniques of such a chef on the plates there.

However, Amarillo is intended to be far more stripped back and accessible to more; the menu is a sharing plate format, starting with pinchos and you'll find Spanish, Asian and even Italian influence throughout the dishes.

The Salmon pincho made for an incredibly strong start, the unctuous raw salmon belly with avocado was cut through with a hit of spice from sriracha. Toasts with serrano ham, topped with tomato, finely chopped egg white and a yolk emulsion, a refined version of a classic.

The menu is relatively short, two options each for fish, meat or vegetarian so allows you make a good dent across it, which I recommend you do. The bavette was knock-out in flavour, my favourite cut, with the deep, rich smoke of burnt onion sauce and balsamic. A simple side of tenderstem broccoli with the best béarnaise I've come across, the sweetness of the tarragon almost convincing me there was vanilla at play here too.

Of course if there's anything truffle on the menu it has to be mine; a perfectly made truffled scotch egg arancini perched on top of wild mushroom and a truffle cream sauce and the spinach, truffle and Parmesan salad engulfed the table with my favourite aroma. I'd have loved for the yolk of the arancini dish to have been more gratuitous and rich, and despite the smell, a harder hit of the truffle in that particular dish itself. That said, I would have happy eaten each dish again.

Both desserts are order worthy, the tiramisu particularly. Here deconstructed but so enjoyable with a light sponge, marscapone and a rich, salted chocolate mousse, the clever inclusion of an espresso granita just sexing up the whole damn thing.

If floral and delicate is more your dessert then the syrup-marinated peaches with lavender and Champagne is your ticket, with surprising little jellies and sticks of meringue to keep it fun.

Prices overall were, to me, incredibly reasonable for the quality of cooking at £50 or so for two excluding wine. Although we've generally seen the quality rise in our restaurants, prices have rocketed and a good meal is still not guaranteed. Last week a beyond mediocre meal would have left me £120 lighter. And I almost needed therapy after being served 7 anchovies from a tin with a drizzle of olive oil for £8 in a restaurant lately (it's going to take me years to get over that, YEARS). Anything goes here now the London money and the rising rates have blown our little seaside city into a new dimension, so when you see a chance for some great cooking at a reasonable price, snap it up.

Although Amarillo is box fresh, and in temporary environment, the intention for quality and detail has been strongly defined from the off, from the considered branding to the touches in the plating and settings, and of course the elegant food itself.

Amarillo is currently open Friday and Saturday evenings, with a view to extending to more evenings.

c/o Lost In The Lanes
10 Nile St, Brighton BN1 1HW

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

REVIEW: Tlaloc Mexican Cuisine, Brighton

What’s in a name? For the absolute bejesus of me I couldn’t remember the name of this place that I’d fleeting seen on the feeds…finally some exciting, fresh and inspired Mexican food in Brighton…sign ME UP.  Yeah, sure Rosie (forever my dining partner of choice) I’ll book a table. Ok, so a pop up with no permanent address…Err…started with an "L" right? Lock, "T"...Tock, Twock, Taock...shout out to Instagram’s frankly useless search facility…rummaging in my followers list I finally found them - Tlaloc. 

But this really is a name that serious diners in Brighton should know; as an aside, I could launch into a good 2000 words on the importance of business naming but I’ll save that little rant to launch my upcoming branding blog that this little adventure has inspired. Cock-headed I listened to the reasoning behind this from one of the founders after my meal…ready? Tlaloc is the God of rain. It rains a lot in England, hence the name. Thank goodness I had a good couple of margaritas in me to switch me into full off duty mode or we would have had a situation on our hands with the full force of my expressive Italian hand gestures thrown in for good measure. Make it easy for people to find your business, folks.

Tlaloc has been at its temporary, evening home in Oseta Cafe on North Road for 10 months which is far longer than I thought having only recently come across it. There seems to have been just a small murmur of interest behind it, which is building up and I’ve seen more of the people that influence me sharing it. 

One of the highlight points seemed to be that they serve the best margarita in town and I can certainly vouch for that. The Hibiscus Margarita is an essential order; tart, zingy with a ferocious heat from the salt and chilli rim, softened with the sweetness from the fruitiness of the flower. But don’t stop there; there are plenty more to choose from on the menu and are perfect to knock back with the food. 

Oh and the food…there are three starters and I suggest you order them all. Sikil P’ak, a Mayan pumpkin seed dip makes for a great intro. Sweet, deep, smokey and ideal to get stuck in with the homemade tortillas. Aguachile of the day, Mexico’s answer to ceviche, was with prawns, perfectly prepared with delicate fine textures, heat, sweetness. The aerated citrus foam didn't bring much to the party and this isn’t a dish for everyone. Raw fish isn’t generally for me but Rosie, who eats it with the enthusiasm of a hungry seal, convinced me that if this is your thing, then you'll be wanting it sharpish. 

You are invited to suck the heads of the prawns in the Camarones con alioli negro dish, and had they not been overcooked would have rewarded in a bit of tasty gruesome that gourmands relish.  The saline squid ink alioli brought the drama, the ink adding richness to the dish.

Don’t skip the tacos that form a good chunk of the mains. Vegans are well catered for here and I was almost tempted away, but damn, the octopus taco. Visually beautiful, the tentacle wrapping round the taco like it was meant to be. “Al Pastor” should include pineapple which you wouldn’t notice but maybe it was there amongst the other, perfectly harmonious flavours. Wickedly hot, you will want to eat this. Just not in front of a first date. 

On a par with this was the quesadilla de birria; super succulent, melting, pulled goat with just so much smoke and a deep, deep gravy. The fresh, zesty flavours that contrast this, the essence of which makes Mexican food so invigorating, were there in spades along with the delicious squish and crunch of it all. 

Interestingly, you’ll find a slight refinement to the food which I imagine comes from the care and love of the people behind it. Luckily it is not distracting, other than the unnecessary foam that features here and there. This food really doesn't need these flourishes though, it can stand up without it. 

As I said, the set up is currently untraditional in a cafe by day, the loos through the kitchen into what seems like a long forgotten set for Rising Damp (so terribly Brighton) with faded floral wallpaper and yellowed paintwork that hasn't seen a paintbrush since 1972. But this is, by far, the most noteworthy Mexican food I have eaten in Brighton. If ever a place deserved a permanent home in this city this is it. I hope they succeed, and will be a name, even as difficult to pronounce and remember as it is, that will be on everyone's lips.

Meal for two with service and four cocktails £70.

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Currently at:
Oseta Cafe
34 North Road