REVIEW: Aloka raw restaurant, Brighton

by - October 03, 2010

UPDATE: Aloka has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. For vegan food in Brighton try Terre a Terre, Infinity Cafe, Lydea or The George Pub (Trafalgar Street).

Raw food, botanical gastronomy, or whatever name you put on it, is something I'm not going to tell you much about because frankly, I don't know much about it.

I'm on the eat-delicious-things-and-have-a-lot-of-fun diet so raw, cooked, pickled, dried or smoked, if it looks good - I'll happily give it a go. I do enjoy eating healthily as healthy food is delicious, but I have been a little wary of the concept of "raw" food mainly as it has been moanily preached to me in the past by rather dull people in the corner of some depressing party or other. Snooze.

So an invite to try a tasting menu by the new chef at Aloka, a "Quality of Life" centre, intrigued me but I wasn't expecting the surprise, beauty and deliciousness that it actually delivered.

Let's get straight to the food as it opened my eyes wide and then we'll have a little chat further down as Aloka does have a little issue that requires discussing!

After a nice introduction by Aloka's new chef Felix, the amuse arrived as a trio of beautiful beetroot beauties (pictured at the top). One being a shot of fresh and flavoursome gazpacho, one a silky beetroot hummus and the one in the centre was a "surprise" that diners had to work out. As the room wrongly focused on the filling to uncover its secret, it turned out to be made entirely of beetroot dyed celeriac and not beetroot at all! Fantastic. I was already won over!

Next up was a fresh, light Romanesco & Pistachio Dolmas dish. Hang on, how did they cook the rice filling? Well it turned out to be cauliflower! This was an absolutely stunning success and I had no idea I liked dill so much.

The Baby Spinach Salad with marinated Cashew Feta, Pears, Dates, Pecans and a Pomegranate dressing was also good but the "feta" was too soft and nutty to pretend to be real feta. Even so, it was a delicious addition to the salad whatever it should be called with the sweetness of the dressing being balanced with crisp pears and spinach.

Remembering that we are not just eating in a really nice restaurant, but a Quality of Life centre, you may be wondering what the stick in the water carafe is. Turns out it is a hand blown Austrian glass stick with coloured liquid, part of the Aura-Soma colour system. Each table had a different colour with each symbolising a different energy that transferred to the water. Make of that what you will, but our purple/red colour was the "Florence Nightingale" energy which may have helped me nurse my hangover the following day – but I guessing that isn't the point.

Main course was a Squash "Lasagne" Terrine with layers of courgette, spinach pesto, olive walnut tapenade, with sun dried tomatoes and a rocket salad. With the layers being raw, they each kept their own taste and texture, which would have merged had it been cooked. I particularly liked the punchy olive walnut tapenade that turned the flavour up a few notches on the tastebud dial.

This little beauty was the pre-dessert amuse. A lovely crunchy (dehydrated?) base and firm layers of lemon, almond and coconut cut through with a raspberry puree.

The Milk Chocolate Mousse Cake dessert was probably the only let down of the whole meal, its consistent texture being too one dimensional and far too nutty and heavy. Raw chocolate is far more subtle than the chocolate I am used to, so that may be why I couldn't taste it as much as I would have expected to. Saying that, I wonder how much this disappointment was due to the fact that we had so far been spoilt rotten.

Sitting back with a satisfied full belly, I had not expected to enjoy this meal anywhere near as much as I did and didn't feel I was missing out on anything at all, so in terms of catering for all diets, it is a winning success.

The white restaurant space reminded me a little of Blanch House, which some find cold and clinical but I find rather slick and stylish. I appreciated the beautiful jewel colours on the large canvases (personally painted by the founder of the brand I think) which softened the space.

With such a winning formula in the kitchen, the only true challenge Aloka face is the location of the restaurant. It is hidden on the top floor of a building with a crystal centre, treatment rooms, yoga room, holistic product shop and self service cafe on the floors below it. In fact, when I said I was visiting Aloka one person said "oh, is that the place that I don't know what it is" which sums up completely.

As a branding designer, solving the Aloka brief would be a head scratching nightmare, as multi use businesses often confuse rather than embrace consumers. My solution would be to keep the treatments, shop and even the daytime cafe where they are and to find a new venue for the restaurant, making it accessible and intriguing to everyone, whilst also catching the all important passing trade.

Seeing as colour therapy, crystals and the like is a niche market (yes, even in hippy-dippy Brighton) it could possibly repel people who are not into this concept even more so than those who are wary of raw food. By distancing the restaurant away from the "big issue", and bringing the restaurant to street level it will encourage people to try it as Aloka's raw food, pure and simple, is delicious, beautiful, surprising and memorable whatever your dietry preference.

I really think the food and space deserves to be a stand alone venture, where it could possibly (and I don't say this lightly) become one of the top restaurants in the city.

The new restaurant menu has now been launched with some of the items above appearing but to give you a rough idea of price, the Dolmas are £6.60, the Squash Terrine £12.90, Baby Spinach salad £7.90 and Chocolate dessert £5.90 which isn't too bad at all for the quality and presentation.

The menu will change again with the equinox. I don't know what this means.

UPDATE: Aloka has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. For vegan food in Brighton try Terre a Terre, Infinity Cafe, Lydea or The George Pub (Trafalgar Street).

14 East Street
Brighton BN1 1HP
Tel: 01273 823 178

I was kindly invited to dine at Aloka as a guest. Interior and exterior shot of Aloka via

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