REVISIT & REVIEW: Aloka, Brighton

by - August 06, 2011

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).

I was rather impressed with my initial visit to Aloka back in October last year, which was my first real foray into bio-dynamic gastronomy. It surprised and delighted on the whole but due to the unusual set up of restaurant/shop/holistic centre, I was worried it reflected a confused identity. Well, I'm back and there have been a few changes. You can now dine on the ground floor, which is the cafe in the day - a good idea as it helps communicate its evening offering to passers by. The food has changed too. It's not exclusively raw anymore yet the menu is still unusual, interesting and everything is organic (apart from the herbs and spices) and as locally sourced as possible. Hard with some of the ingredients I imagine.

One thing you have to say is the food is presented beautifully. The colours are vivid and everything looks inviting, like this Red Pepper Mousse amuse.

We shared an Aloka Mezze Platter (£15.75) between us for starters, a selection of the "raw living and gently cooked botanical tasters". These turned out to be light, fresh and pleasant portions of carrot hummus, guacamole, tzatziki and olives with breads, crackers and fermented millet pancakes with which to dip. There was also a slightly over-herbed caponanta but I liked the fennel in it, and some raw "cottage cheese". However, I thought the shot of mushroom soup was an unusual addition on a plate meant for sharing and the pecan and date chutney/jelly tasted and was textured like stale wallpaper paste. It was rather unpleasant actually, a real blip on the plate which was a shame.

For main I chose the Global Curry of the day, £11.75, which today was North African influenced. There was a spiced pumpkin seed stew accompaniment which was smokey and nutty and had a lot of pout against the main element of butternut, lentil and buckwheat curry. There wasn't much heat but nice you could add it to taste with the harissa paste. I wasn't sure what to do with the honey wine but liked the pancake base of the dish which soaked up the juices and flavours. However, for me there were far too many flavours going on; smokey, nutty, the popcorn taste of the buckwheat... I rarely leave a plate unfinished but this was too much for me and left me a little unsettled to be honest.

My friend's Zen Buddha Bowl (top image) £12.50, was incredibly pretty, looking like a deep sea coral composition and again included an array of components. Purple broccoli shoots, marinated seaweed tartare, brown rice, spelt and roasted buckwheat, steamed stinging nettle, dehydrated lotus root and silken toufu - a visual feast. The pink curls at the front are pickled dicon, a Japenese horseradish which I have not come across before. My friend thought this was really well put together and appreciated all the new flavours and ingredients she got to try. She liked the barley miso soup that came with it as well, yet it also was too much for her to finish.

For dessert, we shared some of their homemade ice creams opting for Lavender and Green Tea & Edamame from their selection. The texture was excellent actually, neither were too sweet which suited me fine. They get their creaminess from the base of cashew nuts, coconut butter and coconut oil apparently. The great big slice of Poppy and Orange Cheesecake was rather good too and not as heavy as it looked. Again, this seemed to be made from an almond/cashew nut base as well so all the nuttiness was a bit too much to polish off a slice, even between two of us.

They have a good selection of teas served in the prettiest cups in town.

The one thing I really like about Aloka is that it offers an alternative dining experience in Brighton and the food is exciting, original and well priced. I think it has lost a little spark in terms of balance and flavour combinations, which was so well done before, but that may be because I am not used to these flavours, the nut bases and oils just seemed too heavy and unsettling for me. Really, I think the food seems to be trying too hard to impress with one or two elements and flavours too many.

Yet for diners that are meat and dairy free then this is an ideal dining option as it must be refreshing to be able to select anything on the menu. For those that are not, and maybe a little tired of the main offering in the city then I would still recommend Aloka for something a little different.

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 dined as a guest of Aloka.

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