REVIEW: Casa Don Carlos, Brighton

by - April 03, 2013

Never have Me and Mr Graphic Foodie disagreed so much on a restaurant. He really has a soft spot for this place, as do the steady stream of return customers to this busy, bustling restaurant. People LOVE it here and being one of Brighton's most successful restaurants, I have a lot of respect for that. I'm not (that) snobby about food. If people enjoy something, even that phony pizza/pasta slop that is passed off as Italian food in a few of the places around the city, then super. Food is there for pleasure, whatever that may mean to you.

I've eaten at Casa Don Carlos quite a few times now. I've enjoyed the warm welcome from the staff, the buzz, the cheek to jowl seating. It feels like you are on holiday here. The variety of diners is telling too. Big groups, teens nipping in for a stomach-lining bite on their way to the clubs, couples—young and old—after a lingering meal, every man and their dog. Well, maybe not the dog. Mr Graphic Foodie used to come here on dates when he was a spotty teen with a swagger. Maybe that's why he has a soft spot for it. I don't know. I'd rather not think about it further!

All I can comment on is the food. From all my visits it has been consistent. Consistently mediocre. I mean, by nature tapas is delicious. Little tastes here and there. The medium is great. But to feed the troop of people that come through the doors of this place efficiently, a lot of the food needs to be prepared in advance. And quite a lot feels like its reheated to order.

The briny pitted olives straight of of the jar and atrocious French stick garlic bread were the lowest points. Bad bread, particularly when it's off-culture is a sin. The paella was quite stodgy with little of the tasty morsels you'd hope for. Patatas Bravas and the tortilla were passable but unremarkable. The sizzling prawns in garlic oil were fine but seemed to be the chewy frozen variety and the calimari were tyre-like. However, the fried, battered aubergine slices covered in sticky honey were an unexpected win and the chorizo  flambéed in rum at the table is always an unashamed crowd pleaser. Padron peppers are crack-addiction gorgeous everywhere and anywhere.

I think ordering from the specials may be the way to go as you can safely bet that these will be made to order rather than the bulk potato tortilla, paella, patatas bravas et al that they must stockpile for the night. Had we not been with a large group with a pre-ordered set meal then I would have gone for the oxtail casserole, egg, garlic shoots (LOVE garlic shoots) and prawn tortilla, fish in tomatoes and peppers and the rabbit in garlic oil and chilli.

Tapas should really be savoured, dish, by dish, washed down with a nice chilled Manzanilla or a bit of Cava. This however, is scatter gun tapas. Dish after dish in quick succession. And the food is more quantity than quality, to be shoved it in over animated conversation and washed down with the house red. But remembering I was with a group, I had a great night and at around £25-30 a head with plenty of wine, it's as cheap and cheerful as the tablecloths. 

If you do want to try it, you'll need to book most evenings as it does get packed to the rafters. Are there better restaurants in Brighton? Absolutely. But the warm glow and lively atmosphere will no doubt entice me here yet again at some point as it will do for many others for many more years to come. Brindisa, Jose and Morito it sure as hell ain't but as a casual restaurant to meet all of your mates before a night on the tiles it hits the spot.

Casa Don Carlos
5 Union Street
The Lanes
Brighton, BN1 1HA
01273 327177.

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