REVIEW: Le Nantais, Hove

Six years ago I had the best bisque I've ever had. One of those food memories that stick so vividly, you can remember the exact taste. This wasn't a discovery in some romantic little bistro, down a softly lit cobbled backstreet in Paris, it was just off Palmeira Square in Hove. Yep. Hove.

Le Nantais is a classic French bistro where you’ll find the likes of coq au vin, onion soup, rillette, bourguignon, escargots, moules…all the things I have a lot of time for. I personally think you can’t beat classic cooking, it’s at the heart of so many great dishes. I also particularly like restaurants owned by chefs, they are typically run on passion which I feel is what Pascal Benamari has achieved here.

On the wall inside there’s a quote with “It's somehow impossible not to feel at home here” and I’d have to agree. This a a cozy little neighbourhood restaurant. Looking around at the more well seasoned clientele that wave to each other from their tables is telling of loyalty, there’s no-one standing on their chairs to get a flat lay here for the ‘gram. It’s refreshing, genuine and authentic. 

However, amongst the tradition, there are some surprising wild cats on the menu - peri peri chicken, tempura and I see paella sometimes makes an appearance here. I know I’m a raging purist, personally I’m not sure it’s needed but it's been well recieved by clientele so who am I to argue with a restaurant that listens to its customers.

Being Devil’s advocate, I tried a few of the dishes for starters. The scallop croquettes, not breaded or with any particular finesse arrived as three fat, plump scallops, battered and fried but enjoyable, and the warming carrot cardamom puree a very good partner for them. 

Sadly, the delicate nature of Laguosine was a little lost within the tempura, which was coated thickly with sesame and the red pepper caramel needed more heat to balance the marmalade-like sweetness of the sauce. I would certainly have been at home with duck rillete or the pate de campagne if I wasn't being self-challenging. 

Coming back to the comfort of tradition and the bisque, this was exactly as I remember it, plate licking good. Rich, creamy, saline, full of the goodness of the sea, I’m not sure anyone will trump it. Sublime with tiny cubed vegetables and a piece of tender monkfish. If ever you see this on the specials or the menu here, in any iteration, just go. In fact, put whatever you're doing down and run - this bisque is one of the best things I’ve eaten in Brighton. 

The rump of lamb a la Nicoise was a perfect example of robust, bistro cooking. Perfectly rested, flavoursome meat. Served with a rich, herbed sausage, crisp roast vegetables. Simply done, but that's all that good ingredients command. All you need to add is a full bodied red wine and you're set. 

An excellent crème brûlée followed, you could eat a thousand of them and cracking that brittle tortoiseshell top will never get old. That scene in Emily in Paris (don’t watch it, it’s absolute trash) where Pierre is on the bed cracking a tray of brûlée with a spoon one after the other to ease his depression. I get that. It’s a soothing joy every time.

The fine apple tart was also good. Here the caramel loves apple and was a light rendition, ideal after a full meal.

Classic, robust, very French, very fabulous. Food should have the power to transport you to its origin, to memories of holidays, to your childhood if that's where it was... and this does. As we have been grounded to an extent in 2020, we need cooking like this more than ever.

I dined here on the last day before lockdown 2.0 forced closure of our restaurants again, it certainly felt like an eve of something, and I made sure to savour every moment. Doors open again on the 2nd of December and will start introducing French festive menus as well as the popular French steet food served outside; mussels, crepes and croques, to fuel your Christmas shopping. 

41 Church Road
Hove BN3 2BE

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