Oh I do like to be beside the seaside. So much so that last weekend I played away from home (cheated on my glorious sandy hometown of Swansea) and enjoyed a weekender in Brighton.
I was fortunate enough to have plenty of suggestions and advice from a network of food lovers and twitterers, so ‘the ol’ food itinerary’ was pretty chocker block. Alex has been away with me enough to know that ‘free time’ doesn’t really feature in my holiday itineraries – but what’s leisure time when you get the chance to taste the best food around with me, eh?
1. For the perfect fish & chips – Bardsley’s
Now, I spent the best part of my early teenage years working in a cracking local chip shop on the seafront in Swansea. During the summer of 2008, I think mushy peas were the only vegetable in my diet and my lunch of choice was curry and cheese on chips with chilli sauce (oh to have the metabolism of a teenager again.) So I know good fish and chips when I taste it.
Bardsleys is quite a walk away from the seafront but we were glad of the recommendation, because if we’d have had to choose from the hundreds of chip shops dotted about the seafront we would never have picked. What this place lacks in location it makes up for with charming staff and really great fresh food.
The service was so fantastic (as it should be in a chippy.) You can tell the place is family run – we were even given a Brighton postcard when we left. I don’t know if this is commonplace for out-of-towners but it certainly left a lasting memory when I opened up by travel bag on the way home and was greeted by the waft of deep frying (or the perfume of the chippie worker, as I used to call it not so fondly.)
Both the cod and haddock were beautifully soft and flakey. The batter coated the fish enough for it to steam within, but was thin enough so it was still crispy and delicious to crunch on. The chips were chunky but not too thick to become sluggish and soggy. Our sauces of choice were peas for him and curry for me (him being a true Londoner, me a true South Walean.) The curry sauce was the only disappointment – it had the flavour of curry in a can, with too many raisins. I know now to always avoid ordering chip shop curry sauce outside of Wales, as it’s always disappointing. Bardsleys’ make their own flavoured vinegars and they are inspired- I went for garlic flavour (garlic cloves soaked in vinegar then drained) – it had a lovely mild hint garlic which was delicious with the delicate flaky fish. The chilli vinegar was also fantastic and would have been amazing with scampi or chicken.
The prices were quite high but I have no issue spending around a tenner for top quality fish and chips – I know the price of fresh ingredients. You can tell that the owners really care about what they do and every element of the dish was performed with perfection.
2. For Indian food just like you get in India – The Chilli Pickle
This place was recommended to us on two separate occasions, by a MasterChef Finalist (Brighton-born Emma Spitzer) and my BFF (Miss Daisy May), so I knew we were in for something pretty great. I didn’t realize quite how great though – this food really did take me back to India.
Alex had lamb cutlets which were as perfect as lamb cutlets can be, and the butter naan that it came on had been made by a true tandoor wizard – it was rich and salty but with that authentic char you only get in a tandoor oven. But the spinach curry, which came as a side for the lamb cutlets, absolutely stole the show for me. I’ve never discovered quite how Indians manage to turn simple ingredients like spinach into something so morish and complex. This dish was creamy yet still light. The flavour of spinach was still there – but in a fresh way, as if it had been wilted just before blitzing – and worked perfectly with heady garlic and plenty of curry leaves and coriander.. The texture was smooth and luxurious, without that horrible grittiness that you sometimes get from puréed spinach.
The dosa was nutty and crisp and filled with spiced potato. It came with a coconut chutney, a vegetable sambhar and lime pickle (all homemade.) It’s dishes like this that could turn the most pig-obsessed carnivore into a vegetarian – a celebration of all the complex flavours, fresh ingredients and rainbow of colours in Indian cooking, all on one plate.
It was the moment that I saw Keralan coffee on the dessert menu that I fell in love with The Chilli Pickle. In South India I became hooked on caffeine and that was because of the way they serve their coffee – super sweet and milky and infused with loads of cardamom. This is then poured it into your cup from a height which froths up the milk. The result is a warm, creamy cup of coffee that smells and tastes like toasted spices and freshly ground coffee beans.
3. Only one egg? – A quick brunch at The Breakfast Club
We were cold, we were hungry, it was raining. We spotted that familiar neon sign. And there was no queue outside. This is unheard of at the ever popular breakfast chain in London, so we had no choice but to go inside.
This place does do an excellent breakfast and I’ve never really had an issue with their food. However, on this occasion I ordered poached eggs with avocado and only received one egg (plus my rye bread wasn’t toasted enough, just warm.) Call me pedantic but I could swear that I’ve been fed 2 eggs in London, or am I looking back at the old Shoreditch place with rose tinted glasses? Regardless, I’m a firm believer that any breakfast/ brunch should come with a 2 egg minimum, and for £8.50, I was disappointed.
4. Sexy seafood, cheap pub food with huge portions – The Lion & Lobster
First things first, I must mention that just 3 minutes after we were sat at our dinner table, Alex set our menu on fire! Not in a hunger protest, but the hunger quite possibly had something to do with his clutzy manner. Although highly amusing for me and our next door dining neighbours, this was no omen for the meal as the food was great. The mains were fine but nothing I feel the need to write about. So I’ll just write about the damn fine Fisherman’s board we demolished.
Apart from the olives (which had no reason to be anywhere near this dish, except, I presume, as a way of filling up the last terracotta ramekin on the board), every dish was cooked to perfection and could have been served as a meal in itself.
The little round cod and chorizo fishcakes were lovely and crispy on the outside with a beautiful soft flakey inside – you could taste the smokey paprika from the chorizo but it was subtle enough not to mask the cod. The thick hunks of fresh bread were just what was needed to mop up potted haddock and crab, which was housed by a welcome layer of oozy cheese. I’m usually very skeptical of fish and cheese but this was like the best bit of a homemade fish pie. The warm king prawns were soft and pink in the middle. Plunged into the powerful homemade aioli the prawns were the highlight of the plate- a huge bowlful still wouldn’t have been enough.
5. Triple-cooked beef dripping chips (enough said) – Coggings & co, burger joint What a way to end our trip – the burgers at Coggings & Co. come pink in the middle, just as they should! The food is as fresh as it comes (I was tweeted a picture of our burgers going onto the grill.) We demolished two perfectly chargrilled burgers in brioche buns (not my bun of choice but that’s just me.) Alex said this is was the best burger he has ever tasted. He’s had a lot of burgers.
The star for me was the chips. Maybe I’ve had too many burgers recently and am struggling to regain my enthusiasm. But I can never have too many chips – they were steamy with the smell of beef dripping, crispy to the bite and then wonderfully creamy and fluffy inside. Beef chips and burgers at £10.75 each – what a steal! Like everywhere we visited the staff were wonderfully attentive and for a Monday lunchtime the place was pretty busy – which is a fantastic sign.
I can’t wait until the next long weekend we both get off work, because we’ll head straight back down to Brighton and do it all again, in exactly the same order. Except next time there’ll be no menus on fire, and Alex will manage to win me that minion from the grabbers on the pier.