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Michael Bremner's Guide to Brighton

Michael Bremner's guide to Brighton

by Tom Shingler 11 January 2017

Head chef of Brighton's own acclaimed 64° restaurant and Great British Menu finalist Michael Bremner takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Brighton's best cafés, restaurants and bars.

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One city. Thirteen cafés, bars and restaurants. Twelve hours to visit them all. Certainly no mean feat, but in what was possibly one of our best ‘working’ days ever, we managed to hot-foot it around Brighton and Hove to get the inside scoop on the most exciting, delicious and inventive places to eat and drink in the city. Our guide was Michael Bremner, chef-owner of 64° (voted Brighton’s Best Restaurant in 2016) and Great British Menu finalist, who fell in love with the city ever since he started working there in 2003.

Brighton’s food scene is one of the best in the UK, but perhaps doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves because of its proximity to London. Among the beachside fish and chip shops and narrow, winding streets filled with independent stores of all kinds, there are some fantastic restaurants and bars. But what soon became clear as we worked our way around was that everyone involved wanted nothing more than the city as a whole to be recognised; rather than competing with one another, everyone we met was full of recommendations on where to go, who to see and, most importantly, what to eat. Many of the restaurant and bar owners set up shop in Brighton because they were looking to do something a bit different, and thanks to the city’s famously quirky nature, they were welcomed with open arms.

So whether you’re a Brightonian yourself, are planning a visit to the city or just looking for somewhere to plan your next foodie adventure, here’s a list of the most exciting places to eat and drink in Brighton right now. There were a few places we weren’t able to squeeze in (notable mentions go to The Gingerman, Bison Beers and The Set), but take a look below and discover why Brighton is an absolute treasure trove for food and drink.

1. V&H Café

V&H Cafe
Loose leaf tea, fresh coffee and cakes sit alongside a variety of breakfasts with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options at V&H
V&H Cafe
Produce is incredibly important to Verity and Harry, and they proudly display where all their ingredients come from inside the café

Our first stop was the V&H Café in Hove, where we met Michael and set out the plan for the day. Owners Verity and Harry set up the café in 2014 when they saw a need in Brighton for a place that provided a full breakfast and brunch menu full of high quality ingredients – somewhere between a greasy spoon and a high-end restaurant. Fantastic produce is at the heart of everything they do (there’s even a huge map on the wall pinpointing where all the local producers they work with are based) and while they’ll make things like baked beans and sandwiches in-house, they make it their mission to work with the very best bakers, butchers, tea houses and coffee roasters they can find.

Soon after opening, Verity and Harry found they were inundated with requests for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Quick to meet demand, V&H Café is now one of the best places in Brighton to find artisan gluten-free breads and pastries, dairy-free cakes and hearty vegan breakfasts; Verity even told us it’s easier to tell people what isn’t gluten-free on the menu rather than what is. We tucked into a simple plate of scrambled eggs and avocado on toast – the eggs were particularly silky and rich, which proved Harry’s arduous search for the perfect egg supplier was well worth it.

vhhollandroad.co.uk

2. Flour Pot Bakery

Flour Pot Bakery
Many come for the artisan coffee at Flour Pot Bakery…
Flour Pot Bakery
…but stay for the range of proper bread, fresh pastries and cakes

Just down the road from V&H Café is the latest branch of Flour Pot Bakery, which has three other locations across Brighton. The bright, open space (with a nice little terrace for when the sun’s out) meant it was full of people enjoying a late breakfast, getting some work done or leisurely sipping a flat white whilst getting ready for the day ahead. Coffee comes freshly roasted from Caravan and is served with expertise by the very accomplished team of baristas, but what makes Flour Pot such a beloved institution in Brighton is its bread, cakes and pastries, which are baked fresh every morning.

Whether you’re popping in for a loaf of bread to take home or prefer to take it slow over a cup of coffee and a pastry or two, Flour Pot perfectly encapsulates the laidback vibe and focus on quality ingredients that has helped shape Brighton’s food scene.

flour-pot.co.uk

3. The Chilli Pickle

Chilli Pickle
Michael says the pork knuckle vindaloo was one of his top five dishes of 2016
Chilli Pickle
The thali is one of the most popular dishes on the menu, giving diners a taste of lots of different flavours

No foodie trip to Brighton seems complete without a meal at The Chilli Pickle. Owners Alun (chef) and Dawn (front of house) met while travelling the world, and came back to Brighton to open an Indian restaurant nine years ago. The bright, colourful interior perfectly mirrors the inventive, playful and explosively flavourful menu; Alun has a deep understanding of the traditional flavours and recipes found throughout the country, but isn’t afraid to add his own quirky, flamboyant spin – something that goes down very well with the locals.

The Chilli Pickle has won countless awards over the years including a Michelin Bib Gourmand, but that doesn’t mean Alun and Dawn aren’t constantly coming up with new ideas. They recently won Best Takeaway at the British Curry Awards thanks to their takeaway cardboard thali boxes, and their pork knuckle vindaloo – originally created as a special for local food festival 'OctoberBest' in 2016 – was arguably the tastiest dish we had all day. The whole knuckle, slow-cooked and covered in thick, crunchy crackling, came with a naan, spiced potatoes and a proper authentic vindaloo sauce from Goa, washed down with a stein of Bavarian beer. It’s currently on the menu as a Sunday lunch special, and is an absolute must-try if you’re in the city.

thechillipickle.com

Chilli Pickle
The pork knuckle has achieved cult status in Brighton, with a petition started to get it on the menu year-round
Chilli Pickle
Alun and Dawn run the multi-award-winning restaurant, which most recently won Best Takeaway at the 2016 British Curry Awards

4. Ten Green Bottles

Ten Green Bottles
At Ten Green Bottles wines are available by the glass or bottle alongside a simple selection of nibbles, charcuterie and cheeses
Ten Green Bottles
Co-owner Simon imports many of the wines direct from small producers, meaning there's always something interesting on offer

This enoteca-style wine bar and shop was set up by Simon and Sam back in 2010, and was one of the first of its kind in the UK. You can either buy bottles to take home or sit down and enjoy wines by the glass, with the expert staff on hand to help you find the perfect variety.

The bottles on offer are from small producers with a focus on Italy, with plenty of interesting, rare vineyards represented for connoisseurs, but what Simon and Sam love doing more than anything else is helping people who might be a bit unsure or confused about the sometimes intimidating world of wine. Many customers spend the evening there, tasting their way through different varieties alongside some cheese, charcuterie and other nibbles, and there’s always a huge demand for the private tastings hosted throughout the year.

tengreenbottles.com

5. Cin Cin

Cin Cin
David (right) started Cin Cin as a mobile business, before opening a permanent site on Vine Street with chef Jamie and front of house Fabrizio
Cin Cin
There are boards of charcuterie and cheese to go with the wine, or incredibly good hot dishes cooked in the small kitchen

Cin Cin only opened its permanent home in Brighton at the start of November last year, but it’s already regarded as the place to go for proper, authentic Italian food in the city. Originally set up in 2013 by founder David, who bought a vintage Fiat van and travelled around the South East serving Italian street food with Prosecco, the business grew until it was time to remove the wheels and make its mark on the Brighton food scene. Now, with chef Jamie cooking larger, more ambitious plates and Fabrizio running front of house (be sure to ask him about his run-in with Robert De Niro), the new bar-restaurant is small but perfectly formed, celebrating everything brilliant about Italian cuisine.

Alongside the platters of Italian cheese, charcuterie and breads, we tried an incredible rabbit crochette and a bowl of fresh pasta with mussels, capers and parsley – a simple sounding dish that was salty, punchy and bright. You can either pop in for a glass of wine and a few nibbles, or spend the evening working your way through the fantastic menu, made using the best seasonal produce from both the UK and Italy. It’s a great example of how a tiny team brimming with a love for good food can turn their passion into a successful business, and while Brighton can be a tough market to crack, it felt as though there wasn’t a better place for a restaurant like Cin Cin to lay its roots.

cincin.co.uk

6. Silo

Silo

Until Silo opened, the idea of a zero-waste restaurant was nice to think about but seemingly impossible to set up. But then in 2014 chef Doug McMaster managed to pull it off, with the help of a state-of-the-art composting machine, a strict approach to kitchen work and a very imaginative menu. Any natural waste is composted and sent back to suppliers to help grow new ingredients and all the food bought in comes without packaging. Animals are bought in whole, as is the wheat, which the team then mill themselves to make the products sold in the bakery.

This is definitely a destination restaurant for people who care about ethical, sustainable eating (although Doug says he hates words like that as they don’t exactly make him hungry), but it’s won foodies of all sorts over thanks to the skill of the chefs in the kitchen. Doug worked in both Copenhagen and St John previously and this shines through in his cooking – a dish of cow liver with fermented potato skins and elderberry sauce is a great example of the sort of inventive ways the Silo team are using every single bit of the produce they buy in.

silobrighton.com

7. Bluebird Tea

Bluebird Tea
Michael serves Bluebird Tea at his restaurant, and the staff are more than happy to let you taste your way through their vast selection
Bluebird Tea
All sorts of flavours are on offer, from pineapple mint to apple strudel

With over seventy unique and quirky tea blends on offer, Bluebird Tea’s flagship shop in Brighton (there are branches in Tunbridge Wells and Bristol too) is a dream come true for anyone who loves a good cuppa. The sweetshop-style layout with brightly coloured tins lining the walls is full of heady aromas and warming scents, with plenty of opportunities to sample the varieties on offer.

The flavours are based on all sorts of leaves (black, green, white, rooibos) and lean towards the fruitier side of things – rhubarb and custard rooibos, cherry bakewell white tea and a strawberry lemonade infusion are among some of their best sellers. You can buy the tea leaves loose or opt for bags, and there are plenty of gift sets and nicely presented boxes if you’re on the hunt for the perfect present.

bluebirdteaco.com

8. 64°

64 Degrees
Michael's team might be small, but the flavours they manage to put on the plate are huge
64 Degrees
The seabass ceviche was bold, bright and zingy thanks to the kalamanzi juice used to cure the fish

It wasn’t until the early evening that we finally made our way to Michael’s acclaimed restaurant, but it was certainly worth the wait. The small dining room seats less than thirty, but this means you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a good view of the action in the open kitchen. The small dishes come thick and fast, with Michael and his team prepping, cooking and plating up in front of your very eyes. But the reason it’s held in such high regard in Brighton – winning the title of Brighton’s Best Restaurant in 2016 among many others – is the flavours the chefs manage to bring out of the ingredients on the plate.

Divided into four categories (meat, fish, veg and dessert), almost everything on offer was like nothing you’d find in any other restaurant. Perfectly cooked parsnips glazed in spicy Sriracha and rolled in sesame seeds were fiery, earthy and addictively sweet, while the sea bass ceviche was given a point of difference thanks to the addition of kalamanzi (an Asian citrus fruit). Rich beef gyozas sat on a bed of sharp kimchi and the ‘Rum Bear’ jelly – essentially a giant gummy bear infused with a generous shot of rum with lemon sherbet on top – is the perfect example of how the chefs like to have fun with what they do. The fact that each dish simply lists the ingredients on the menu (the gyozas, for example, were named ‘beef shin, kimchi, cucumber’) adds to the excitement, and being able to watch what you’ve ordered go from raw ingredients to beautifully presented food is fascinating. If you’re after a meal in Brighton that pushes the boundaries, serves ingredients cooked to exacting perfection and likes to keep things fun and casual, you can’t do better.

64degrees.co.uk

64 Degrees
The gyozas with kimchi were the perfect example of how Michael and head chef Sam like to work with worldly flavours
64 Degrees
The rum bear is one of 64°'s signature desserts – essentially jellied rum with sherbert, it should be eaten in one mouthful

9. Plateau

Plateau
The wines on offer at Plateau are all natural, while the cocktail list is inventive and playful
Plateau
Thierry and Vincent are passionate about good wine and French food – a perfect combination

This French wine bar and restaurant is the only place in Brighton to specialise in natural wine, with over twenty bottles available by the glass and an exciting list that changes every week. Owners Thierry and Vincent opened Plateau six years ago and over time have expanded the food offering; people now come to the bar for a bite to eat as much as they do for something to drink. There’s an inventive, extensive cocktail list too, and the trendy atmosphere makes it one of the most popular places in the city to meet friends and spend the evening tasting unusual, interesting and hard to find wines alongside plates of bistro-style French classics.

plateaubrighton.co.uk

10. The Salt Room

The Salt Room

Anywhere that serves a cocktail based on a roast dinner is fine by us, and The Salt Room’s bartender Matt created such an astonishing, beef-fat-washed aperitif that we can’t wait to go back and try more. Owned by the same people behind The Coal Shed, another of Brighton’s top restaurants, The Salt Room focuses on fish and seafood, pairing gurnard with cabbage in a shellfish veloute or mackerel with miso and beetroot. But if you haven’t got the time for a full meal, at the very least head to the bar and try the cocktails – as well as the roast beef creation we tried (it was like some sort of alcoholic gravy, in the best possible way), we also sampled an oyster martini, served with the shell on top.

saltroom-restaurant.co.uk

11. Bincho Yakitori

Bincho
Chef Dave Miney worked in Japanese izakayas for many years, understanding the intricacies of kaiseki cuisine
Bincho
Everything is cooked on a wood-fired grill, with plenty of sake to wash the smoky, savoury flavours down

Inspired by the izakayas of Japan, Bincho Yakitori was originally based in Soho before chef Dave Miney moved the restaurant to Brighton. The menu is made up of lots of little dishes – mostly skewered – cooked over an open fire. There were sweet, smoky, spicy flavours in everything we tried, so delicious that despite all the food we’d consumed throughout the day we were eager to try more and more. Bite-sized cubes of pork belly, rich chicken livers and sticky sesame wings were a joy to chomp through, but the highlight had to be a skewer of crispy chicken skin – we would’ve happily eaten three or four of them each.

Sake is a drink that can be hard to understand, but the short, carefully thought out list at Bincho is easy to choose from. We had a creamy nigori, which went perfectly with the fiery flavours of the skewers, and had a thoroughly enjoyable meal. If you think Japanese food begins and ends with sushi, come here and get ready to tuck into some seriously moreish grilled meats.

binchoyakitori.com

12. The Little Fish Market

Little Fish Market
Cod with taramasalata and pickled cucumber was a beautiful way to kick things off
Little Fish Market
Chef Duncan Ray is the only chef and Rob looks after the entire front of house

If you’re reading this guide looking for that one undiscovered gem that’s off the beaten track, then The Little Fish Market should be at the top of your list. The tiny restaurant is run by just two people – Duncan in the kitchen and Rob working front of house – giving the whole experience a really personal touch. Duncan has spent most of his career working in Michelin-starred kitchens, including The Fat Duck, and his skill and technique is astounding. Matched by Rob’s impeccably professional and friendly service, this is a dining experience that any foodie would be blown away by.

As you can probably guess, the menu is primarily fish-based. The whole idea revolves around simplicity, and it works incredibly well; it takes a confident chef to serve nothing more than a fillet of slip sole covered in seaweed butter on a plate, but the quality of cooking meant nothing else was needed. It’s a single set menu that changes daily and booking is essential, so make sure you get a table at this incredible place the next time you’re in Brighton.

thelittlefishmarket.co.uk

Little Fish Market
One of the best dishes on the menu – slip sole with seaweed butter – showed immense confidence from the chef and proved how incredible the produce was
Little Fish Market
Seabass with a curry sauce was another example of just how talented chef Duncan is

13. Brighton Beer Dispensary

Brighton Beer
Beers both locally made and from further afield are served on keg or cask and kept in peak condition
Brighton Beer
Set up by the Brighton Bier and Late Knights breweries, food is cooked by Dizzy Gull with a menu full of incredibly tempting bar snacks

All warm wood and dim lighting, Brighton Beer Dispensary has a wonderful, traditional pub atmosphere, but the beers on tap are anything but. Co-owned by the Late Knights Brewery and Brighton Bier Co, there are some great ales and ciders on tap kept in perfect condition from some of the most exciting breweries around. Rather than relying on colourful, attention-grabbing pump clips, the name and ABV is simply written in chalk, with the hope that you’re more likely to try something a little bit different. There’s also a fantastic selection of Belgian beers on offer, but whatever style you like there’s bound to be something to take your fancy.

The bar menu isn’t to be sniffed at either – the kitchen is headed up by Dizzy Gull and has some very tasty morsels such as oxtail nuggets, ‘KFC’ rabbit and deep fried mashed potato with hollandaise sauce. This turns what would be a great drinking pub into the kind of place you could spend boozing and eating well into the early hours (in other words, exactly the kind of place we like to go to).

facebook.com/BRTNDispensary

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