Latest’s Andrew Kay talks to Razak Helalat, the man behind The Salt Room, Brighton’s successful seafront seafood restaurant that is listed in the top 100 British Restaurants
Razak, or Raz as he is better known, is the man behind not only The Salt Room but also an equally successful and popular Brighton restaurant The Coal Shed. Creating one successful restaurant in a city unusually full of places to dine is quite an achievement, to create a second that is equally successful is simply extraordinary. But Brighton and Hove’s restaurants are achieving both national and international acclaim and the city is firmly established on the global gourmet map these days. The Salt Room is indeed listed in the Sunday Times Top 100 Restaurant list for 2017. With this in mind I wanted to find out more from Raz about what drives him, and his team, forward.
You have a new menu this month, where does the inspiration come from? Is it a collaboration between you and your chefs?
I wanted to broaden the menu and put some old classics and some firm favourites from previous menus that our customers kept asking for. It is 100% a collaboration between myself and the chefs which is a fun process of going back and forth until we get it just right.
Did you create The Salt Room to fill a gap in the city’s restaurant scene?
Yes, I wanted to a create a restaurant that complimented The Coal Shed and wanted to use the great location and views of Brighton’s seafront to showcase the great local produce that we are so lucky to have.
Your head chef Dave has a very inventive and rather unique approach to cooking: do you give him free rein or do you ever have to rein him in?
I encourage creative development within all the staff and have worked with and known Dave for a long time now. I feel that he fully understands my vision and he knows how to utilise his skills to achieve this.
I had thought that pastry chefs had become a thing of the past but at The Salt Room you have Laura and her skill with desserts has certainly been more than noticed.
Laura has proven that pastry chefs are not a thing of the past and has become a huge asset to the business. In fact, the Taste of the Pier dessert has proven to be a bigger success than we ever thought and has been the most photographed and Instagrammed dish that we have had.
You are now entering your second year and have had a lot of acclaim. How has the concept grown in those two years? Will we see changes?
We are growing the menu slightly, as we want to appeal to a wider audience. We have introduced different menus so that there is something for everyone throughout the week. We are just about the launch The Salt Room Afternoon Tea, which we are super excited about. Dave, Laura and myself have been working to bring our own take to this classic British offering. We have also worked hard at producing an affordable and quick lunch and pre-theatre menu along with our Sunday Sharing Roasts which is proving popular.
My chef Dave fully understands my vision & he knows how to utilise his skills to achieve this – Laura has proven that pastry chefs are not a thing of the past
Your first venture here was The Coal Shed restaurant, how do the two venues work together?
Very well, they are like ying and yang and compliment each other very well, with one focusing on meat and the other on fish.
The Salt Room has certainly played a big part in raising the city’s reputation as a gastronomic destination. Do you have a good relationship with the city’s other fine restaurants?
I feel that we do and yes we are very close with a lot of the owners and chefs. We are always exchanging ideas and advice and there is a strong community in Brighton, and I am sure this is part of the reason as to why it has become a gastronomic destination.
Owning two successful restaurants must be very demanding but surely with that success comes further ambition, what next?
We are a young and ambitious group and have lots of ideas… time will tell and I’m sure you will be one of the first to know very soon.
You are now launching a new afternoon tea menu, no doubt it will carry your signature quirkiness. What might we expect?
(Here Raz simply lists the menu, which speaks for itself, but if in any doubt then look over and read my report on this most advanced version of a traditional British delight. AK)
SAVOURY (CHOICE OF 4)
Crab Scotch egg
Truffled grilled cheese
Salmon & squid ink bun
Aged beef tartare & egg yolk Jam sandwich
Plain scones, House made clotted cream & strawberry elderflower jam
Pistachio & raspberry battenburg
Rhubarb & custard macaroon
Orange & yuzu posset
The Salt Room shines bright
It has always amazed me how few fish and seafood restaurants that we have here in this beautiful city by the sea. I was equally amazed by the continued failure of the restaurant site in the eastern corner of the Hilton Brighton Metropole with its great location, terrace and sea views. For years it was something of an accident black spot when it came to dining – then along comes The Salt Room. You will, I hope, have read my interview on the left with Raz, the man behind The Salt Room which is celebrating its second anniversary, but the proof as they say is in the pudding….
Well before we get to that pudding let’s get back to beginnings, by which I mean starters, and what starters. I had been invited along to sample a selection of dishes from their new menu, always a treat and this was one hell of a treat! I was joined by my dear friend Ms L, some of you will know her from my TV series Cook It! Yes her, a seasoned food lover and expert home cook.
First out was a salt cod croquette served with taramasalata. The salt cod was perfection, not salty at all, thank heavens, so many cooks fail to soak it for long enough. The taramasalata was divine, perfectly balanced flavours if slightly scary in colour, but it did look great alongside the golden croquette.
Next an oyster, a jewel of an oyster with a delicate verjus dressing. Dave the chef sources these from a small supplier in Ireland and I declare them to be amongst the finest I have ever eaten – and I have eaten a lot.
This was followed by an exemplary dish of raw sea bream. So fresh, clean and light, the accompanying finely sliced fennel and radish and chilli adding to the impact without overwhelming the delicate fish. It was sharp, creamy, crisp, spicy and ultimately quite the best raw fish dish I have ever tasted. Ms L was equally impressed by this dish and that was simply the start.
Her main course was gurnard, a much neglected fish, in part due to the fact that on the slab it is pug ugly! But my how good it tastes. Dave had cooked it to perfection and served it with brilliantly tender water-bathed octopus and sea vegetables. I looked on with such envy, but Ms L knows that sharing is caring and I too was able to indulge in her fine plate of food.
The Salt Room is impressive on every level, luxurious, stylish, brilliantly located, immaculate service & of course divine food. It really is a jewel in the city’s crown
I had line caught sea bass, again beautifully cooked. It came with a chicken jus, not as crazy as it might sound. The potato puree was about 70% butter I reckoned, the puree of broccoli a real surprise and to crown it all crab-glazed roscoff onions filled with white crab meat. Now those onions… bring them on, I want them more and more.
Laura is the pastry chef at The Salt Room and has really made her presence felt with her extraordinary Taste of the Pier sharing dessert. We both sat in anticipation, and quite rightly so. First out was her award winning chocolate dessert that included a cob nut “Nutella” style mousse, home made aerated chocolate, macaron, waffle ice-cream and crumb and delicious dehydrated milk crisps. It was exemplary, rich but not heavy. She went on to stun us with a new apple fritter dessert that included an apple granita, compressed granny smiths, apple jelly… oh yes, the fritters, what a treat.
We were modest in our drinking sharing a bottle of house white and we sat back, replete, happy, and ready to relax. Then Dave the head chef and Laura the pastry chef appeared and suggested that we had a break before they served afternoon tea. I gasped in, well fear as much as anything. How could I possibly eat any more. They said that they understood but really wanted me to see their new creation, and what a creation it is. We declined the offer of G&T tea or Tattinger tea and settled on Earl Grey, and when it arrived we look on in wonder. Afternoon tea is nice but seldom a work of true gastronomy. Not any more! This was spectacular and despite being full I had to try the oyster Rockefeller, crab and salmon scotch egg and the witty steak tartare take on a jam sandwich. Ms L had the truffled cheese toasty and made light work of a perfect scone with home made jam and home made clotted cream. I struggled down a wonderful rhubarb and custard macaron and sat back feeling rather ashamed of myself, not for eating too much but for leaving food untasted!
The Salt Room is impressive on every level, luxurious, stylish, brilliantly located, immaculate service and of course divine food. It really is a jewel in the city’s crown.
106 King’s Rd, Brighton, BN1 2FA