- February 6, 2018
Brighton and Hove’s food scene has never been better, never more exciting and never more acclaimed. But I bet that if I asked any one of the top ranking chefs in town what is at the heart of what they do it would be classic cuisine. As the late great AA Gill once described it, a lot of modern food is “Jabberwocky”, by which he meant fantastic invention. I love the work of our modern chefs, but there are times when what I want is classic, and on a big plate if you follow my drift.
So where better to go than the city’s oldest and perhaps most famous restaurant English’s. It’s been around since the late 19th century and has always been focused on fish and seafood and the current owners have been at the helm, for probably longer than any other in the city – around 40 years I believe.
So on a very dismal January night Mr L and I braved the cold wind and relentless drizzle and ended up sat at the oyster bar with a dozen very good oysters, Lindisfarne and Mersea Island and a glass of Laurent Perrier, followed by a rather good sparkling Albarino, yes luxury and history all rolled into one delightful experience.
But that was only the start of an epic journey of classic delights. Once at our table in what has to be one of the nicest dining rooms in town I headed off on a series of food memories. I started with potted shrimps, long a favourite and recently simply not measuring up – too cold, too much butter and too small. This was generous, not fridge cold and actually rather light with the right amount of cayenne and mace to give it that traditional zing without drowning the sweet little crustaceans. Mr L had Coquille St Jacques, again a classic and again not messed with. His smile said it all. Manager Nick Emmott, recently voted in the top four UK restaurant managers, also delivered an omelette Arnold Bennett, and next time I will order this delight unprompted. We opted to let the delightful sommelier steer our wine choices and a glass of English Bacchus from Devon was a great choice.
I had a hankering for a Dover sole and settled on Colbert, the one I had never tried
The menu is packed with temptation, fruits de mer, a few modern dishes, fish on and off the bone… where does one go. I had a hankering for a Dover sole, but how? Meunière, bon femme? I finally settled on Colbert, because it was the one I had never tried. Oh my, what a dish, the fish skinned and boned then opened up, filled with a little garlic butter, not so much that it swamped the flavour of the fish, then breadcrumbed and fried. It was huge, it was tasty and it was a joy to eat, the fish in prime condition. I believe that a Dover sole needs to be left a day after being caught to achieve its full potential, and this was certainly perfect.
Mr L was then persuaded to have the house speciality of lobster thermidor, a princely dish that I seldom choose and for two reasons: it hits my gout hard and my wallet harder. Mr L smiled at being persuaded to go that way and beamed when the dish arrived. I tasted it and I was not surprised, it was truly magnificent. On the side pomme Lyonnaise was superb, gratin dauphinois the same, and the spinach and green beans cooked perfectly – by which I mean cooked and mot merely made hot.
We were presented with two Chardonnays, one new world and one old, and yes we worked out which was which and which we preferred. Smug maybe, but it is the job.
I was beyond full by this point but easily swayed to try a dessert. I really wanted to go sticky toffee but common sense said panna cotta, lime with rum jelly and apple compote. It was good but not as stellar as our previous courses, a little too firm. And I would have taken that tropical idea a step further and replaced the almonds with shreds of coconut, picky me.
English’s is living history, paying attention to fashion but not abandoning its classic roots, and for that I raise my hat.
English’s of Brighton, 29-31 East Street BN1 1HL, 01273 327980