ISAAC @: TRIAL KITCHEN
Kitchen hierarchy has always been a strictly structured concept and one couched in French terms. But in recent years, here in Brighton and Hove there have been changes, and none more obvious than at the much feted Isaac @ where the average age of the members of the team is often less than that of some of the wine that they serve.
This is, to use a much used cliché, a small but perfectly formed restaurant, it needs to be perfectly formed because it is truly tiny and every available centimetre, I would say inch but I’m not going into the ludicrous suggestion that we move back to imperial measure, well every centimetre has to earn its living – and it does.
So given the youthful nature of the team and the restricting space, I was intrigued to hear that they had introduced a new concept twice monthly called Trial Kitchen. Here the team hand over two seats at the pass to one of the youngest members of the team, in our case an 18 year old called Guy. Guy has studied at Brighton MET college and is a testament to the calibre of students that they turn out and joins an illustrious band of quality chefs that have trained there. Guy’s task at Trial kitchen is to create and serve four courses of his own making. It’s always exciting to leave the choices to the kitchen for me, there’s little that I dislike to it holds no jeopardy and my companion for the evening, Mr O, is equally open to surprise.
So sat on high stools at the pass our evening began. Guy was confident, more so than I might have been at 18 and head chef Caspian left him very much in charge. Our first dish emerged before us, charred leeks served with a confit egg yolk and crisp ham shards, the whole decorated with nasturtium leaves and elderberries treated like capers. It looked wonderful, vibrant colours, and it tasted marvellous, gentle egg yolk, salty locally cured ham and sweet leeks with just a tinge of singe.
Next came a fish course that always cheers me up, scallops, but too often a scallop dish can be, dare I say it, rather mean. Not too long ago we were served a dish announced as scallops, plural, but in fact one scallop sliced into three. Needless to say I sent it back. Guy was certainly on the case and we each had three plump and perfectly cooked scallops served on some wilted greens and a delicately smoked cauliflower purée. Now cauliflower is pretty delicate stuff flavour wise so to delicately smoke it so that it retained its won character was skillful stuff and successfully balanced too.
Our next course had me glowing with delight. Guy had suggested that it was his take on a taco, but it went way beyond that for me. Gently cooked cabbage leaves were filled with layers of apple sauce, a tomato salsa (not a spicy one) and slow cooked pork before being rolled up and dusted with pork crackling nuggets. The cabbage was wonderful, bitter sweet and tender, the pork succulent and the apple sauce adding a sweet and sour edge to the whole. He might have had taco on mind at the start but this dish reminded me of that very last fork full of a well made Sunday lunch, so, so satisfying.
Finally on to dessert, a meringue confection filled with macerated strawberries, crème Anglaise, cream and drizzled with basil oil and a dusting of pepper and the whole sat on a gently salted oat crumb. It was a perfect early summer treat, soothingly sweet and yet packed with surprises, and generous too, how I hate a skimpy pudding.
Throughout, the very skilled sommelier, Alex served a selection of fascinating local wines and a very surprising cider too. The whole premise of local produce is taken to a sensible level here and for those who prefer not to indulge in alcohol then talk to him about his excellent fruit and vegetable juices.
Guy is going to be a chef to watch and places at Trial Kitchen a very hot seat. Hat’s off to the team for a great concept and to guy for a great dinner.
Trial Kitchen is at Isaac @ twice monthly with only two seats.
Isaac @, 2, Gloucester Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 4EW