The effects of COVID and lockdown certainly took their toll on the food and hospitality world with many venues simply going to the wall. So it is with a great sense of anticipation that I headed out to sample something new here in Brighton. Embers is very new but built on the strengths of two great chefs, friends Dave Marrow and Isaac Barlett-Copeland. As the name suggests, fire is involved in this new concept, and the conceit starts as you approach the entrance with the sound of gently crackling burning wood.
Inside is dark and moody, a sense of comfort and cosiness. Beyond the counter is the open kitchen, where a team of chefs tend the fire and the dishes. Amazingly, there is a gentle scent of food cooking over fire but no oppressive smokiness. I’ve eaten in places cooking on wood and coals before and arrived home smelling charred myself, but not here, there must be some well thought out ventilation at play.
My companion for the evening was the sweet voiced Mr F and we were greeted by my favourite sommelier, Alex, who until now has been the bottle boffin at Isaac@. Alex takes the pomposity out of his passion for great drinks and suggests that we start our evening with a cocktail. Well, of late I have been avoiding booze, but I was tempted and decided to throw caution to the wind with a rather delicious and slightly oily twist on a gin martini. Mr F chose something less full on than my hard hitting and wonderfully dry choice but was equally impressed.
The format of the menu is simple, a short list of small plates and a few sharing centre piece dishes. At their suggestion we decided to have the aged pork tomahawk with leek and mustard seed with a side of charred broccoli and bonfire potatoes. I added in the lamb ribs because I simply love lamb ribs, a delicious memory of childhood dishes when the very economical cut of breast of lamb was a regular. That was before breast of lamb became re-branded as lamb belly.
I was not to be disappointed, the lamb ribs were simply divine, I would happily sit and eat plate after plate of this amazing dish and Mr F agreed, the sweet flesh, perfectly rendered fat simply falling from the bone and the sticky juices running down my chin. What a brilliant start.
Next the pork and again a piece of meat treated with due respect so that the meat had remained succulent, the fat again perfect and the taste of the wood fire delicate and not intrusive. This is the key factor at Embers, if you like the acrid taste of burnt meat then fire up your BBQ and ruin some meat. This is not what they are doing here, the smokiness of wood is kept in check and applied with a delicate hand. This pork was great and the gently charred leek added a creamy sweetness to the plate.
On the side, the broccoli came with a sweetcorn and jalapeño cream, a tomato and garlic molé and hazelnuts, a combination that sparked plenty of discussion and debate but all positive. And then there was potato, bonfire potato to be specific. What a dish, creamy mash topped with roasted garlic, probably a whole bulb of sweet pearls of delight and finally a crunchy onion seed crumble. It was one of those dishes that you simply could not leave alone. Fortunately it was also served in a very generous portion so going back in time and time again was not an issue. I am sure I am not alone in finding nothing more frustrating than finding something delicious on my plate that barely fills the fork once and denies the pleasure of savouring several times.
With this Alex recommended a glass of South American red, a perfect balance to the intense flavours on our plates.
This is a refreshing take on the small plate concept, but one that for once, is rather filling, so it was a while before we felt ready for dessert. Mr F rapidly settled on the banana split, I was not in the mood for chocolate and my dislike of pineapple ruled out the other sweet choice leaving me with a savoury dish to end my repast. Well I can always find space for a bit of cheese and the promise of grilled Tamworth on brioche with truffle was too much to resist.
Mr F’s banana split arrived not looking like the banana splits of my childhood but proved to be a real wow, I mean, who came up with a parsnip and rosemary ice-cream and made it work so well when served with caramelised banana, toffee sauce and praline… yes you read that right. I urge you to get down there and try this before it disappears from what is promised to be a seasonal and ever changing menu. And yes, I did plunder Mr F’s pud, all in a days work after all. My rarebit, of sorts, was delicious too, familiar flavours but executed well and a fine conclusion to a very good dinner.
It’s early days but Embers has started on a very sure and confident footing with a concise but very tempting menu that includes some very comforting dishes and some equally bold ideas.