Opening a new restaurant is always fraught with challenges, and Senor Buddha has certainly had its fair share of those along the way; tussling mostly with building work-related aggro before finally throwing its doors open to a ready public.
Having to move the launch night not once but twice might have daunted less tenacious teams but the driving force behind Senor Buddha, Lee Shipley, doesn’t daunt easily. And so the restaurant is up and running, open for business, and on the night we went in – only a week after it actually opened the doors – already doing a roaring trade.
Here at Title we’ve had an established relationship with Lee for a while, watching him grow the business and a dedicated following for the food and the ethos from early pop up restaurants to this – first of many, apparently – permanent unit in Brighton.
The concept behind the food, with its fusion of Mediterranean Spanish and East Asian, is an unusual blend, and for those who haven’t tried it, it’s a wild journey of taste, with occasional flashes of pure genius.
The creation of tapas plates that blend items such as sashimi and Iberico ham, or mutton slow roasted on the bone in coconut milk and Thai spices represents a composite of two very different cuisines, and there are times when you think it shouldn’t work. But it does.
Having a permanent home means that Lee has not only been able to work on perfecting the dishes, most of which are now prepared (and even improved, he gruffly admits, by head chef Alma) but also on sourcing wines to match them exactly, and regular supplies of authentic ingredients from the Ibizan coffee – which is superb – to the genuine Padron peppers he has flown over. “Come on down and try some of the wines with the dishes!” he encouraged. Did we need asking twice? Is the Pope a funny guy in a dress?
As with all tapas experiences, by the end of the night there had been so many parties in our mouths that it’s hard to keep track of it, particularly at the rate Lee was pouring the wine. It was awful, honestly. What a terrible way to spend a Saturday night. But the wines Lee has chosen to go with each dish work perfectly. It’s a gift, matching wine and food, particularly when the food has no benchmark or pedigree to balance against, and chefs don’t always get it right. But from the sparkling opener, through the burgundies and finally on to stuff like the orange zest liqueur, it all worked.
The restaurant is small and perfectly-formed, and Lee says it’s fallen into two natural sittings in the evenings, with British people coming in early and then the Spanish clientele rolling in much later to eat.
His enthusiasm for the restaurant is infectious and we found ourselves sitting up at the bar, joining in with other diners, all trying different drinks and dishes. It’s actually one of my favourite, and one of the most social ways to eat. It’s also extremely competitively priced.
Senor Buddha is a little gem. Go, and try lots of different flavours. Our total favourites were the Oxtail Spring Rolls and we adored the Duck Confit, and the Scallops and Morcilla – but one of the most stunning things I’ve ever eaten is the Tuna Tartare with Iberico Ham and avocado/wasabi puree.
It’s all fresh and flavoursome and fish saucey and I would eat it every day by the bucket-load if I could. An inspired dish. And it’s a fiver! I eat out a lot and I can tell you, that’s an absolute steal, seriously. It just shows you how overpriced some stuff is.
SO WHAT DID WE EAT?
You can see the full list of food on their website, but we went for…
MOUNTAIN MUTTON STEW £6.50
Basted for 24 hours in dry spiced rub & soy sauce cooked on the bone in coconut mil
SHERRY PIG CHEEK CROQUETTES £4.00
Slow cooked in Sherry & Thai spices then breaded and deep fried
CONFIT DUCK LEG £6.00
Served with a Sherry & Hoisin poached plum sauce and spring onion purée
OXTAIL SPRING ROLLS £6.50
Our take on the Spanish classic Rabo Del Toro
KING SCALLOPS & MORCILLA DE BURGOS £6.50
Served on coconut & cauliflower puree
OCTOPUS TENTACLE £6.50
Slow cooked in red wine & Thai spices served with coriander aioli & squid ink caviar
ASIAN TUNA TARTARTE & IBERIAN HAM £5.00
Served with an avocado & wasabi puree
GRILLED ASPARAGUS £4.00
Served with water cress physalis, drizzled with a miso and lime dressing
We did then finish up with a trio of ice creams which Lee’s been working with Boho Gelato on, and I really wish I could remember what they were, because they were all absolutely lovely, I know that. But Lee’s hospitality was only matched by his excitement and enthusiasm for pouring wine, and the memory gets a bit hazy at this point. I guess I’ll just have to go back and try them again.
Enjoy Senor Buddha. Eat, drink and be merry. Just watch those bar stools….
9 Preston Road