As it’s Valentine’s Day, it seemed like an opportune time to trial the new shared tasting menu at the Salt Rooms in Brighton. Not that you will be able to book it today, don’t be silly. But something for the weekend?
I’m not very good at sharing my food. I mean, I don’t exactly hunch over it with my arm protectively around the dish, a la skool exams, but I sort of wish I could. Tapas makes me nervous, in case people double dip, or put a licked fork into something I might want to eat. I’m not a fun person to share food with. I am hawk-like, watching for infractions.
However, with a tasting menu you get your own plates. No need for any of that *actual* sharing to deal with, no danger of collective saliva or of not getting my full 50%. So I was rubbing my hands in anticipation for this sharing sort of lunch, without fear of disease or the possibility of murderous resentments.
You’re bound to see them all out there tonight, slaving over a damp conversation
I went with a girlfriend rather than a romantic partner – they’re much more fun to lunch with anyway and Zoe Cunliffe is a serious partner in crime. Each to their own, obviously; some people (try to) enjoy going out with their beloved other halves, a deux. And you’re bound to see them all out there tonight, slaving over a damp conversation, desperately trying to wring some love and joy out of the whole ghastly enforced experience.
But to the food! Which I’m going to say straight up was an absolute bloody delight, just so you know. I walked away very happy and definitely fatter, but I’ll talk you through that. There were also a couple of niggles, so it’s only fair you get those too.
Sooo… let’s get the niggles out of the way. First one – and a bit surprised by this – we asked for Classic Champagne Cocktails to kick off with, as one does at midday on a Tuesday, and the barman didn’t know what a Classic was. We ended up with a nice enough thing, but kind of had to explain it and define it, and tell him the difference between that and a French 75, which is I think what we ended up with anyway but were too British to complain about.
Second niggle was the ethereal and intermittent front of house service. There were huge long periods where there was literally nobody at the desk, at the bar, or even serving. OK, it was quiet, it’s a Tuesday. But we wandered around, clutching our glasses of Not A Classic and giggling for some time before we actually found someone to take us to our table.
Imagine a little octopus cassoulet and you’re not far off. It was utterly delish
Once sat down though, all was forgiven. And let me warn you; if you think a sharing/tasting menu is never going to be enough, stand down. By the end of it I deeply regretted going in with the pre-starter, but couldn’t resist their famous salt cod balls with black taramasalata (I’d go there just for them tbh) and the half a loaf of homemade bread with garlicky stuff that we tore into.
With the tasting menu you get two starters, a fish course, a meat course, and a pud. The first starter dish is a heavenly, rich dish of octopus and beans (proper names and all the prices at bottom). Good sturdy little chunks of super fresh octopus, rich bacony sauce and little beans – haricot I think. Imagine a little octopus cassoulet and you’re not far off. It was utterly delish.
The next starter is actually a light and zingy monkfish ceviche affair, with the rather unusual addition of almonds and a good acid kick from sherry vinegar. I wondered if it might not have been better to do these dishes the other way round, as it’s a far more delicate dish than the first one. But actually it sort of serves as a bit of a palate cleanser after the robust octo. Very light and fresh – dreamy actually.
Moving into what is now technically the fish course, a smaller version of the main dish, and we have what for me was probably the star of the show. An absolutely perfectly cooked, just-on-the-translucent-border piece of the freshest white fish, that still managed to have a crispy skin, decorated with samphire, one of my most favouritist things in the whole wide world. There’s some kind of dusty, salty business on top of the roast onion that really knocked the dish into orbit, and the gentle flavours it was bathing in makes this, for me, one of the nicest things I’ve eaten for a while.
Not struggling enough to appreciate you though, in your falling-apart, garlicky, saucy umami anchovy sort of wondrousness
Ah, lamb. I feel slightly guilty that by the time we got to you we were stuffed and struggling a bit. Not struggling enough to appreciate you though, in your falling-apart, garlicky, saucy umami anchovy sort of wondrousness. The little pasty thing – filo pastry wrapped around what I’m guessing is confit lamb – was rich and a bit on the greasy side, but by then I was full enough not to mind leaving it. And besides, the lamb itself, the star of the show, was absolutely faultless. Stunning, rich.
And finally to pudding. The traditional taster will get the chocolate mousse but we managed to wangle a sticky toffee pudding too. It’s impossible to pick a winner here – the chocolate mousse you’ll get is just heavenly, more like a pouffy dollop of Ferrero Rocher than traditional chocolate, but the depth of good dark chocolate on the nose is appreciable. The crunchy stuff under it gives it important texture, but the big surprise is the choux pastry construction – it’s got stuff in it! Nuts and gooey stuff! Like a confectioners piñata.
The sticky toffee pudding is good – it’s exactly as you’d want it to be, but what makes that stand out is the whisky sauce, and the additional lightness of pear. It’s a really great combination, and I’d like a full sized portion of that right now. Ultimately I did end up having to share share the desserts, but managed it all okay by eating half and then swapping plates. Phew.
Wines – mustn’t forget those. When in the fishy arena we had a Croatian Kozlovic Malvazija, which was perfect for fish. Light on the nose but robust enough to handle the big hitters like the octopus, great to try something a little non-traditional. Heading into the lamb, we plumped for a soft Valpolicella, which was velvety smooth and could definitely get a girl into trouble.
The Salt Room
106 Kings Rd
Tasting menu is £40 per person, pre-orders required for Fri/Sat nights
Inclusions (and standard a la carte prices for full sized plates)
Octopus with white beans, bacon, seaweed gremolata £11
Monkfish with almonds, grapes and sherry vinegar £8
Sussex Stone bass with kelp, roast onion, smoked garlic, preserved lemon £19
Lamb with black garlic, basil, courgettes, anchovy £21
Warm chocolate mousse. Praline mousse, confit orange, tonka bean ice cream £9
Sticky toffee pudding, poached pear, walnuts, date, smoked whisky caramel £8
Champagne cocktail (can’t price, not entirely sure what it was but prob around £9)
Kozlovic Malvazija (Istria, Croatia) £8.75 175ml glass, £25 carafe, £35 bottle
Roccolo Grassi Valpolicella Superiore (Veneto) bottle only £62