What’s not to like about a steady flow of small dishes heaped with exquisite, beautifully presented morsels that are works of art in their own right? It’s the lazy girl’s slay to eat like a queen. Particularly if you choose the wine flight with it. It’s almost indecently decadent.
Isaac At – please note NOT Isaac@ – offers the indolent gourmand exactly this opportunity. A light and airy space with a quality of service that’s hard to find outside Michelin territory, what started as an occasional popup has developed into a serious contender on the Sussex restaurant scene. And all they do is set menus and tasting menus. No thinking required. And yes there are vegetarian options – just tell them at the time of booking.
Seemingly staffed entirely by beautiful, calm young men, none of whom appear to be older than 20, the standard and quality of the food is extremely high, particularly at a very reasonable £50 per person for the full tasting monty.
“If you can’t get a seat at the Pass you can still see the food on screen. Excellent diversion, apparently, for dates that aren’t going so well.”
Aside from the Scandinavian-influenced interior, and the delight of not having to engage my brain to order, other pleasing things about this place included the influence of local dishes and the entirely UK-produced wine list. That’s right – we’re kicking arse here with the wines! With your menu comes a breakdown of all the ingredients used, and the food miles accumulated for each one. And the walls in the dining room have mounted screens which live-stream the action in the kitchen. So if you can’t get a seat at the Pass you can still see the food being prepared on screen. Excellent diversion, apparently, for dates that aren’t going so well.
So to the food. It’s unlikely when you go that you’ll get the same menu but at least I can give you some kind of indication of the quality. We kicked off with an amuse bouche of cured mackerel, samphire gel, charcoal mayo and thyme on some kind of crunchy thing; much more fun than a tiny soup and perfect with the Ridgeview Bloomsbury. The strawberry and tomato soup was about a million times better than it sounds, even if it sounds nice to you – delicately flavoured, and like an English summer garden in a bowl. Actually what really gave this dish some real oomph was the little wafers of cured ham and the sourdough croutons. It might have been a bit bland otherwise, but it was beautifully balanced.
Can we just talk about the breads for a sec? Two mounds of warm yummy homemade bread pillows – a shallot brioche, and caramelised treacle and stout loaf with homemade butter. You know that thing where you swear not to eat too much bread or you’ll get too full? Yeah – keep that in mind. The bread is fabulous. There’s no other word for it.
Next up was a delicate plate of crab, with a brown meat dressing, cucumber ketchup and nasturtium leaves, sitting on a bar of charred cucumber. Actually probably my least favourite dish on the menu – although it looked pretty and there was nothing wrong with it. It was just a bit too subtle. The crab was incredibly fresh and quite mild, and the ketchup could perhaps have been a bit more zingy. I missed the funky fullness of crab flavour and some kind of citrus hit I think. A very dainty dish, but a bit too refined for us.
But the plaice dish that came afterwards meant we quickly forgot the shy crab – a sliver of creamy textured fish, just set, with wild garlic mash, purslain and parsley oil. We both agreed we could have eaten it twice over. A feast for the eyes as well as the mouth, other diners behind us in the running were drooling looking at our plates.
I keep meaning to get a sous-vide thing because whenever I eat something that’s been cooked in it I melt, much like the food. The lamb in the next dish had had the water bath treatment, before being hiked out and pan-fried just before serving to sizzle up the edges a bit and create some texture and caramelise the juices. It was utter heaven. Perfectly paired with pea purée, broad beans, chives, goosefoot, and then a light gravy simply using the natural lamb juices.
Following the palate cleansing gooseberry and elderflower sorbet, for those of you who love a pudding, the sweet course was a light and heavenly delight. Rhubarb sorbet with whipped custard pillows, the dish was broken up with shards of aromatic pink peppercorn meringue wafers and given some texture by tiny shortbread biscuits. I’m normally not much of a pud kind of a girl but this was extraordinarily light and sophisticated – the custard soft and sweet, the rhubarb bravely tangy. Reader, I ate the lot.
And just when you thought you couldn’t possibly have any more treats coming, coffee is served with exemplary petits four in the shape of not-so-little soda and almond cakes, and lemon and thyme fudge topped with burnt apple purée and a single thyme leaf.
And then it was time to leave.
Isaac At is a wonderful treat for the senses. There’s no fuss about what to order, so one can sit back and let the whole experience just flow, and the service was truly excellent – a big thank you to the team for looking after us so well. We didn’t do the wine flight (commitments after lunch for which we needed some semblance of sobriety, sadly) but I did have a rather marvellous glass of Davenport Pinot Noir rose as well as the Ridgeview bubbles. I will do the wine journey next time though, for sure.
If I could change a couple of things I would like to see more women on the team. There’s enough sexism in the catering industry already, so more female chefs/staff please; the crew on the day we went I think might even have been 100% male. And there’s also a machine in the kitchen area – we thought maybe the sous-vide – that beeps. A lot.
The decor – whilst pleasingly sparse – crisply reflects the sound in the dining room, so once the room was full of chat we struggled to hear each other talk without leaning in and engaging in a bit of mild bellowing. We’re both in our forties and years of loud fun has made us a bit deaf. But none of these things really detract much from the overall experience and I’ll go again like a shot. It’s a perfect place to eat with friends, or go on a date. If you can, book your seats at the Pass so you can watch the action, but mostly, go with plenty of time. This is not a place to rush.
Tasting Menu £50 | Set Menu £35
Tuesday to Saturday | 6.30pm to 10.30pm
Saturday lunch |12.30pm to 2.30pm
Wine flight from £29 | Juice pairing £20
2 Gloucester St