Sunday, 26 April 2015

Terre à Terre, Brighton

A stones throw from the Brighton seafront, on the edge of the famous Laines, lies Terre à Terre. I loved it.

For a restaurant whose name means ‘down to earth’, the menu descriptions are some of the longest and most bizarre I’ve ever read; the seasoned diner in me wants to bemoan the number of ingredients and flavours in each dish but the fact is, for the most part, they all tasted great together.

One example, for just three finger sized ‘Arepas’, a seemingly schizo farrago of flavours included a sweet chilli sauce (called “chilly chelly jelly”); a kind of guacamole (“avocado coriander chilli garlic hash”); a “fresh and zesty oregano and lime mojo” AND a “cheddar fondue”. If that was not enough flavours, a sprinkling of spice was added and a wedge of lime provided. Crazy on paper but entirely compos mentis on the palate.

Although taking up a single shop frontage, the space goes back a long way. By the time I’d finished my lunch, all three rooms and the garden terrace were full; an obvious testament to the quality of a well-established (opened 1993), independent restaurant located in an area with a lot of competition.

What Michelin say, ‘Relaxed, friendly restaurant decorated in warm burgundy colours. Appealing menu of generous, tasty, original vegetarian dishes which include items from Japan, China and South America. Mini épicerie sells wine, pasta and chutney.

The Olives, stuffed with ricotta and garlic, before being breaded and fried were, to quote Peter Kay, “a taste sensation”. I made these (using the recipe in the Terre à Terre cookbook) once for a dinner party; they were great but fiddly so I never did them again but having tasted the real deal, I’m going to give them another go!

The Kraken Kodachi Churros and Peeking Buns were also excellent. For me the ‘Appetisers and Companion Dishes’ section of the menu was definitely more interesting than the mains. When I return (and I’m keen to go back), I’ll probably skip the main and make myself a ‘Tasting Menu’ of the smaller dishes.

The descriptions below are as they appear on the menu.

Deep Fried Fat Grana Padano Green Olives – stuffed with ricotta, garlic, chives and lemon zest.

Kraken Kodachi Churros – hot savoury churros sticks made with black and white sesame seeds, wakame and shishimi togarashi spice and spinach rolled in salty nori kombu and black sesame flakes served with miso mirin mayonnaise.

Arepas – deep fried sweetcorn chermoula chips served with chilli chelly jelly, avocado coriander chilli garlic hash and a fresh and zesty oregano and lime mojo and cheddar fondue.

Peeking Buns – steamed rice buns stuffed with Szechuan marinated halloumi with kimchi Chinese cabbage, lapsang souchong pickled watermelon & cucumber, a miso chilli sauce and spring onion garnish.

Fancy Nancy – coco cardamom fried spiced rice with spring onion and yuzu palm beanshoots swerved with a salad of lychee, coriander, mint and pickled lotus root and a pinda peanut laksa, finished with yuzu crème fraiche, Pendang pickled chilli sambal with a chilli flash fried egg, peanut cumin and onion seed crumble and tapioca sea salad cracker.

Hot Roast Hispi Cabbage with kimchi puree, fresh mint, coriander and plump blackberries.

GoldDish Bowl – apple and bancha bubble brew sorbet with meringue brûlée on ginger nut sweet pastry disc with Thai crecy tentacles above yuzu curd, Chantenay cream and Thai basil sours.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Silo, Brighton

Galvin at Windows have the wonderful Fred Sirieix, Lyle’s in London have John Ogier and the Parkers Arms have the inimitable AJ… for many, these “unsung heroes of the restaurant business” are the friendly faces that not only greet diners but can also set the tone and the ambience of the restaurant.

At Brighton’s Silo, customers are greeted by ‘Bertha’.

As her name suggests, Bertha is a big girl. You could describe her as chunky. She looked like the type of hefty lassie who could munch her way through 60kg of organic material in just 24hours.

Bertha’s role in helping Silo to be “the UK’s first zero waste restaurant” is central to their ethos. Much of the compost made by this anaerobic digestion machine is returned to local growers who supply their produce.

Yes, drinks are served in jam jars but when you include the ‘plates’ made from recycled plastic bags; ‘candles’ made from used fryer oil (with wicks made from one of the chef’s old t-shirts) and ‘soap free’ hand washing facilities (with ‘blue and red water’), you realise that they are considerably more serious about their eco credentials than your average jam jar drink serving hipsters. All this could come across “preachy” but it doesn’t.

With five of us dining, we opted to share some bread, a couple of portions Jerusalem artichokes and the soup as ‘starters’. Fortuitously, we each took a fancy to a different one of the five mains on the menu (Dairy, Plant, Fish, Meat and Wild). This way we ordered all that was available on the day’s short menu.

Silo Sourdough & house churned butter – made with flour that they’ve milled in house, the sourdough bread was decent, with great butter.

Cauliflower soup & hazelnut butter – served piping hot (and in a jam jar, natch), the soup was creamy and indulgent; the hazelnut butter topping  

Jerusalem artichokes & Sussex Yeoman cheese sauce – the menu at Silo isn’t broken down into starters and mains as such but these were great for sharing at the beginning of the meal. For many, they’d probably be too much for one, but I’d have happily had a plate to myself.

Dairy: Fermented brown rice risotto, Silo’s fresh curd & espresso mushrooms – attracted by the home cultivated mushrooms that they grow on waste coffee grounds and the fact that I generally love anything ‘fermented’. I chose well. Earthy and umami richness let you know you had eaten something with sustenance; bright, clean flavours from the salsa verde and fresh curds (made with the ‘left over’ frothy milk from their foaming pitchers) added a lightness to a hearty dish.

Plant: Cauliflower steak, sprouted lentils & caramelised red onion – my youngest stepdaughter loved this dish. The taste I had impressed me too; especially the hazelnut sauce and cauli combination. Great textures too.

Fish: Catchbox plaice, seaweed mash & Alexanders – the fish used at Silo are provided by a cooperative of local fishing boats called Catchbox, ensuring the produce is fresh, local and responsibly sourced. The mouthful I had with the seaweed mash and wilted Alexanders was a real celebration of the sea (if you’ve not heard of Alexanders, check out the info & recipes from the Eden Project).

Meat: Rare breed pork belly, purple sprouting broccoli & violet potatoes – as can be the case, the pork here was a little dry and tough; some of its quality still managed to come through in the flavour though.

Wild: Beef feather blade, wild garlic, swede & buckwheat – with my eldest stepdaughter at the opposite end of the table, this was the only dish I didn't get around to snaffle a taste of; the braised feather blade looked great and I do like a bit of black daikon.

To finish, we shared a Macaroon cake & poached rhubarb and a Sea buckthorn & quince fool – the rhubarb came with crunchy cacao nibs, which combined two of my favourite things; the fool came served in a jar which did not come as too much of a surprise, that job was reserved for the stunning, sharp yet sweet sea buckthorn jelly set onto the bottom.

On paper (screen), Silo may seem a bit gimmicky but hackneyed jam jars aside, it didn’t seem that way in reality. An alumnus of Fergus Henderson’s St. John Bread & Wine and winner of BBC Young Chef of the Year in 2012, Chef/proprietor Douglas McMaster is a serious talent and Silo is a serious restaurant from which all restaurants could learn a thing or two.

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