Review – Azure restaurant
In a former fish and chip shop on Brighton beach, directly east of the pier beside the big wheel, is Azure – a ‘Mediterranean restaurant with influence from the Middle East.’ They’ve recently been inviting local food critics and bloggers to sample their food and cocktails, so I headed down to take a look. I had no idea what to expect but from what I’d seen on their website, the small menu and decent food photography made me feel quietly optimistic.
I did, however, go with one pre-conceived notion, and that was the iffy location. I personally avoid that stretch of beach at all costs. It’s shabby, packed and noisy, day and night, and usually thick with day trippers. Could a restaurant situated here ever be anything more than a tourist trap? Oh, how I was hoping to discover a hidden gem, somewhere that might make this part of the seafront The Next Big Thing (see London Road – anything is possible).
When we arrived, the friendly waitress suggested we take an outdoor table, but we asked to sit indoors. As I said, not the nicest stretch of beach, plus a group of teenage lads playing football next to the table put us off, and we knew that as night fell, the marauding groups of hens and stags might be a bit annoying.
It was a Saturday night in August, yet the place was completely empty. The overhead spotlights were on full blast; there wasn’t a candle or low lighting of any kind, either indoors or outside. Now, I’m aware that some places work really well with bright lighting: Asian canteen-style joints; fun, bustling family-run tavernas in Greece and Italy. Here, it did not. Pleasant music aside, absolutely zero effort had been made to create any kind of ambience. It was the sort of unwelcoming place you’d walk past on holiday without even stopping to read the menu.
These harsh lighting conditions didn’t do much for the mustard yellow/sky blue/brown leather décor either, nor one’s complexion. I’d have been more favourably lit had I taken my dinner up to A&E and eaten it there. Frustratingly, there were pretty Moroccan lamps dotted about, yet they were never lit.
Usually the first thing I order in a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern place is the bread – it’s a great indicator of what’s to come – but as their bread came from Real Patisserie, I didn’t bother. I like RP bread a lot, it’s always in my bread bin at home, but it’s a shame the chef couldn’t bake something authentic himself.
The menu focuses on starters, mezze and sharing platters, with a small selection of mains thrown in. We went for the Dig In platter for two – marinated olives, houmous, baba ghanoush, tzatziki, kibbeh, spanakopita, spinach and cumin filo cigarillos, chicken wings, courgette and asparagus salad, and pitta – £17), plus Buttered Prawns – sautéed in tomatoes, olives and Arak butter sauce – £7.50 and a Pinewood bruschetta – field mushrooms, basil, smoked streaky bacon and poached egg – £5.50.
I’m not going to go into huge detail about the food. Everything was flawed, from the tasteless baba ghanoush to deep-fried spanakopita (correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve been to Greece a lot and have always had this oven-baked). The four miniscule chicken wings had barely any meat on them – I don’t think the poor bird ever had the time or space to flap its sorry wings. Everything, from the asparagus in the salad to the kibbeh and cigarillos, tasted of and oozed grease, a clear sign that it had all been plunged into the fryer before the fat was hot enough.
The sauce with the prawns was so tooth-achingly sweet that we barely touched it – think shellfish braised in golden syrup. The bruschetta wasn’t bad, but it’s hard to mess up a full English on toast (ok, the bacon was grey and they burnt the bread). The cheap shop-bought pitta, which quickly went hard, was unforgiveable. Despite only eating a few mouthfuls of food, my stomach felt like I’d swallowed one of those fatcakes you leave out for birds.
I actually was feeling sorry for Azure at this point as I knew my review would be less than positive. The manager and waitress were both really friendly and kept offering us drinks, probably to mask the taste of the food. All I really wanted was a lemon to rub all over the inside of my mouth. But the chat we had with the owner at the end of the night was the final nail in the coffin. I expressed my disappointment with the food, and he came up with lengthy excuses about his usual chef being off that day to cater for an event. He pointed out that the menu wasn’t complete, that by next month he was adding five more mains. Why, then, invite people from food websites to sample a menu that isn’t ready, and agree to host them on a night when your chef isn’t around?
I told him I thought the lighting was shocking. Here’s a short version of his response: ‘I take your point, but candles are expensive. I don’t spend too much time thinking about lighting in restaurants when I go out, I just eat and go.’ I’m still amazed that I didn’t at this point pick up the pineapple from the above photo and smack myself in the face with it. Our chat made it pretty clear that he hasn’t a clue about what makes a restaurant good. And I don’t really think he cares much, either. He knows Azure will probably survive on tourist trade and large groups too drunk to really mind what they eat.
As we left, a very happy hen party outside on the large terrace was being entertained by the manager. They were having a whale of a time, and good luck to them. And good luck to Azure, too, as unless they up their game massively – maybe ditch the food and stick to cocktails? – I don’t think they’ll be around this time next summer.
Words by Suzanne Rose
Suzanne’s food and drink was provided courtesy of Azure
Azure, 9-11 Lower Promenade, Madeira Drive, Brighton BN2 1PS
Visit their website here