Review – Browns
Browns in Brighton was the first of their fleet to open, way back in 1973 and still stands on Duke Street in The Lanes. With over 40 years experience, they’ve certainly got the welcoming, friendly service nailed down.
It’s just a shame that the decor felt painfully dated, like stepping back into 1980’s London when all brasseries plumbed for wooden chairs and shiny bars. The faux-gold plated table-top had also seen better days.
Seated in what Browns think is a prime romantic location, in front of a floor to ceiling window, we felt incredibly exposed, especially as a pissed-up Saturday night crowd staggered past, chucking fag butts in the flower pots and glaring wide eyed through the window. Once the amusement factor had swiftly diminished it felt intrusive and somewhat awkward.
It was great to see Sussex favourite Ridgeview on the wine list, but we weren’t feeling up for a bottle of fizz, instead we started out meal with two pert glasses of Champagne followed by a bottle of dry white wine – both of which were enjoyable.
The menu at Browns has dishes that appeal to everyone and is open from breakfast until dinner, also serving tea and cocktails should you fancy popping in for a refreshment.
One of the first dishes I ever learnt to make was prawn cocktail. It always was featured on what my self-written ‘special occasion menus’ which were usually saved for Mum’s birthday (lucky her). For a child, it’s an incredibly simple dish to make: tear ice-burg lettuce, chop tomatoes, shell prawns, mix together mayonnaise and tomato ketchup, sprinkle with paprika and serve. I liked to serve my home-made prawn cocktail in a glass, trying to make it a bit fancy like.
Which is why it was a shame that the Browns version looked like it hadn’t even been made by a child, more like an incredibly bored chef.
The presentation was poor, the prawns practically non existent and the lobster infused mary-rose sauce simply tasted of mayonnaise. The deep bowl mainly consisted of torn lettuce and for a £7 I’d have expected a lot more – both in terms of food and presentation – put into this simple yet effective starter.
In contrast the pan-seared scallops with cauliflower puree, curried cauliflower tempura and shallot vinaigrette (£9.50) faired a slightly better. Moist, great texture and presented adequately, this seafood starter was the stand-out of our meal.
For main we dined on one of Browns “signature dishes”: tough, flavourless and bland pan-roasted chicken which promised a spring onion broth and blue cheese (£15) – neither of which you could taste. Instead the carcass swished about in a pool of tepid, salty water.
Thank God for the tender-stem broccoli and baby potatoes, both of which were edible although had that rubbery microwaved texture.
The pan-fried seabass (£15.75) fillets were well-cooked but the mound of pearl-barley risotto was too heavy and the dish felt unbalanced, and again poorly presented.
Forgoing dessert, we hot-footed out of Browns sharpish.
There can be something comforting and reassuring about visiting a chain restaurant. Their multiple site presence, continued custom and ability to ride out recessions are testament to a chains quality and success, often putting customers minds at rest, right?
Wrong. Chains succeed because people are scared to try anywhere new, often settling for below par food because they feel safe. They know the menu, they know the interior, they know the waiter and they know what to expect.
It would have been great for Browns to defy my expectations of lazy chain food, but they didn’t deliver. Uninspiring dining for those afraid to step outside of their comfort zone.
Browns Bar and Brasseries, 3-4 Duke Street, Brighton, BN1 1AH – 01273 323501
Claire’s meal was complimentary courtesy of Browns.