Review – The Restaurant at Drakes
When we first moved to Brighton nine years ago, my husband and I treated ourselves to a meal at the Gingerman at Drakes. I was impressed by the cooking, less so by our environment. The place was completely devoid of atmosphere, and for this chatty (we won’t say raucous) Irishwoman, ambience is a pretty big deal. We never went back, preferring to eat somewhere we didn’t have to whisper.
I was recently invited down to what is now the Restaurant at Drakes, with chef Andrew Mackenzie at the helm, and was more than keen to revisit.
Décor is still crowd-pleasingly safe: a palette of charcoal, red and beech wood, exposed brickwork, low lighting, comfy banquettes. Though on this occasion, the restaurant was quietly buzzing and instantly welcoming (pre-dinner pomegranate cosmopolitans in the hotel bar may have helped my relaxed state).
Sussex rosé bubbly from Bluebell Vineyard and a pre-starter of pan-fried mackerel with fennel kicked things off. Amusingly, the portion was the same size as an actual starter I ate recently at a new, much-hyped Brighton restaurant. It seemed we were going to be properly fed – bonus!
Unfortunately, my starter of pressed ox tongue with crispy bone marrow wasn’t great: the tongue was tough, the panko-coated marrow greasy. The dish did nothing for me, but could’ve been helped along hugely by a sharp relish or pickled veg. A Sussex crab and salmon raviolo far eclipsed my dish – light, silky pasta, generously filled, in a flavoursome crab and chilli broth.
Breast of guinea fowl with lamb sweetbreads and truffle was rustic and deeply savoury. You can’t really go wrong with succulent game bird, earthy lentils and smoked bacon, but I couldn’t detect a hint of truffle, and had to push aside the chewy sweetbreads. Another disappointment for this offal fan. Across the table, a soft, beautifully cooked aged beef fillet with roscoff onion puree was quickly polished off, the only complaint being a soggy, too-thin rosti.
A seriously moreish pre-dessert of pistachio ice cream and caramel sauce was, again, generous in size and possibly the best course of the evening. Then onto desserts proper: I’m a chocolate fiend but selflessly let my friend order the pavé of chocolate with amaretto crumb and salt toffee sauce. “Happiness on a plate,” she declared.
My iced blood orange parfait with orange cannelloni also hit the spot, though an insipid fig and ginger sauce provided neither contrast nor flavour. Gorgeous petits fours, including Guinness jelly with pretzel, white choc truffles and a fabulous sweet/salty nougat, rounded off the meal.
A few food niggles aside, we had a fun evening and certainly left stuffed. Service was great – special mention goes to our waitress Sally for her wine recommendations and humour – and for portion size and food quality, Drakes is excellent value at £32.50 for three courses. If you don’t like your food mucked about with, and solid, classic, gimmick-free fare is your thing, then you could do a lot worse.
The Restaurant at Drakes, 43-44 Marine Parade, Brighton BN2 1PE
First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 20/03/2015