Review – English’s of Brighton
Brighton’s culinary scene has been shaken up in the last few years – innovative new restaurants and concepts, pops ups, street food, more ethnic diversity. While exciting new openings entice and intrigue me, there’s always room for a bit of the old, for proper fine dining, classic cooking techniques and fuss-free presentation.
English’s has been serving seafood at this site – originally three fishermen’s cottages – for 150 years, with the Leigh-Jones family running it since 1945. Former patrons include Charlie Chaplin, and apparently it’s also haunted – look out for the ‘tall man in the top hat’.
There’s an air of timeless luxury: the original marble-topped oyster bar, attentive staff in shirts and aprons, the clink of heavy silver cutlery, crisp white tablecloths. After a recent facelift, the dated scarlet theatrical drapes and garish carpet have been replaced by a far fresher, less fusty look. On the night we visited, clientele included a number of well-heeled, fabulously eccentric couples who seemed completely at home, and no doubt form part of English’s long-serving, loyal fan base.
English’s has recently been using social media to attract younger customers, perhaps to throw off a presumption that this place is stuffy, faded and best left for the tourists. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s elegant, understated and stylish, both in décor and food.
New Spring Menu
Chef Clayton Green’s spring menu includes, as you would demand in a seaside stalwart, staples like fish soup, potted Morecambe Bay shrimp, shellfish platters, Dover sole in tartare sauce. These sit happily alongside dishes with modern twists and Asian ingredients. There’s even a burger on there, albeit a decadent scallop, crab and prawn one priced at £19.95.
We began with the beautiful starter platter (£19.95), our favourites being the perfectly balanced prawn and scallop ceviche, melting tuna carpaccio and delicate, crisp monkfish tempura – the best battered fish I’ve had in Brighton.
My main – King scallops (from Beachy Head, can’t get more local than that) with spiced butternut squash purée and samphire (£19.95) – was a simple, considered dish that allowed the plump, golden scallops to shine. The dish was far too salty, though – I’d have preferred a saline kick from the samphire, rather than the too-generous sea salt flakes on top.
Dessert was another sharing affair: L’Assiette de Patissier Maison (£12.90), which included an incredible white chocolate and pistachio mousse, so creamy as to be almost chewy, and banana and rum parfait with pecan crumble and salted caramel.
Our waitress, Becky, was spot on in her wine recommendations to suit our differing tastes: a dry, pale Picpoul de Pinet 2013 for him, and a deeply fruity “Kung Fu Girl” Reisling 2013 (from Washington State) for me, a lovely, unusual wine you must try if you visit.
Don’t be put off by the a la carte prices. The two-course set menu at £16.95 is way more accessible, as is the tasting menu at £35. Or just take a seat at the bar for some of the freshest oysters in town and a glass of bubbly. Whether you live here or are just visiting, English’s is a must.
English’s of Brighton, 29-31 East Street, Brighton BN1 1HL
First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 10/03/2015
Main photo by Emma Gutteridge