Review – Food for Friends
Food for Friends first opened its doors in 1981 and started life as “a great student magnet with big portions and a laid-back hippy vibe”. It wasn’t until a refresh with new owners in 2004 that the restaurant smartened up and modernised itself into the Food For Friends we know today. Winning the ‘Best Restaurant’ category in the Brighton and Hove Foodie Awards in 2012, the restaurant stands out as it sits proudly on the corner of Prince Albert Street and has clearly long been a popular haunt for the vegetarian and vegan diners of Brighton.
I know I sound like a brat when I say it, but I hadn’t really given Food For Friends much thought before. It had always just been there and not enticed me, probably due to my prudish, carnivorous tendencies. However, I’m willing to give most things a try and, especially as my diet this month is completely dairy, meat and fish free, I skipped down the road like a kid on their way to the (vegan) candy shop.
Upon arrival, I was slightly early and was asked to wait whilst they readied my table. This gave me an opportunity to read the wine list before being led through to my table, and I was really pleased to find they offered the Ridgeview Bloomsbury, although disappointingly not by the glass. Once seated in a fantastic window seat at the front of the main dining area, I decided on a small glass of the Castillo el Moro Sauvignon Blanc (£3.65) whilst I waited for the arrival of my always notoriously late friend.
Sipping my chilled wine I immersed myself in the relaxed, friendly atmosphere Food For Friends presented. The setting sun streamed in through large windows and glowed sweetly on the light oak flooring. Decor was neutral and airy with canvas prints of dishes, cuisines and experimentation adorning the walls.
My friend arrived and ordered a beer whilst we perused the menu. Food For Friends is a strictly vegetarian restaurant which caters for not only vegan but gluten-free also. They also have ‘option’ dishes which means that certain attributes to a dish can be switched around to allow for more vegan and gluten-free options.
Offering a very reasonable Three Course Seasonal Set Menu for £19.95 was a very viable option for Chloe and I, however, I was tempted by too many things off their A La Carte. Organised into nibbles, starters, mains and sides, the menu was easy to navigate with concise and clear meal descriptions. A good range of options for vegans with about three or four of each course having vegan specific or vegan adaptable options.
I couldn’t help but order a bowl of Olives – “plump and delicious house marinated olives with sun-dried tomatoes” (£3.00) to pick at whilst we awaited our other courses. After much deliberation I went for the Sweet Tofu Pockets – filled with brown basmati rice, smoked tofu, spring onions and chilli served with pickled ginger, wakame and a sesame mirin dressing” (£6.00) and for main the Sweet potato, Aubergine, Tomato and Spinach Curry – with papadum, aromatic basmati, spiced yoghurt, and cauliflower pakora (£12.00). This dish was one of the ‘vegan options’ and so my waitress explained the spiced yogurt would be substituted with mango chutney.
Ordering my second glass of wine, Chloe and I had a long overdue catch up whilst gorging on some beautiful, full and juicy olives and awaited service of our starters.
The presentation of my sweet tofu pockets was simple and elegant with clear attention to detail. I was surprised by the quantity of food on the plate and couldn’t wait to tuck in.
Inside each pocket was wonderfully cooked brown basmati rice that had streaks of smokey tofu and spring onion running through, with the wakame and pickled ginger sitting delicately to the side. With each mouthful I was treated to a barrage of wonderful flavours – sweet, savoury and sharp – as the wonderful smokey tofu toyed with the sweeter pickled ginger and spicy chilli. Delicious.
It surprises me how tofu can be adapted and used as the base for so many dishes and with this one it worked perfectly. A fantastic starter.
As our plates were swept away by a very attentive and lovely waitress, Chloe and I pondered on my veganism and whether I’d be envious of the pasta, cream and cheese laced main she’d opted for – the Open saffron ravioli of roast butternut squash, spinach and sage cream – with gingerbread crisps, toasted pine nuts and shaved ‘parmesan’ (£13.00)
Upon service I was really impressed with the presentation. It seemed like a parcel waiting to be unwrapped, broken apart and delved into. On a square wooden board stood proudly my stupendously greasy, crunchy and crispy papadom, which separated my steaming hot basmati and sweet potato curry.
The curry itself was aromatic, rich and not overly spicy – a real treat for me and my palate. Large chunks of sweet potato were engulfed in a thick spicy tomato sauce with aubergine and spinach running throughout. Piping hot and partnered with perfectly cooked basmati, I found it hard to believe I was eating vegan food!
The mango chutney was sweet and tangy and I enjoyed tearing apart my cauliflower bhaji and dipping it into the sticky chutney. The crispy papadom was ideal for slathering in gorgeous, rich curry and added a great crispy element to the dish.
I found this plate to be a total standout and I really enjoyed devouring each element. Fantastic presentation, brilliant cooking and wholesome, nutritious food. Watching Chloe demolish her saffron ravioli, not a hint of jealousy entered my mind as I was enjoying my meal so much!
Upon asking for the bill, my waitress asked about my veganism and seemed genuinely interested. It was a really great end to the meal and she even took the time to recommend some vegan films for me to watch. It’s little touches like this that really made the evening out so wonderful. Hats off to Food For Friends for hiring such great staff.
Overall, I would fully recommend Food For Friends and can’t wait to return. They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I’ve promised myself I’ll stop by again very soon. I’m so pleased I’ve found an such a unpretentious, laid back, attentive, fully informative and friendly establishment. Obviously ideal for vegetarian, vegans and the gluten-free amongst us, I’m also confident a fully fledged meat eater will also find Food For Friends top drawer. High quality food, reasonable prices, a true gem on the vegetarian and vegan dining scene.
Words and photographs by Claire Beveridge
Claire’s meal and drinks were complementary of Food For Friends.