Review – Little Blue Smokehouse at The Seven Stars
Last year, I had the misfortune of dining at the Seven Stars. I won’t go into detail – I don’t want to relive it – but it was possibly the worst meal I’ve eaten in Brighton. Unsurprisingly, the pub closed down a few months later and was subsequently taken over by Indigo, who have overhauled it in every way imaginable.
There’s a craft beer menu (naturally), curated by Bison Beer, Sipsmith gin cocktails, caged leather booths, wall murals mingling with exposed bricks, and lights made from upcycled metal beer barrels. There are beards. There are tattoos. There’s loud music. Not another hipster joint, some may yawn. Well, the haters can go somewhere else. There’s clearly a market for pubs like this, and I think the place is great.
The kitchen is now run by Martyn Cotton from Little Blue Smokehouse, whose Southern-style, wood-smoked “low-and-slow” barbecue attracts long queues every week at Street Diner. The Smokehouse was voted People’s Choice at the 2014 British Street Food Awards and Martyn is a cheerful, modest bloke with huge enthusiasm for what he does.
John Purchese, who oversees the Seven Stars, Hobgoblin and Hare and Hounds, certainly has a knack for transforming tired, ropey pubs into something on-trend and current. “Troll’s Pantry (at the Hobgoblin) and La Choza (at the Hare and Hounds) taught me that pub food can be fresh and exciting, so integrating that into this business was imperative to making something special,” he says. “I’m a big fan of Street Diner, and approaching Martyn to come on board to help make the Seven Stars something unique was, for me, an easy decision.
If you’re of a carnivorous nature and like slabs of meat slow-cooked to melting point, with crisp, charred edges and an intensely smoky flavour, then this is the place for you. The Smokehouse’s signature dishes of brisket, braised ox cheek and pulled pork are all here, as are the homemade chilli sauces, slaws and fermented dill pickles that have gained them such a big following.
Small plates include spicy, succulent Korean chicken wings, smoked pig’s head fritters with piccalilli, and deliciously calorific deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese bites with homemade bacon jam. Larger plates such as beer-braised ox cheek with mash and ham hock greens – even the vegetable sides are laced with meat – and chopped brisket on sourdough with hot sauce and slaw are comforting and oh-so-moreish. Veggies haven’t been neglected either – there’s a hearty bean cassoulet with potato scone, and a great-sounding beetroot salad with burrata, apple leather and horseradish.
My favourite plate was a smoked confit duck hash with kimchi and a fried egg – blackened, crisp skin, deeply smoky, soft meat and a rich, runny egg yolk, the whole thing sharpened up by the tang, heat and crunch of fermented cabbage. What’s not to like? Incidentally, if you’re only in for a quick pint, please try the kimchi cheese fries, which I was still thinking about days later. Prices start at around £3 and go no higher than £12.95.
Martyn’s food is big, brash and filthy – exactly what I fancy in a pub on a Friday night. He’s going to start doing breakfasts soon, too and I can’t imagine a better hangover cure. I wish him – and the pub – every success.
Little Blue Smokehouse at Seven Stars, 27 Ship Street, Brighton, BN1 1AD – 01273 258800
First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on Friday 24th July