Review- Señor Buddha
Zero waste at Silo, small plates at 64 Degrees, eclectic vegetarian at Terre a Terre. Devising a concept for a new restaurant is a really tricky thing. Too unoriginal and it’ll have been done to death; too wacky and it invites ridicule – I’m still convinced Shoreditch’s cereal café is a practical joke.
At first glance, Señor Buddha is a Spanish-meets-East Asian tapas that sounds pretty original. Owner Lee Shipley, a self-taught chef, has worked hard to evolve his concept from pop-ups to this, his first proper restaurant. It’s a cool, intimate place, just 20 covers with an open kitchen and small bar displaying Lee’s carefully-selected bottles – this man really knows his booze, from a fantastic wine list to a Douglas Fir-infused gin (amazing) and wax-topped bottles of unusual Caribbean rum.
Perched here with drinks and bowls of charred, salty pimientos de padrón is a pretty good start to a Saturday night. The place is candlelit, stylish and sexy, very nicely decked out in wood and exposed bricks against the stainless steel of the kitchen, a soundtrack of deep house giving an Ibizan holiday vibe.
Lee spends lot of time in Ibiza where Asian food is hugely popular, so it made sense to him to merge the two cuisines – after all, both also have a tradition of small plates and shared food. His tapas are good value, too, with dishes not going beyond £6.50. Having a place in this part of town makes these price points possible. If Señor Buddha was located in the Lanes, the most obvious choice for somewhere like this, Lee probably would – and should – get away with far heftier prices.
Some of the food is an obvious amalgam of Asia and Spain – raw tuna with Iberian ham and wasabi, mussels with coconut and saffron, oxtail spring rolls. Some bat 100% for either side, from a hot and sour green mango salad to a classic patatas bravas. Lee hasn’t gone mad and thrown ridiculous flavour combinations together, rather there’s a considered approach to each dish and he has kept everything very subtle.
A little too subtle for me, possibly. Pig cheek croquetas – the pork cooked in sherry and Thai spices before being shredded and deep-fried – were delicious, meaty and succulent, but I couldn’t detect any Thai flavours. King scallops with morcilla and chilli were fabulous, beautifully cooked and always gorgeous when eaten together, but I wasn’t getting any of the coconut that was apparently in the cauliflower purée. Either my palate was having an off night, or it had something to do with the copious amounts of wine Lee was sending over for us to try.
A perfectly tender, single octopus tentacle, curled on the plate like a mermaid’s tail, was deep in colour from being slow-cooked in red wine. Squid-ink caviar added a saline hit and coriander aioli a herby, vibrant note – a very good dish indeed. Confit duck leg was tender as you like and lovely with a sweet plum sauce, but not ideal for sharing – we pulled it off the bone and dug in, but others may find it a bit fiddly.
I’m all for the influx of new eateries in this area, and it’s fantastic that somewhere really stylish and a bit clubby has opened at Preston Circus. The Asian influence may have been a bit lost on me in places, but the food was overall accomplished, original and very well cooked. I wish them well.
Señor Buddha, 9 Preston Road Brighton BN1 4QE – 01273 56783
First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 4th September 2015