Review – The Seven Stars
Positives first: this lovely-looking Young’s pub is one I’d happily visit again for a drink, being bang in the heart of the Lanes with a nice buzz, welcoming staff and great music. Following a refurb at the end of August, the spacious interior is functional yet cosy, with a fabulous well-stocked mahogany bar.
The menu features the usual suspects, or variations of them: smoked haddock Scotch egg, fish and chips, lamb and venison pie, a burger. Lighter dishes include harissa sardines with candied lemon bulghar, and broad bean, orzo and sea beet salad, while some have been given a slightly fancier touch: potted crab with grapefruit mayo, and pan-seared Scottish scallops with a beetroot and ginger purée. Some stuff on there is downright odd: DIY pot noodles are served with griddled sourdough (noodles and toast?) while I can’t imagine anyone ordering green gazpacho in a pub at wintertime.
The waitress was keen to recommend dishes to us, suggesting baked Camembert, then bangers and mash, but I was interested to try something a little more ambitious. I went for the scallops (£7.50), followed by slow-roasted pork belly roulade with fondant potato, crackling and Aspall’s wholegrain sauce (£11.25). My friend started with smoked duck with cherry purée (£6.95), then the 21-day aged rump steak with triple-cooked beef dripping chips (£15.50, plus an extra £1.50 for Brighton Blue sauce).
From the offset, pretty much everything we ate was flawed. My plump scallops were excellent quality but arrived at room temperature, completely raw and barely seared. I sent them back, and they returned nuclear hot yet still undercooked and with hardly any colour from the pan. The smoked duck looked a bit sad on the plate and didn’t really taste of much at all. A lacklustre start. We drank deep into our Malbec.
Pork belly is one of my favourite things to eat – that melting flesh and crispy crackling. This example was wrong in every way, being tough, dry and inedibly fatty. Crackling was chewy, and the fondant potatoes weren’t buttery and soft, but floury and dry. We both declared the cider sauce very strange indeed. Give me a great gravy, sharp apple or creamy mustard sauce with my pork – this was gloopy and confused.
The steak was cooked exactly as requested, though it was criminally underseasoned and came with a mouth-puckering salty sauce. The triple-cooked beef dripping chips – actually enormous potato wedges – didn’t look or taste a thing like we expected. When done properly, these are one of life’s greatest pleasures (see Seven Dials hamburger place Coggings & Co). My friend frowned as she dug around them. “I’m just looking for a crunchy bit,” she said hopefully.
We ordered dessert as I was still hungry (I hadn’t been able to eat my main and I always clear my plate): banana crème brulée with ginger thins (£4.95) and a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout brownie with ice cream (£5.25). They were both a disgrace. My brulée should not have been allowed to leave the kitchen, with a too-thick topping that gave way to a completely unset, watery, grainy custard. The brownie was dry and claggy – unfortunately its quick blast in the microwave hadn’t revived it. “Do you want my strawberry?” asked Flo. “They can’t mess up a strawberry.” We threw on our coats and headed off in search of a strong cocktail.
I can deal with disappointment when I eat out, and realise that harshly critiquing food served somewhere owned by a chain operating over 200 pubs is a little unfair, but I was insulted to be invited to review a place, then served food I simply couldn’t eat. The Seven Stars is a nice boozer but food-wise is definitely punching above its weight.
Originally printed in the Brighton and Hove Independent 28th November 2014
Suzanne’s food was complimentary, courtesy of The Seven Stars