Review - The Better Half

Review – The Better Half

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before all of Brighton and Hove’s traditional, old-man pubs are taken over and given top to toe makeovers, transforming them into super-cool joints to appeal to a younger, more monied crowd. I’m loving these new boozers cropping up all over town, but I know some who are finding the trend a little predictable.

Refurbished backstreet boozer

The Better Half was once The Red Lion, a fairly non-descript boozer on a quiet Hove back street. It’s been completely refurbished, yet whoever is behind this particular overhaul shows great understanding of what constitutes a proper, old-fashioned pub with a modern twist.

Photography by Emma Gutteridge for Retreat blog.

Glazed brown tiles and the original scuffed red velvet stools are a nod to pubs of yore, while oversized filament lightbulbs, framed pictures on the ceiling and craft beer provide a hipper edge. It’s all balanced well, and feels completely accessible to anyone, of any age, who just likes a good pub.

It was quietly buzzing on the Friday night we visited, and I liked the place from the get-go. There’s wooden panelling and copper pendant lights, a nice little beer garden, and cosy, dimly-lit booths which are perfect for a more intimate meal – which is where we sat with my friend’s dog on the floor beside us (they love dogs in this place). Landlord Simon Stern is a great bloke, friendly and enthusiastic, and made us feel very welcome.

Bigger and Lighter

The menu is nice and concise, divided into a “Bigger Half” and “Lighter Half”, essentially large and smaller main courses. Naturally, I went for something big: spiced lamb cutlets with pomegranate molasses, feta, roasted new spuds and griddled courgette (£14.95).

Photography by Emma Gutteridge for Retreat blog.

Spiced lamb cutlets – photograph by Emma Gutteridge

The lamb was lightly charred yet pink inside – exactly right – seasoned really well and bone-gnawingly tasty. The pomegranate added a lovely sweet-sour note, while the feta packed its gorgeous citrus, umami punch – there’s a reason my fridge is never without a block of this versatile cheese. The whole dish was fresh, filling and really enjoyable.

Pan-fried scallops - Photograph by Emma Gutteridge

Pan-fried scallops – Photograph by Emma Gutteridge

Emma opted for a lighter meal: a salad of pan-fried scallops and garlic prawns with Serrano ham and curried aioli (£8.95), plus a side of rosemary and garlic potatoes (£2.75). She declared the scallops to be the sweetest, most buttery she’d ever tasted, a lovely bedfellow for the fatty, salty ham.

The only criticism was the too-small wooden board the dish was served on: she did a sterling job of keeping her food off the table, but a larger board (or even a plate!) would have made this a little less frustrating to eat.

An English cheeseboard – six fantastic cheeses, walnut bread and quince paste (£7.50) – was washed down with the end of our organic Chilean Malbec (£18.95), and a sticky toffee pudding was well made and generous in size, though a little too sweet for me. I do like my toffee puds to have more of a deep, almost burnt-sugar flavour.

I’ve taken a shine to this place. Next time I fancy a Sunday roast, I’ll probably come here. From the genial staff to the laid-back ambience, it has everything I like in a pub. Definitely worth a nose around the back streets of Hove.

1 Hove Place, BN3 2RG – 01273 737869

First published in the Brighton and Hove Independent – Friday 12th June 2015
Photos by Emma Gutteridge