Review – The Black Lion
I’ve visited the Black Lion on numerous occasions, be it for a quiet afternoon pint in their sunny beer garden, or several slightly louder ones during an impromptu night out. The problem with such visits is that they have always fallen outside of meal times, so I’ve never really considered it as a place to eat. With a new head chef at the stove (and the fact that I’d been cooking flat-out all week) it seemed like the perfect opportunity to drop in and check it out.
We were seated under the arches which, in a fairly large and busy pub, made for a surprisingly intimate setting. With fresh flowers and candles on the table it was bordering on romantic. Although I quickly remembered that we were there for business and got down to the serious job of trawling the worryingly extensive menu.
My heart always sinks slightly when I’m presented with a tome of a menu with endless choices; in my experience such range can only work in restaurants with huge numbers of covers and a steady turnover of customers. However, it looked full of pub classics with some clever specials on the black board so I was hopeful that my concerns would be allayed.
As my dining partner was both lactose-intolerant (not my fault) and heavily pregnant (largely my fault) she was given her own version of the menu highlighting all possible ‘problem ingredients’ contained in each dish. This was a great touch and certainly preferable to having to ask waiting staff about each individual dish.
We started with Pan Fried Squid and Chorizo Salad with Aioli (£7.50) and Home-Smoked Chicken Salad with Spiced Avocado and Tomato Chutney (£7.25). The tender curls of crisp squid were cooked to perfection and held their own against rich, soft chorizo. This was a bit of a gimme for the chef though as I’m yet to find a dish that isn’t enhanced by chorizo. The salad, whilst perfectly dressed, was too large, the tomato wedges unnecessary. The chicken was slightly lacklustre; if a menu professes home-smoking, I want to taste it. The spiced avocado was devoid of any spice.
Mains, priced in the low to mid-teens, were altogether more exciting and sang of pub grub with just the right amount of flair. We chose Braised Beef Short Rib (£14) and, from the specials board, Roasted Fillet of Salmon, Jerusalem Artichoke Purée, Cavolo Nero, Roasted Roast Vegetables with a Lobster and Chive Cream Sauce (£13.50).
The beef was exceptional. My fork had scarcely made contact as it yielded into beautiful soft strands barely held together by a quivering layer of rich, beefy fat. Slow-cooking of this standard isn’t easy; too hard and fast and the beef won’t soften, too low and slow and you’ll end up with a fibrous mound of beef-flavoured sawdust. This was perfect. Served simply with a great sauce, crisp Dauphinoise and earthy veg, I’d found my happy place. The downside was that it would have paired nicely with a big, chewy glass of Shiraz, had I not been driving.
The salmon, kindly adapted for ‘the tricky one’ (creamy lobster sauce changed for one of roasted cherry tomatoes) was nicely done with crisp skin and soft flesh. It was great to see the chef making the most of seasonal produce with bouncy kale (not cavolo nero, as advertised) and the unmistakable smoky flavour of Jerusalem artichokes. The unexpected addition of slices of chargrilled pear was unusual but bizarrely worked well.
Desserts were less allergy-friendly, although our lovely waitress did suggest that they could rustle up a little warm poached pear and rhubarb number. In the name of research, and in a bid to counteract the soporific effects of that beef, I opted for the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Homemade Salt Caramel Ice Cream (£5.50). Unfortunately it lacked all the hallmarks of the date-rich, lightly spiced classic; this was a saccharine assault with no real definition of flavour. Ice cream was disappointing; no depth of caramel nor any hint of salt.
The Black Lion is a reassuring example of a great boozer that can serve up some pretty serious food alongside their great range of local ales and inventive house cocktails. As fatherhood quickly approaches, and the notion of ‘nipping to the pub’ will invariably change, it’s good to have a reason to head back. I just hope they don’t take the short rib off the menu.
The Black Lion, 14 Black Lion Street, Brighton, BN1 1ND
Rich’s food was complimentary courtesy of The Black Lion and Drink In Brighton.