Review - The Gingerman

Review – The Gingerman

“Glass of fizz?”

This question, put to my friend and me the moment we sat down for lunch, was music to our ears. Not only would we most definitely love a glass of fizz (Ridgeview, produced up the road in Ditchling), it also marked the beginning of two hours of seamless, intuitive service, which alongside the food – more on that in a moment – made for a pretty much perfect afternoon.

An old favourite

The Gingerman opened in 1998, the flagship restaurant of a mini-empire, which has spawned the Ginger Pig in Hove, Ginger Dog in Kemp Town and Ginger Fox in West Sussex. This may be the Daddy of them all, but it’s the smallest and most refined, and has recently reopened after an extensive overhaul.

Its exterior – previously quite easy to miss – is now bold in black, while inside is stylish, sophisticated and uncomplicated, echoing the style of food. There’s exposed brickwork (of course) – some whitewashed – mahogany woodwork and dark leather banquettes. Someone mentioned to me on Twitter they felt the intimacy had been lost, but not for me.

The Gingerman

Fine dining

There’s a small set lunch menu (excellent value at £15 for two courses) but we opted for a la carte. A pre-starter of truffled potato croquette with beetroot purée was tasty, but my starter of crab, anchovy and quail’s egg really got my attention. A deceptively simple arrangement of ingredients revealed itself to be a lot more complex than at first glance.

Everything on the plate had a clear purpose, nothing was there just to show off: creamy, feather-light crab mousse; the freshest white crabmeat; crunchy, salty deep-fried anchovies; rich, runny egg; then pickled cucumber and smoked tomato to freshen and cleanse. It was faultless and so well thought out.

Crab, anchovy, cucumber, smoked tomato & quail's egg

Crab, anchovy, cucumber, smoked tomato & quail’s egg

Brill with squid, broccoli, almonds, herb gnocchi and crab velouté was as spring-like as I’d been hoping. Soft fish, crispy strips of squid, broccoli (purée, florets and a crisp) and pillowy gnocchi, held together beautifully by the creamy velouté. The treatment of the broccoli elevated this humble veg into something rather special, and the whole thing was a perfect marriage between shoreline and countryside.

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Brill, squid, broccoli, almonds, herb gnocchi & crab veloute

My friend’s beef fillet with crispy blue cheese, walnut and braised celery deserves a mention. The breaded, deep-fried cheese was deeply savoury, with gorgeous, vinegary baby onions cutting through the richness. Braised celery – lovely to see another under-used vegetable given a chance to shine – freshened everything up. The walnut pesto, a little cloying after a while, was great with the meat and something I’ll definitely be trying at home.

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Beef fillet, crispy blue cheese, walnut, celery, baby onions & wholegrain mustard sauce

My dessert of Chocolate, orange, toffee and Bailey’s was a little beauty but I’d have preferred dark chocolate instead of milk. This is purely subjective – I like my chocolate desserts bitter. We were urged to try the signature dish of Passion fruit soufflé, mango and meringue, and it didn’t disappoint. It was stunning: light as air, impressive to look at (there may have been “oohs”) and a real pleasure to eat.

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Chocolate, orange, toffee & Bailey’s

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Passion fruit soufflé, mango sorbet and meringue

The a la carte menu is priced at £32/£37 for two/three courses, not the cheapest meal in town but I promise you won’t feel short-changed. This standard of cooking and attention to detail, both in food and service, is exhilarating. I now have a seriously soft spot for the Gingerman – it’s gone straight onto my list of places to book for a special meal.

The Gingerman, 21A Norfolk Square, Brighton BN1 2PD

First published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 17/03/2015