Review – The Salt Room
Causing waves of interest across our seaside city, The Salt Room opened its doors last weekend and I’ve not seen such hype about a new Brighton restaurant in years.
The Salt Room sits in a prime location, with sea views promised come warmer weather. Located in such an ideal tourist hotspot, it will have no problem with passing trade and hungry custom from the adjoining Hilton Brighton Metropole.
Sister establishment of The Coal Shed, the well-received steak restaurant on Boyces Street, The Salt Room is a much bigger and bolder sibling.
The decor is simply fantastic: exposed brickwork, ocean-blue benches, white granite table tops, prints of the West Pier stretching out across wooden-clad walls – not to mention low-swinging metallic lampshades and an al-fresco dining space that, in summer, will effortlessly complement the sleek and charming interior.
The main entrance leads to a 16-seat cocktail bar and the drinks selection does nothing but impress: aperitifs, champagne, old and new world wines, and a great range of gin and tonics. The cocktails – aptly titled “Sailors Tipples” – looked especially appealing.
We sipped on a seductive Smokey Tart (£8) with mezcal, peach citrus, and apple, and a My Tie (£8) with El Dorado three-year-old rum, tarragon and almond syrup, citrus and icing sugar. Tthe latter, however, tasted far too sweet for a pre-dinner tipple.
With a menu that focuses on grilled fish, seafood and meat, owner Raz Helalat wisely includes the steak options on which he built his business foundation.
And yes, the Josper oven and hot charcoal cooking method from The Coal Shed is also a feature of The Salt Room. There is also a touch of Japanese influence with dashi, miso, ponzu, yuzu, and pickled vegetables sparingly featured across the menu.
To start, we ordered the fire-roasted crab claws with garlic, chilli, and lime (£11) and cured salmon, miso, crème fraîche with burnt cucumber and truffle (£7). Upon ordering, I was warned by our fantastic waitress that the crab claws would “take some work”. And boy was she telling the truth.
The dark claws were served in a deep plate with a brown-and-red spicy sauce – a sauce so piquant that any scraping of delicious white crab meat was overpowered by the taste of chilli. Less spice and more lime would have been far better.
The low lighting meant that, upon gently cracking the rusty-red warm shell, bits of it fell into the aforementioned dark sauce and I repeatedly endured mouthfuls of crunchy shell. Not enjoyable and a messy, complicated starter. Suzanne fared better, giving kudos to the soft, silky texture of the salmon, but found that the crème fraiche didn’t deliver the desired tartness to off-set the fish. A garnish of thinly-sliced cucumber would have fared much better had it been lightly pickled.
For mains, we chose the Sussex cod, braised octopus, sea herbs, and shellfish bouillon (£17) and the roast halibut, braised oxtail, parsley root, and mushroom tea (£20).
The Sussex cod was cooked beautifully, utterly faultless, along with the tiny morsel of octopus that sat alongside it. But the shellfish bouillon itself was disappointing. Very salty and verging on bland, the broth did nothing to to lift the dish. Piled high with samphire, the plate was underwhelming. And, with a price-tag of nearly £20, I’d have expected a lot more, both in quantity and quality.
Suzanne’s halibut was slightly rubbery – a sign it had perhaps been left under the pass too long – and the rich oxtail was meltingly tender but overpowered the delicate fish. The parsley root was an interesting new flavour, though, tasting much like parsnip.
We finished with the much-talked about Taste of the Pier (£16), a novelty sharing dessert consisting of exceptionally sweet candy floss, a really good salted caramel “99”-style ice-cream, a bizarre rum and coconut marshmallow, fantastic and fun doughnuts that tasted exactly like those from Brighton Pier, chocolate “pebbles” and sweet honeycomb. A fun but very sweet way to end a meal.
The Salt Room has many positives: excellent service, well-executed design and interiors, and a brilliant drinks menu. The food, however, has to be consistent to truly impress. But, as with all new openings, there is plenty of room for changes and refinement and I’m sure, come summer, Brighton and its tourists will flock for al-fresco dining and views of the sea.
The Salt Room, 106 Kings Road, Brighton.
Originally printed in the Brighton & Hove Independent on Friday 27th February