Review - The Urchin

Review – The Urchin

Back in Dublin, I remember when pub food was a pack of Scampi fries (horrible with Guinness, do not ever try this) or, at a push, a cheese toastie. So rare was it that I vividly recall one St Patrick’s Day when the landlord, giddy with patriotism, cooked sausages for everyone in the pub. We ended up staying way longer than intended, which I think was his plan.

Twenty years on, pub food is ubiquitous. From high end to burgers, we’ve come to expect good-quality fare in our public houses, with fewer customers settling for identikit grub that’s there purely to line the stomach. What I love about The Urchin is that, with its focus on shellfish and craft beer, it offers something different.

New look

A former bog-standard boozer in a cul-de-sac behind Tesco in Hove, you wouldn’t really know the Urchin was there unless you were looking for it, yet a lot of people are going out of their way to eat here. It’s a pub of two halves – a cosy bar area and an intimate 30-cover restaurant, the two merging nicely into one another with no “them and us” feel that some gastropubs emanate.

The Urchin

The place has had a serious makeover and looks fantastic. Dark grey walls and dove floors, deep blue banquettes, upcycled nautical ropes and reclaimed wood give a seaside feel without being contrived. Clearly, serious investment has gone into this place, little surprise given that the people behind it also own the Small Batch Coffee Company. The dim lighting is spot on – I hate a too-brightly-lit pub – and when I visited, it was packed and buzzing.

The menu

Scribbled on a blackboard, the menu is small, unfussy and confident, just a handful of dishes cooked to order. We chose four to share, two of which were served in stunning copper Portuguese cataplanas. Let’s start with the great: crab cakes (£6) were faultless, meaty with a satisfying crunch and a gorgeous tangy remoulade mayo. Moules mariniere (£9.50) were the fattest, creamiest mussels I’ve had in ages, the (slightly too salty) broth mopped up nicely by dense Flour Pot sourdough and excellent homemade, skin-on chips.

Crab cakes with remoulade mayo

Crab cakes with remoulade mayo

Moules mariniere

Moules mariniere and Malaysian king prawns were served in gorgeous copper cataplanas

Salt and pepper squid (£7) came as thick, meaty strips that were soft and ultra-fresh, though the dipping sauce was ill-judged, a concentrated salty liquid with no discernible flavour. It not only overpowered the beautifully cooked squid but obliterated my tastebuds. Definitely something to be reconsidered.

Salt and pepper squid

Salt and pepper squid

Plump, succulent Malaysian king prawns (£12) had been stir-fried in a powerfully spiced, chilli-laced paste, but were way too sweet. A generous squeeze of lime kicked everything into balance, and this was a messy but enjoyable dish.

A couple of quibbles: finger bowls weren’t provided, and there’s no pudding menu, bit of a disappointment for this dessert fiend. And take note: the very nature of the food means you’ll probably get splashed in fishy juices. I certainly did, as did the woman next to me grappling with a whole crab. Wear a busy print, if at all possible.

The Urchin has bags of style. It’s casual, relaxed and classy, a great place to take a date. You’ll struggle to find many other pubs serving food this spankingly fresh, and if beer is your thing, there are over 100 varieties to choose from. Keep those crab cakes on the menu, I’ll be back.

The Urchin, 15-17 Belfast Street BN3 3YS 01273 241881

FIrst published in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 8th May 2015