As a film-loving Brightonian, I’ve long been a fan of the Duke of York’s cinema, but it has always struggled with the size limitations of the admittedly lovely building. Late last year, they opened up a new space at the Komedia with two screens and a cafe-bar and I was thrilled to hear that they now have a kitchen serving snacks and more substantial meals. I’ve always thought that more cinemas should serve proper food: I often want to eat something before a film but don’t necessarily want an elaborate ‘dinner and a movie’ situation. Being able to meet friends for a drink, a light meal, and a film all in one place is a no-brainer and happily the Duke’s at Komedia has pitched it just right. There’s a varied menu but their central concept is the hotdog: not the questionable Coney Island variety but the modern, reinvented hipster dog with locally-sourced sausage and inventive punchy toppings. Its rare to see American food done well in the UK so clearly I had to investigate…
Now I know it’s unusual for me to value some recent fashionable variant of a food over the traditional version, but I find ‘traditional’ American hotdogs to be alarming at best. I know they’ll have their adherents out there but sorry, I think they’re kind of nasty. But in recent years there has been a boom in updated hotdogs. My favourite New York version of this trend is the fake-speakeasy in the East Village where you have to go into a phone booth inside a hotdog store and talk on the phone to get access to the cocktail bar…where they will seat you and bring you the hotdog menu. Yeah, ok, it’s a bit precious but it’s all about the contrast of downscale with upscale and that’s what the Duke’s at Komedia are playing with too.
The dogs are all made with Sussex free-range pork, or you can have anything on the menu with vegan Tofu Not Dogs. Options include the Mushroom Dog, with marinated mushrooms and balsamic red onion toppings, the St Bernard’s with apple and brandy sauce and blue cheese, or a conventional version with mustard and ketchup. We went for the Chica-Chicarto, which came with lime-jalapeño pesto, cheese and chipotle salsa. It was insanely good – a juicy (yes, non-traditional) pork sausage on good bread with a nicely smoky chipotle flavour and a hit of citrusy heat form the pesto. On the side we had a thick chutney with figs and a sweet-smoky tang that was so addictive I started slathering it on everything. As a side, we went for the sweet potato wedges, which were thickly cut, sweet-salty and also delicious.
As addictive as the dogs are, the menu also offers a range of international main dishes. We tried the chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives (also available as a vegetarian version with aubergine), a tangle of long-cooked vegetables which sang with wonderfully sour little mouthfuls of lemon among the sweet onions. The Tex-Mex vibe is also continued here with a nacho lasagne, actually closer to a Mexican budín, layering tortillas with bean chili, scotch bonnet salsa, the same lime-jalapeño pesto found in the Chica-Chicarto and smoked-paprika cashew “cheese”. I thought this dish could have been a bit saucier and upped the amount of chili – the ratio was slightly off and risked being dry – but that said, the flavours were good and the cashew sauce was one place where a vegan not!cheese actually works on its own terms, not as a replacement for something else.
We ended our meal with churros, which you can take into the theatre with you! (Warning: dipping churros in a darkened room risks the occurrence of a Chocolate Incident. Not that I’d know about that.) These churros were a bit different from the ones you often get in Britain at street festivals, which I often find too insubstantial and overly sugary. By contrast, the Duke’s churros were denser and not ridged in shape, closer to doughnuts. In this latter regard, they are not quite traditional, but the balance of crispy fried surface to soft inside is spot on. They were dense but not heavy, slightly chewy but not greasy. The dipping chocolate is really very good, shiny as a ganache and not too sweet. Now, you’re not in an American dive bar but an early-morning caff in Madrid.
The Duke’s has always sold fantastic cakes– including a range of vegan and gluten-free treats–and the new cinema seems to be expanding on this interest in quality desserts. They also have icecream and sorbet from Boho Gelato, which I haven’t had the chance to try yet but which looks very intriguing. There was one flavour with salted caramel and popcorn which has to be amazing…
After all this excitement, it was a shame that the film we went to see was Lincoln, which the Lemurs found to be rather long and turgid, but you can’t win them all. The dogs more than made up for the movie.
Duke’s at Komedia, Gardner St, Brighton BN1 1UN