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Ok, the island I’m referring to is Manhattan as much as Jamaica, but still. I have been to Jamaica and I ate really well, but most of my Caribbean-food-as-comfort experiences come from a place on 14th St that the Lemurs used to frequent with our old boss Miss L. With a Jamaican-Cuban background, Miss L knew all the best Caribbean joints and how to charm little extras from the staff. A dumplin here, a plantain there: we gossiped about our workmates in style when we ate with her. Anyway, Caribbean food is sadly no longer part of my everyday routine (although this reminds me I need to get my ass back to the Brixton market soon). I was pretty excited, then, to see a Jamaican storefront had opened near to the Duke of York’s cinema in Brighton and we took the first opportunity to try it out for lunch.
Now, I should say, it’s a takeout place mostly, classic hole in the wall, so it doesn’t look much. More than that, it has a name that strikes me as mildly unfortunate, though it’s probably some Jamaican reference I don’t get. There are two branches in London, too, so it’s kind of a fast food mini-chain. Let’s just say you’re not going to eat here for the aesthetic experience and leave it at that.
As soon as we walked in, we knew it was going to be good. Firstly, it smelled delicious, redolent of long-braised meat and allspice. Secondly, there was a little girl behind the counter, arranging home-made cakes. When we came in, she shot in back to alert her grandma or whatever older relative was cooking back there that there were customers. Thirdly, there was a blackboard of specials, offering Jamaican classics like callaloo, saltfish dumplins and veggie rundown. It just felt like a real family business: it might be fast food when you eat it, but it is clearly prepared with love. Looking at the dishes on offer, we decided on a modest repast of curry goat, ackee and saltfish, rice and peas, and saltfish dumplins. It was only lunch after all.
Ackee and saltfish is one of those dishes I can never get past on a menu. I love it to an unreasonable degree. I actually ate this for breakfast the entire time I was in Jamaica, probably because it is a savoury breakfast that doesn’t include eggs. Egg eaters tell me that it offers some of the same pleasures as the egg (shudder). It is soft and creamy, custardy even, rich in mouthfeel but mild in flavour. It’s hard to credit that ackee is a fruit, but somehow it is and when sautéed with salt cod it’s just delicious. Mr Lemur is not normally a huge fan of this dish but he thought this version was the best he’d ever eaten and it was actually quite hard to prise the plate away from him.
The curry goat was similarly fab – that’s the picture at the top of the post. The goat wasn’t at all goaty; I actually don’t mind a bit of goatiness but some people find it too strongly flavoured – here it was tempered by loooong slow cooking. The curry looks quite plain but it had layers of flavours, a careful hand with the spicing and all the pleasures of biting choice meat off of bone. A bit of bone marrow too – result!
We knew we didn’t really need more food than that, but one of the cooks came out to tell us about his saltfish dumplins and, well, we could hardly say no, could we? When they arrived they were comically enormous, giant fluffy monoliths of dough and fish. They would have been perfect to dip in a coconutty veggie rundown, but as it was we were too full to do them full justice. They were serious dumplins though.
Washed down with a glass of Ting (what else?), we left in a state of complete Caribbean food happiness.
Cummin Up, 2A Preston Rd, Brighton BN1 4JQ
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… Read the rest of this entry »
Mr Lemur likes most things but for some reason he is highly skeptical about Korean food. Maybe it’s because of the infamous New York Korean gristle palace, where we managed to order giant plates of chewy tendon with no actual meat, and the waitstaff looked disparagingly at us when we asked for rice? Or maybe he’s scared of the little fishes you usually get in your banchan? I actually think of the Korean vs Japanese food divide as one of those key ones, like Italian vs French, that defines what kind of food lover you are. Everyone likes Japanese food; refined, complex, sophisticated, I get it. But I (often) find Japanese food boring and bland whereas Korean food is rustic, spicy, meaty. Mr Lemur often drags me to Japanese restaurants and I’ve learned to appreciate some aspects of that cuisine, but I rarely manage to get turnabout. It’s got to the point where one of the Crocodiles and I have been threatening to ‘cheat’ on our spouses by going off together for a lunchtime Korean food orgy. Secret Soho kimchee assignations! But this week I somehow talked Mr Lemur into lunch at Binari, the new Korean place in Brighton. Read the rest of this entry »
You wouldn’t necessarily notice that the Kemp Cafe is Turkish at all. Most of the posters in the windows advertise baguettes, filled rolls and cooked breakfast, and, both times I’ve been there that’s what the customers have been eating too. But right after the place opened, I saw a woman sitting in the window rolling flatbreads. In one of those moments when you just have to investigate despite not actually being hungry, I went in and discovered that yes, those were Turkish bureks (filled with feta, spinach and chili) and yes, they were as homemade and delicious as you might imagine. I’ve been back twice for lunch and eaten the meze, which are tucked away on the right hand side of the menu, after all the British standards. There aren’t a lot of choices, but that’s because you’re eating what the owner has cooked that day. It’s small scale, homely, and no less pleasing for that.
The first time, I had a green bean and tomato salad, roasted aubergine and courgette, and couscous. All were really good but the couscous was transformative. I’ve never been a massive fan of couscous: I find it dry and the texture unpleasantly granular. But I’ve still eaten it a fair few times as I like North African food. This was by a factor of infinity the best couscous I’ve ever eaten. Moist, richly flavoured, obviously cooked in some ambrosial broth, I could have eaten it by the bowlful. Someone here is a really good cook.
But lovely as the meze were, what charmed us the most was the warm Turkish welcome. The owners are just lovely; obviously happy to share their cuisine with customers and rightly proud of what they serve. The first time I ate there, one of the owners stopped by our table with a plate of yoghurt topped with herbs and chili flakes. Eaten with bread and honey, it was a perfect complement to the rich tomato dishes.
The next time I visited, a plate of vine leaves appeared, unordered, and fresh out of the oven, at our table. Filled with nutty rice and rolled thin, they were irresistibly toothsome.
The owners have obviously decided that Turkish food is not enough to sustain their business and they want to be a local caff for people in the neighbourhood. Hence the emphasis on traditional British food. It’s probably a smart move: they’re far enough into Kemptown that they won’t catch too much foot traffic from the city centre and a new ethnic restaurant is a dicey proposition in a recession. The welcome is warm for everyone, and if you enjoy Turkish food, then so much the better. Moreover, both the meze and the bureks are vegetarian, another plus for the many Brighton veggies out there. Kemp Cafe is unassuming and the food simple, but if home-cooked Turkish meze sounds appealing, then it is absolutely worth a detour.
(This one was for Mr Lemur, obviously!)
Kemp Cafe, Upper St James St (on the corner of Wyndham St), Brighton
Before summer made a last-ditch effort to appear this year, giving us a few blissful days of 79 degree weather, we had a more normal southern English autumn of sun and showers. Mr Lemur and I decided to take a popular local walk along the base of the sea cliffs from Brighton to Rottingdean. It’s easy to forget what a beautiful place I live in, and this walk was the perfect reminder. Plus, we had an ulterior motive: we’d heard that a regular looking pub in nearby Rottingdean had a Jamaican chef who made really good Caribbean food. Clearly, this was a necessary research excursion… Read the rest of this entry »
Last weekend was Brighton’s Fiery Foods Festival, an event that you can imagine is close to my heart. I’m not really invested in the boy-boy machismo of chilli eating competitions and I could do without the live music component of the day, but I am unreasonably excited about wandering from stall to stall, buying jars of this and that spicy condiment, and grazing on hot foods from around the world.
I have to say that this year’s festival was noticably weaker on the street food front. Whereas last year I ate amazing som tam (pounded for me while I watched, with levels of each ingredient open to debate), delicious Nigerian spinach and egusi (not spicy but there was hot sauce available) and more, this year the hot food was a bit insipid. There were stalls of the kind you see at every street event – burgers, sausages and so on – that have nothing to do with fiery foods, and then horrible corporate versions of Mexican food. We did eat some lovely Thai BBQ but I worry that the economic situation is driving out the small businesses that are a huge part of this kind of event.
On the positive side, the stalls selling artisanal ingredients and condiments were a joy. It’s always lovely to meet the people who make foods and in most cases at the festival, that’s exactly who I was talking to. Enthusiastic about their products and happy to talk about suppliers, recipes and more, the makers of these products made for a food blogger’s dream day out. And, of course, these delicious products are all available to buy online. Here are my top five: Read the rest of this entry »
The BBQ Shack at the World’s End pub in Brighton has been getting a fair amount of buzz on the back of Observer writer and top foodie Jay Rayner’s piece about it in July. Rayner narrates chef John Hargate’s pit training in Texas and subsequent victories in the British BBQ Society’s annual competition, and his enthusiasm makes clear that, unlike the mediocre grilled meats more often misnamed as such, here is some proper barbeque. I’m not a true connoisseur of the smoked-meat arts but any time you hear that someone is an expert in a very specific form of food, you know it’s worth following up. The World’s End is also helpfully located across the road from the Duke of York’s cinema, so we combined our culinary trip to Texas with, somewhat mismatchedly, Arrietty, the new animation from Japan’s Studio Ghibli.
The first thing to say about the BBQ shack is that the ribs are glorious. Thick, intensely smoky yet with complex layers of flavour, they are some of the best ribs I’ve had. I grant you, I am not Texan and have surely missed out on many hole in the wall ribs experiences, but I have eaten some pretty authentic BBQ in the Midwest and the South, and these ribs stood their ground and then some. They are hickory smoked and doused in a sauce that is as sweet as it should be to match the smoke but in no way too sweet. The sauce is also not excessive. It is not about the sauce, it is about the meat, and the laquering of sauce reflects a careful understanding of that fact. We monstered through those ribs and would, given the opportunity, have eaten a whole other rack.
The other things we ate were also very good, but here a few caveats creep in. The pulled pork is described on the menu as North Carolina pulled pork, which seems odd since the chef is adamant that what he does is Texas BBQ. I expected pork advertised as North Carolina style to come with a vinegar sauce. Instead, it came with an apple-tomato sauce similar to the rib sauce, albeit lighter. As I say, I’m no expert and it is fully likely that this preparation is dead on Texas-style pulled pork. But I think I prefer the North Carolina style pork I’ve had in the States: the vinegar-sugar sauce keeps the meat moist and the piquancy balances the rich meat. Here, I felt that smokiness became overwhelmingly dominant and the meat was ever-so-slightly dry. This is really a matter of taste though, as the pork was still made with obvious care and devotion.
We went with rice and pinto beans for our sides and these were pretty good too. To be honest, Mr Lemur and I are not the best judges of Western-style beans and rice because we keep wanting them to be Latin American beans and rice and they’re just not. They look like Puerto Rican beans but they don’t taste the same, and that’s always a bit of a disappointment to me. But this is hardly the fault of the BBQ Shack, and for Western beans and rice, these were perfectly lovely. Maybe a touch undersalted but generally lovely.
From the first mouthful, it’s clear that John Hargate is a chef who knows his barbeque and who does seriously good things with meat. His ribs are one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. Now, if I could just persuade him to add some kind of collard greens to the menu I’d be in complete BBQ heaven…
BBQ Shack in World’s End pub, 60-61 London Road, Brighton BN1 4JE
I’m very excited that the lovely Thifty Gal has invited me to do a guest post on her blog E for Envelope. She writes on London life, covering theatre, fashion, shopping, and being in general a literary girl-about-town. She has a much more glamorous life than I do, full of champagne parties, theatre reviewing and shiny heels, and now she’s very generously opening her blog to some guest writers. Since I know that glamorous Londoners like Thifty Gal enjoy a trip down to the beach, I’ve contributed a guide to some of my favourite places to eat in Brighton. Check it out!
*Photo: David Hawood, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.
So I’m back home in Brighton and Spring seems to have arrived, at least for today. This weekend marks the beginning of a couple of weeks off work (hurrah!) and I also have Mama Lemur visiting. Between preparing for a houseguest and catching up with all the work I missed while in New Orleans, there hasn’t been all that much time for cooking this week. But as today is my mum’s birthday, we had the perfect excuse to go out to eat instead, and we went for a celebratory lunch at the Chilli Pickle.
Brightonian foodies probably know about the Chilli Pickle already, as the restaurant has already garnered a string of awards and it’s always busy. It opened last year in a small space in the Lanes, but has recently moved to substantially bigger premises opposite the public library. The owners seem a bit frazzled from the process of moving, but the space looks chic and modern, and despite the large number of tables the service remains efficient and friendly. The concept is regional Indian food, modern in presentation and style but drawing from fairly traditional dishes. The focus is on small plates based on street food, but there are also thalis, dosa and kebabs. It’s thus ideal for lunch, and the small plate to thali range offers both light and hearty meals. There are also several creative and tasty vegetarian dishes on the menu at any time.
Mama Lemur went the small plate route, including this Indian-style kedgeree of smoked haddock, rice and dal with a poached duck egg on top. Regular readers will know that I have an irrational phobia of eggs, so I didn’t taste it, but it looks delicious. Mama Lemur felt the haddock was less fishy than the Scottish version, but otherwise the dish was a hit.
Mr Lemur and I had thalis: he his standard order of keema muttar (minced lamb with peas) and I a new dish of Rajasthani laal maas, or mutton in a fiery red sauce. He always has the keema muttar; I don’t think he even looks at the menu any more, and I can see why. It’s reliably delicious with a rich flavour of lamb, a mild but well-spiced sauce and lots of peas. It came with a lightly sweet cabbage thoran, a bright pink beet raita, potatoes cooked with curry leaf and mustard seeds, a mixed lentil dal, and a chilli pickle, as well as breads and rice.
My thali centred on shoulder of Sussex mutton braised in a dark red chili-infused curry. Laal maas is a well-known Rajasthani dish that is made with either lamb or goat and that gets its red colour and fiery character from the number of red chilies that are used in the sauce. This version wasn’t incredibly hot (by my standards, YMMV) but had a lovely depth of flavour and a good chili kick. It came with a simple cucumber raitha that balanced the heat nicely, a fresh and sour lime pickle, plus the same thoran, potato and dals as the other thali.
If you’re down in Brighton for the day from London, or if you’re a local on the lookout for a good Indian lunch in the centre of town, I don’t think you can do better than The Chilli Pickle.
The Chilli Pickle, 17 Jubilee St, Brighton BN1 1GE
Sichuan food has become increasingly trendy in the UK since the opening of Bar Shu in London and the publication of Fuschia Dunlop’s fantastic books Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper and Sichuan Cookery. But this fashion hasn’t translated rapidly into the high street. While other Asian cuisines benefitted from recent waves of foodie enthusiasm and ingredients such as lemongrass and coconut milk became commonplace in the supermarket, Chinese food in the UK until recently still languished in 1980s-style takeout hell. In large measure it still does, and I tend to ignore the existence of most dodgy-looking Chinese restaurants around town. Moreover, while I’ve eaten in Bar Shu and enjoyed it thoroughly, that type of expensive, hipster dining experience isn’t really my thing. This is where the miracle of Brighton’s Lucky Star comes in, and for once, I can claim a small part in the story.
A year or so ago, a good friend, knowing my love of Asian food, told me about an ordinary little Chinese restaurant he’d seen bustling with Chinese students. (Brighton’s full of language schools so we have a lot of young people from around the world.) Intrigued, he went in, only to be presented with a bog-standard Anglo-Chinese menu, full of chow mein and kung po chicken. He asked if he could have some of the noodles the kids were eating and, after he assured the waiter repeatedly he wouldn’t find it too spicy, they obliged. He was so excited he texted me four times during that bowl of noodles. Soon I went with a larger expedition. We again begged for some of the dishes on the Chinese-language menu – any dishes, we said, just bring us some of this amazing looking food! We received lamb, fragrant with cumin, green beans slick with chili oil and covered in ground pork, deeply gingery tofu and again the heavenly vermicelli soaking up a porky sauce dusted with Sichuan peppercorns. Everything was completely fresh and the flavours fairly sang.
Soon, our original group started bringing more friends. We befriended the owner, Hong, who was pleased and a little bemused to find a group of white folks so enthusiastic about her food. She told us the chef came from Sichuan province, as she does, and they both return regularly to research new dishes. The menu was still a bit of a challenge and the waiters, while lovely, had understandably limited patience for our interrogations. So I bought a book on reading Chinese food characters and started to order dishes I could at least partially decipher on the menu. I was so proud of my limited Chinese reading skills and recognising ma po tofu or twice-cooked pork led to more amazing food. While the Chinese-reading experiment was fun, Hong took pity on us and persuaded one of the waiters to translate the menu. It turns out, our proselytizing had brought in a regular customer base who weren’t Chinese but wanted to eat the Sichuan regional cuisine.
Now there’s a full English-language menu that includes both familar Sichuan dishes and more unusual ones. A classic dish like beef in chili oil is a real showcase for the Sichuan peppercorn and dried chili combination: smoky warm chilies and floral peppercorns combine with a reassuringly oily broth. The cold potato with chili is at least as good as Bar Shu’s rendition of the dish, amazingly light with enough garlic and chili to infuse the julienned potato with a rich tang. Hong will also steer you toward some Northern fare for a winter’s evening: braised beef with potato, redolent of wine and anise, or by contrast stir fried vinegar cabbage with black fungus, seared with a satisfying wok hei. Moreover, new dishes appear each time the chef comes back from China. This is really exciting regional cooking, balancing traditional dishes with an obvious love for where Sichuan food is now.
I still see people come in for the generic Chinese buffet menu, and I suppose the restaurant relies on those customers too, but Lucky Star’s Sichuan menu feels like a secret club that I’ve been lucky enough to have joined. If you’re ever in Brighton, stop by and say hi to Hong from me…
Lucky Star, 101 Trafalagar St, Brighton BN2 4ER (no website)