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2023 review of the Sussex restaurant scene

MasterChef: The Professionals 2023 winner Tom Hamblet at Mirabelle

Whilst outwardly buoyant, Brighton and wider Sussex’s restaurant scene is always in flux as consumer trends and budgets change, staff progress with their hospitality careers and proprietors have to make hard decisions. Nick Mosley reviews the past 12 months in the world of food and drink.

After a rocky opening period during the tail end of lockdown, Tutto on Victoria Gardens has really found its feet and is serving up some really well-crafted Italian dishes and cocktails. The Coalshed – part of the same restaurant family – is moving from its original home on Boyce’s Street in The Lanes to a prime site on North Street; an exciting time for restaurateur Raz Helalat and his team.

Kindling in East Street has temporarily closed its doors, although when they’ll reopen appears somewhat uncertain on the Brighton bush telegraph. Meanwhile, neighbouring restaurant – Terre à Terre – celebrated its 30th anniversary in September clearly demonstrating that it’s not just a great vegetarian restaurant but a great destination restaurant full stop. I don’t think any restaurant embodies the spirit of Brighton more than Terre à Terre.

There are more Indian restaurants than you can shake a stick at in Brighton but three notables have really stuck out to me over the past 12 months. Brighton Curry – whilst having some of the cringiest branding in the city – is serving up excellent dishes at pocket-friendly prices under the guidance of Gouranga Bera who cut his teeth at several of Brighton’s most well-known Indian restaurants.

Meanwhile, Sabu Joseph continues to cook up a storm in his Easy Tiger kitchen at The Hampton Arms in Upper North Street. Again, really well prepared dishes that won’t break the bank served up by one of genuinely friendliest chefs I’ve ever met.

The acclaimed Dishoom restaurant group finally – and I mean, finally – opened an outpost in East Street. The Permit Room is pitched as a cocktail bar that serves food but I think that is a disservice. I would go as far to say that this is the most important multiple restaurant opening in the city since The Ivy in The Lanes landed. It is superb and a must-do.

Isaac Bartlett-Copeland and Dave Marrow of Embers - credit David Charbitt

Embers opened in Meeting House Lane in April and pretty much immediately became one of the most notable restaurants in the city. Headed up by Dave Marrow (formerly head chef of Terre à Terre) and Isaac Bartlett-Copeland (of Isaac At fame), the open-fire concept kitchen must have been a challenge to open in a listed building in the heart of The Lanes but perseverance has clearly paid off with an entry in the Michelin Guide within mere months of opening thanks to top-notch cooking and an ambiance that is second-to-none.

With the team including general manager Ben Arthur – a familiar and respected face on the Brighton hospitality scene – and mixologist-extraordinaire Lyndon Roper, I predict that things can only get better for this unique venue.

Although our region has always done well in the Hardens Restaurant Guide and AA Restaurant Guide, Brighton and surrounding Sussex has finally been properly recognised by the annual Michelin Guide as the great food and drink destination that many of us working in the industry have known for years.

Johnny Stanford of Tern - credit Simon Callaghan

Alongside well-established venues such as Michael Bremner’s 64 Degrees and Duncan Ray’s Little Fish Market, entries the guide include newly opened additions: Johnny Stanford’s impressive Tern restaurant on Worthing Pier, Dave Mothersill’s exquisite Furna on New Road and the wonderful Dilsk from chef Tom Stephens and front-of-house supremo Maddy Riches which – to my mind – has the best wine pairings to be found on the south coast.

Whilst actual Michelin stars still remain somewhat elusive, three Sussex venues were awarded the coveted accolade including George Blogg at Gravetye Manor in West Hoathly, Jean Delport of Interlude at Leonardslee Gardens and the very talented Ben Wilkinson of The Pass at South Lodge Hotel near Horsham.

Speaking of South Lodge, this stunning five star property is also home to MasterChef: The Professionals 2023 winner Tom Hamblet who’ll be resident chef in the Camellia restaurant showcasing some of the dishes from the show until the end of March 2024. As the former stomping ground of Steven Edwards of Etch in Hove – also a former Masterchef winner –, it really is fantastic to see that the culinary legacy continues.

It would also be remiss not to mention Alex Burtenshaw who’s recently taken over the kitchen at Mirabelle restaurant at The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne. Alex is a longstanding chef on the Sussex food scene and will no doubt put Mirabelle firmly back on the Sussex food map.

Of course, the food scene is not all fine dining and big bills. Over the course of 2023, I’ve enjoyed some fantastic meals at more accessibly priced eateries. Although now operating as a deli concept rather than sit-down restaurant, in my humble opinion Sergio Ronda’s Naninella on Preston Street serves up the best pizza this side of Naples.

Another deli concept that has literally just opened is Bread Meat Wine on Gloucester Street. Led by Alex Preston – another of the Isaac At alumni and recognised in 2022 by drinks industry bible Harpers as one of the UK’s most influential sommeliers despite his tender years – the New York deli style sandwiches are to die for, and that’s before Alex cracks open a bottle of English fizz to wash them down.

For authentic Greek food – and atmosphere to match – Nostos on Palmeira Square is hard to beat and a firm favourite with many of my food-loving friends. Nanima Asian Kitchen on St Georges Road in Kemp Town never fails to impress with their ever-changing menu of dishes from south east Asia.

Suffice to say, things are on the up-and-up with our local food scene. With this much choice, you definitely won’t be going hungry in 2024.


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