When I moved to Brighton 15 years ago, visiting the original Bill’s in Lewes was a Saturday afternoon rite of passage for a local food lover although getting a table wasn’t always the easiest achievement. The store-café combo space was a visual smorgasbord with overflowing baskets of fresh fruit and shelves of tinned Italian tomatoes, pasta and fresh bread. Whether ladies that lunch, yummy mummies, local students, dog owners or Gen X-ers, it was always packed from breakfast until supper.
The Brighton restaurant opened back in 2005 in a former bus depot at the bottom of North Road. It originally had very much the same vibe as Lewes – including combining both restaurant and retail space. Inevitably such a successful concept was eventually picked up by a larger restaurant operator, with BIll’s now operating at around 40 sites across the UK. The shopping element has long gone but thankfully the quirky, eclectic retro decor and buzzy vibe remain.
Now I have to admit, Bill’s had somewhat fallen off my culinary radar. Other than for a business meeting in their Horsham restaurant about 6 or 7 years ago, it hadn’t even occurred to me to visit. With so much choice in terms of independent cafés, bars and restaurants in Brighton and Hove, multiples don’t typically get much of a look in for me.
Which – having visited for this late lunch – was a regretful mistake. I’d go as far to say that Bill’s has been one of my best dining experiences this year.
My colleague Tina and I were promptly seated with cocktail menus in hand before you could say ‘Banana Colada’… which I obviously did say. The drinks list isn’t huge but seems well-considered; my only tiny criticism would be a lack of English wine, local beer and small batch distilleries but I guess that’s a logistical challenge for larger operators.
The food menu really shines. We shared chicken and sesame dumplings, and had fun with the build-your-own sticky duck salad wraps. Both would more than suffice as a light main course.
After 10 days of running food and drink events for Bite Sussex, I don’t know if I was feeling a need for a healthy hit of green but my eye was immediately drawn to the salads. I went for a middle eastern inspired halloumi shawarma that was both a visual and taste explosion. Tina opted for sea bass florentine with poached egg, spinach and Hollandaise sauce; it was beautifully cooked – light and flavoursome. A perfect summer lunch dish.
On the recommendation of our server, we shared a dessert of chocolate and salted caramel tart with coconut ice. It was vegan but you wouldn’t have guessed as it was rich and luxurious, and the perfect way to round off a very enjoyable lunch.
House wine started at a fiver with cocktails around the £8 mark. Starters sat at £7 and mains around £12 - £15 and that includes a minute steak option and – intriguingly – a chargrilled burger with truffle fondue and 24 carat gold flakes for when you’re feeling a bit fancy.
Since the relaxation of the lockdown, I increasingly feel like I’m being mugged when I dine out with over-priced, substandard dishes and drinks and often mediocre service. There’s none of that at work here: I was very impressed by the price point of Bill’s offering because I couldn’t pick a hole in any element of the delivery. From start to finish, it was a well crafted dining experience and one that I’m looking forward to revisiting again a lot sooner than later.
Bill’s, 100 North Road, Brighton BN1 1YE