If I’m honest, when it comes to reviewing I tend to avoid the opening week of a new restaurant. Although restaurant PRs are hungry for as much publicity as they can muster, I think it’s unfair on the kitchen and front-of-house team as they haven’t had time to bed in properly.
That said, I simply couldn’t refuse the invite to Embers – the new joint venture between Sussex’s Isaac Bartlett-Copeland and Dave Marrow, two chefs that I’ve long admired. So last Saturday I headed to Meeting House Lane in Brighton to sample their wood-fired cooking and cocktails concept.
We were met outside the restaurant in theatrical style by a fire-eater; a nice touch and certainly a great way to signpost a new venue. On entry, we were immediately greeted by an industry friend, Alex Preston, the longtime sommelier of sister restaurant Isaac At. Knowing my preference for sitting at the kitchen pass, we were given prime position overlooking the bustling kitchen with its array of charcoal barbecues and grills and a wood-fired oven. This is the real deal; there’s not an induction plate or oven to be seen, which is a brave move.
The vibe of the restaurant very much reminded me of a traditional Japanese Izakaya – an informal street bar with snacky food. The dark walls – I’m guessing the paint chart name would be ‘charcoal’ – are adorned with industrial metal and slices of tree trunk, reinforcing the open flame cooking message.
Once we were settled, I had a quick scan of the room and noted a lot of familiar faces – both diners and staff. Isaac and Dave appear to have attracted some of the best talent in town – not only Alex but also Ben Arthur and Lyndon Roper, the latter of whom won two awards at last year’s BITE Sussex Rising Stars.
Lyndon quickly had a Brighton Gin martini in my hand – am I really that predictable? – whilst Ben made a few recommendations from the menu. With a choice of ten small plates and three more substantial larger plates, this is very much a communal dining experience. The pricing is a bit all over the place with small plates from £6 to £17 and the large plates at £35, but that does give flexibility in ordering whatever your budget and however hungry you are. Dishes come as they are prepared so don’t expect ‘courses’; this is a relaxed and informal affair.
Our first plate was Smokey Chicken Leg served with honey butter and a spicy n’duja aioli. It was moist and meaty chicken with serious flavour so the bird must’ve had a good life before its ultimate demise. The accompanying aioli was pleasant enough but perhaps needed a bit more punch.
Stacked high with a vegetable caponata and red pepper ketchup, there’s a lot – and I mean a lot – going on with the Sticky Aubergine. This vegetable particularly lends itself to barbecue cooking, that brings out the best of its smokey, umami flavour. Of the two vegetable dishes we ordered – the other being charred broccoli with a mouth-numbingly hot sweetcorn and jalapeño cream – this was by far the most accomplished.
The Wagyu Denver steak was just as expected. It’s a fairly lean yet still flavoursome cut that really lends itself to cooking on a hot grill so the perfect choice for the Embers concept. The pairing with coffee hollandaise is a stroke of culinary genius; I absolutely adored it.
My hero dish however was the glazed lamb ribs which were beautifully flame grilled offering a crispy outer and a moreishly moist inner. The fat that was reminded me of Marmite… or even a strong cheddar cheese. This is straightforward cooking with great quality ingredients. I can’t recommend this dish highly enough.
I note that there is a lot of chilli used across the entire menu – both as an ingredient within the sauces and also very liberal sprinklings of powdered and crushed chilli. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the heat levels across dishes, so that’s something that probably needs a bit more consistency from the kitchen as it can overpower some of the other delicious ingredients. But that’s a minor nit-pick that is easily resolvable.
Cooking on open flames and charcoal is clearly a very different skill set to those required in a regular restaurant kitchen, but I’d say that Dave, Isaac and the kitchen brigade have already nailed it serving up confident and well-thought out dishes. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that Embers will be a popular smokin’ hot addition to the city’s dining scene.
Embers, 42 Meeting House Lane, Brighton BN1 1HB