he countdown to Christmas is on so – whether for an intimate dinner for family and friends or a knees-up with colleagues and clients – now is the time to start thinking about booking restaurants and party venues, writes Nick Mosley.
Maybe it’s true that time goes quicker as you get older but I find it hard to believe that the festive season is nearly upon us once again. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m revisiting some of the Sussex restaurants that have impressed me in 2023 to share their Christmas and New Year menu offerings.
A new addition to the Brighton dining scene this year has been Embers in Meeting House Lane. The brainchild of well-known local chefs Dave Marrow and Isaac Bartlett-Copeland, the concept is open-fire cooking and I regard it as a must-do dining experience for anyone who lives in or visits the city. Pricing is still to be confirmed on festive menus but I’ve had a sneak preview of the dishes that will suit all tastes and dietaries – there are plenty of vegan and gluten free options alongside some might meaty centrepieces. Small plates to look out for include sprout kimchi with chestnuts and plum puree, and pork ribs with crispy sage and apple caramel. As we’re also in the midst of game season then the sharing board of venison with roasted beetroot and coco nib is unmissable. I should also note that Embers is also home to one of the best bartenders on the south coast so ensure you order a cocktail… or two!
The most impressive fine dining restaurant in the city this year has been Dilsk, located in Brighton’s leading boutique hotel, Drakes. When I reviewed in the Spring, the food and wine pairings were not only the best I’d ever experience in Sussex but the best I’ve experienced anywhere. Utterly sublime. Chef Tom Stephens and restaurant manager Maddy Riches bring a wealth of experience to Dilsk and it truly shows on the plate and the service. Their Christmas menu runs throughout November and December and I think it’s a bit of a steal with six courses for £65 (the matched wine flight is an additional £55). I’m utterly intrigued to see Tom’s twist on roast turkey. Incidentally, if you’re looking to bring in the new year in style then Dilsk’s nine course tasting menu on 31 December is £135.
Sometimes a more informal party environment is in order and they don’t come more relaxed than Shelter Hall on the seafront. In the past couple of years, Shelter Hall has become one of my ‘unofficial’ offices where you’ll find me busily beavering away on food, drink and tourism meetings and banging my laptop keyboard whilst quietly cursing to myself. Always ahead of the trend curve, this year Shelter Hall is going LARGE with individual private party domes that can accommodate up to 16 guests in a private beachside cocoon. Although you can order directly from the seven kitchens, Shelter Hall are offering a pre-bookable three course Alpine-themed menu for groups priced at just £30. Think schnitzel, bratwurst and more apple strudel than you can shake a stick at.
One of my favourite new finds this year has been Journey’s Wine Bar and Restaurant on Station Parade in Eastbourne. The food, wine and atmosphere is genuinely exceptional, as is the friendly and knowledgable service from co-owners Marina and Amy who work the floor – and rattle the pots and pans – with aplomb. The menu is a combination of classic French and contemporary Mediterranean with a real passion for sourcing ingredients from the Sussex countryside and coast wherever possible. Midweek Christmas set lunches begin in late November and starts at £21 for two courses; the four course evening tasting menu is £48. I can hand-on-heart say you would struggle to get better quality cooking anywhere else in Sussex.
It’s fair to say that Worthing’s mini dining-revolution began with family-owned Crabshack on the beachfront. That was back in 2015 and the somewhat spit-and-sawdust venue rapidly garnered favour with food reviewers from the national media. The food is as good today as it was then and it’s a rare visit to Worthing for me without getting a plate of their crispy squid in my belly. Their Christmas menu has just been announced and runs throughout December. Three courses – plus a glass of bubbles on arrival – are priced at £40 and include a choice of seafood and meat dishes. Personally, I’ve got my beady little eye on the ‘Piggy Sussex Smokie’ – smoked haddock and pancetta lardons in a cream sauce with parmesan crumb and leaks. I dare say I’ll be banging down the door on 1 December.
Check back next week for more festive dining recommendations.