[This story by Nick Mosley first appeared in The Argus on Friday 18 March 2022]
The brain child of friends and business partners Sam Pryor and Paul Morgan, the pair have a long history working in the kitchens and front-of-house of Brighton restaurants. Paul was head chef at the renowned Terre à Terre before moving into the management side, followed by a stint as general manager at Lewes’ Pelham House Hotel. Sam began his career at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, followed by a decade or so in food and drink consultancy before setting up Fourth & Church in September 2015.
At that time, probably the most exciting place to eat on that stretch of Church Road in Hove was the local Pizza Express. The bar scene wasn’t exactly memorable either so their wine bar and shop with deli and small plate evening dining was something of a revolution, offering Hovites a genuine dining and drinking destination without hoofing into the city centre.
Ever keen to adapt to changes in the market, the Fourth & Church concept has matured considerably and – at the end of 2019 following a refurbishment and re-aligning of the dining concept that saw a shift away from the daytime deli counter – the latest incarnation seems to be hitting the spot with dinners and wine lovers, and clearly not just those from the immediate neighbourhood. The informal concept is that you can pop in for a wine and snack or a full meal, and – uniquely – you can also choose from their epic range of hand-picked wines to drink in-house or take home.
My visit was on a Saturday evening – it was my dad’s birthday and Fourth & Church is one of his favourite places in the city so that ticked two boxes already. I should point out that on the weekends pre-booking is essential, every seat was taken at the early sitting so I can only assume that the later slot was packed too.
That said, you don’t feel that other guests are on top of you; there is decent spacing between tables to give a comfortable level of privacy surrounded by the bistro buzz.
At £50 per head for five courses and snacks, the weekend tasting menu is accessibly priced and delivers remarkable value for the quality of the dishes. It’s hard to fault any of the courses so I’ll focus on the elements that were most memorable.
The first course of Dashi Winter Tomato with seaweed jam and Monk’s Beard [a wild plant with a taste similar to chard] was like a slap in the face, in a very nice way. Dashi is an intense stock base that forms the backbone of many Japanese dishes and supplies a uniquely umami taste, so this dish with the right balance of acidity really got the taste buds working.
We were initially somewhat split on the Roast Pigeon with beetroot and pickled walnut ketchup. My mother was insistent that she didn’t like pigeon and would be sliding it onto my father’s plate but after a forkful that position was rapidly reconsidered. Pigeon is, of course, gamey but when cooked well its melt-in-the-mouth and in this case perfectly off-set by the other components of the dish.
Probably the stand-out course for me was the Monkfish with pea puree and a smoked almond cream; beautifully balanced with a stand-out flavour kick provided by a crisp of bonito. Dessert of Rhubarb and Custard Parfait with pink peppercorn rounded off the menu perfectly, rich but not overly sweet.
It would be demeaning to flippantly describe the plates as fusion dishes. Although Sam and his team are borrowing from the traditions of different world kitchens, the menu is very much their own. In terms of the Sussex restaurant scene, they have a clearly identifiable style of cooking and taste profile.
Although well-presented – and with a keen eye on seasonal produce from small UK and European producers – at the heart of every dish is the layering of flavours. Which is important as so many ‘modern European’-style restaurants focus on a flurry of pastiched culinary techniques to create Instagrammable plates but that are somewhat lacking on the palate.
As half of the Fourth & Church concept is around wine, its always fun to choose something off-piste from the wine list or buy a bottle directly off the shelf. We settled for an aperitif of fino sherry, followed a zingy still unoaked English Chardonnay from Tickerage Vineyard near Uckfield then ‘Moment of Silence’ a South Africa white blend from the creative geniuses at Blank Bottle.
It’s clear that Paul and Sam’s professional experience is shared with their team. Downstairs the kitchen brigade, whilst young, clearly understands Sam’s vision and are genuinely enjoying preparing the dishes. Upstairs the service team are polite and efficient with just the right level of personality so as to make you relaxed without being uncomfortably overfamiliar.
Fourth & Church is the neighbourhood restaurant, wine bar and shop that every lover of good food, drink and bonhomie is looking for.
Fourth & Church, 84 Church Road, Hove BN3 2EB