You may think that now is perhaps not the most opportune of times to be opening a new restaurant but that’s clearly not stopping new independents and multiples popping up everywhere in Brighton. Cost of living crisis? What cost of living crisis!
One of the most eagerly anticipated of these newcomers is Dilsk, that opened a couple of weeks back in the lower level restaurant of Drakes hotel in Marine Parade. Now this venue has been home to several accomplished chefs over the years – Ben Mckellar, Andy Mckenzie and Ian Swainson all immediately come to mind – but it’s always ultimately struggled to create a regular following of local diners. I guess that’s the curse of being pre-judged as a ‘hotel’ restaurant and not for the venue’s own merits.
Dilsk is led by chef Tom Stephens – who headed the kitchen of 64 Degrees for about four years and before that sous chef at Pied à Terre in London – with partner restaurant manager Maddy Riches who’s had an accomplished career in front-of-house in the city.
The name comes from a species of edible seaweed from the Scottish coast so that already put in mind of what to expect: a modern British offering with perhaps a nod to the ever-fashionable Nordic kitchen and the sea.
On entering, the first thing that strikes about Dilsk is they’ve paired down the interiors. Walls are simple white with the occasional decorative note, tables and chairs are premium but not flashy and the background soundtrack is uptempo (if a little too loud for my ageing ears). It’s a lot more minimal than previous incarnations of the space which is clearly deliberate as the aim is that the food, wine and service do the talking.
For a midweek night, most of the tables were occupied with a mixed crowd of different ages: a date night here, a group of friends there. It all felt very ‘now’; informal but well structured.
There are two menus: the Short Tasting Menu of five courses and amuse bouche priced at £55 and the Full Tasting Menu which is somewhat more of a culinary epic at nine courses. We opted for the latter with a matched wine flight priced at an additional £45. Both are set menus so the kitchen asks you give them a couple of days notice of any dietary requirements, although notably a vegan menu is currently not available.
Now before I continue, it seems to be the right time to introduce the wine pairing as it is an intrinsic part of the Dilsk experience. Not only are they matched to the dishes, they are specifically chosen to complement different elements of the food so – without wanting to sound too pretentious – they are an essential part of the dining journey at this restaurant.
The first dish to arrive was lightly poached oyster over a custard of dilsk seaweed custard with marinated trout roe and pickled cucumbers. It was most definitely a ‘taste of the sea’ and despite there being a lot of flavours and textures fighting it out, it was very considered and balanced.
This was rapidly followed by an incredibly decadent brioche bread dripping with wild garlic butter and pickled garlic, which I skipped as I’m tying my best to eat as little gluten as possible but my dining partner raved about.
Both these courses shared an Australian riesling wine packed with green apple and pear notes that pleasingly cut through the richness of the food.
The fish course worked in two halves: firstly, smoked mussels with fennel and chargrilled peppers over a thin but incredibly moreish artichoke broth. Secondly, the butter poached Norwegian cod utilised the stock from the mussels alongside artichoke and monk’s beard sea vegetable. There is tremendous skill from the kitchen to showcase different expressions of the ingredients so seamlessly. The matched wine heralded from California but produced from an Italian indigenous grape; the discreet oaking proving the perfect bedfellow to the brown butter but the following floral aromas equally matching the artichoke.
I’ve got to say by this stage, my senses were feeling overwhelmed in a very good way. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such an impeccable food and wine pairing anywhere in Sussex, and safe to say I’ve had a lot of them. So hands-up for the Mandrarossa Frappato Italian light bodied red that knocked my socks off. Paired with chicken, rich and earthy morels, garlic and punchy asparagus, this was simply heavenly.
As a palate cleanser, a small coupe of poached rhubarb and camomile mousse was lifted by a very impressive marigold granita that was a party in my mouth. The wine that matched this – and the following main dessert of strawberry tart with custard, aerated white chocolate, lemon verbena and strawberry sorbet – was a late harvest Riesling from New Zealand offering up petrol and biscuit notes but a nice balance of tropical fruit and honey. Again, faultless.
This is next level cooking from Tom who is without doubt a culinary auteur in his own right and supremely slick and knowledgeable service from Maddy and the service team. There’s not a course - or wine - here that didn’t want me wanting more… much more. As Mary Poppins would say, it’s ‘practically perfect in every way’.
Dilsk, 44 Marine Parade, Brighton BN2 1PE
01273 696 934 • www.dilsk.co.uk