I must say I was more than a little surprised when I heard Furna was opening at the end of November last year. With most of us – whether for work or pleasure – having made our festive socialising plans weeks if not months ahead, it seemed a little foolhardy to open a shiny new restaurant serving a single tasting menu at £90 a head.
Add to that relatively limited opening hours and a mere 26 covers, and I was starting to wonder if someone had taken a knock to the head.
But learning that the talent and vision behind Furna was chef Dave Mothersill put my mind at rest. Dave knows cooking and hospitality – and the Brighton marketplace – inside-out having steered the busy kitchens of The Coalshed, The Salt Room and The Gingerman over the past decade or so. I’ve eaten at these venues many, many times over the years, and I can count dud dishes on one hand: Dave really knows how to cook.
The format of a set tasting menu is an interesting one. As a dining trend, its demise is often predicted – including by yours truly – but it continues to live another day. A successful tasting menu is a thoughtfully curated journey packed with ingredients sourced with care and cooked with aplomb. Unfortunately, all too often tasting menus are too heavily focused on gimmicky techniques and spectacle. Thankfully, Furna’s set tasting menu falls firmly in the former of these camps, and it is sensational.
I dined with a chef friend of mine mid-week on the first day of February. Within mere seconds of arrival our coats were whisked from us and we were sat at our table sipping a cocktail of rhubarb infused vodka that was a welcome aperitif before our trio of canapés arrived.
As a food writer, its actually rather challenging to reflect the complexity of technique and the spectrum of ingredients that married together on each exquisitely plated dish; for the first time in a long time, I’m a bit lost for words as how to describe the food itself other than say it’s sublime. From the first course, it became clear that there’d be no holds barred when it came to the use of premium ingredients such as lobster, caviar and truffle.
Although the entirety of the tasting menu was pretty much faultless, stand out dishes for me were the delicately cooked Cornish cod with smoked eel and an astounding semi-savoury pre-dessert of mirin meringue, rhubarb, creme fraiche and tarragon. My dining partner, Simon, enthused over the duck pancake with its rich and punchy flavours.
Despite the discreet yet friendly professionalism of the front of house team, the restaurant has a very relaxed ambiance to it. Inoffensive ambient music – that is just the right volume to give background without stifling conversation – and a contemporary design of warm wood, distressed mirrors and a discreet nod to to Asia – specifically Japan –, which is reflected in some of the ingredients used in the dishes.
The wine list is hands-down the best in Brighton and would stand its ground against any top tier restaurant in the Big Smoke. Split into two lists it isn’t cheap but you wouldn’t want to be sold a bottle of plonk with a £90 per head menu. You can enjoy a wine flight that is matched to the menu for an additional £65 – which personally I think is the best option. Alternatively the ‘house’ list starts at £32, or for those with [much, much] deeper pockets there’s a Chateau Lafite Rothschild Bordeaux that’s a snip at a mere £1,100. There’s only a couple of English sparklers on the list but as they’re from Sussex’s Dermot Sugrue – possibly one of England’s most accomplished wine makers – there are no complaints from me.
Furna is a bold and disruptive concept but I’d expect nothing less from Dave Mothersill, who has created a destination dining venue that wipes the floor with the competition in Sussex. To care about provenance, quality and terroir without necessarily obsessing about locality is a brave move, but it is carried out with great skill and unabashed confidence.
Furna is just the kick in the butt that Brighton’s increasingly inward looking restaurant scene needs. Perhaps – just perhaps – that coveted Michelin star which has so far eluded other big name Brighton chefs in the past couple of decades will be returning to the city soon.
Furna, 6 New Road, Brighton BN1 1UF
01273 031 594 • www.furnarestaurant.co.uk