Thinking back a decade or so, it would be hard to predict that Worthing would become somewhat of a force to be reckoned with when it comes to a destination for quality Sussex food and drink. My mate Tom Flint – who now runs his own craft drink store, Bottle & Jug Dept on South Farm Road near Worthing Station – took me on a pub crawl around the somewhat drab high street and enthused about the potential. Despite feeling the warming and cheery glow of copious pints of Sussex ale, I wasn’t convinced by his enthusiasm but I have to admit that – in retrospect – I was wrong.
I guess the big change for Worthing happened with the opening of Crab Shack serving simple yet perfectly cooked and very pocket-friendly fresh local fish and seafood on Worthing beach. Other restaurants followed, most notably Pitch headed up by the very talented chef-patron Kenny Tutt who came to fame from winning the BBC’s Masterchef in 2018.
The independent bar and café scene has also blossomed serving up affordable food and drink with a uniquely Worthing-feel that differs from neighbouring Brighton with its ever-changing razzmatazz and slow but steady Chichester. As experienced earlier this month, the seaside town can also rightly claim to have one of the best food festivals on the south coast – delivered by the Worthing town centre team – with a genuine focus on local hospitality and producers.
Hence I was really excited to be invited to review Mak, a relatively new Mediterranean restaurant on Chapel Road opposite The Venue. The manager is the ever-cheery Harry Roper who formerly headed up the team at The Whiskey Rooms. Despite his youthful years, Harry has a proven track-record of not only front-of-house service but also the ‘big picture’ of managing and marketing a hospitality business; he’s also one of the best cocktail mixologists in Sussex and a very nice chap too.
Mak is a beautifully designed restaurant that could easily and effortlessly sit alongside the better brasseries in London. Without doubt, it’s an aesthetic game-changer for Worthing with its gloriously high ceilings, mirrored walls, seductive lighting and glorious feature back-bar. It’s clear that owner Megan Knight has an eye for detail.
The menu is extensive with more than a nod to the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean. There’s a lot of choice and it would be very easy to graze on starters and small plates whilst enjoying a well-balanced drinks list of wines and impressive cocktails. Although my dining partner Sarah – a well-respected Brighton and London hotelier – and I had a chilled lunch on the sun-drenched terrace, I can easily see me returning for a very lazy and relaxing evening of snacking and slurping.
With all my current reviews, I’m keeping a very beady eye on affordable and accessible dining so Mak’s set menu was very welcome. To be honest, their set menu is also bigger than many restaurants full menus so it wasn’t exactly a challenge to find dishes that I genuinely wanted to eat rather than um-and-err.
We started with a spread of aperitivo snacks – olives, bread and a spectacular dip of whipped Feta cheese with candied fruit and chilli. Sometimes it’s the small things that matter and this pre-course really set the stage for the dining experience ahead.
My starter was classic prawn cocktails in all its retro glory. I genuinely loved the nod to the 70s in terms of presentation – clearly a conscious decision by the kitchen – and the shrimps were juicy (not floury as is often the unfortunate case when chefs attempt do this dish on the cheap) and drenched in Marie-Rose sauce with just the right hint of spice. It was a classic, simple dish done incredibly well.
For my main, I opted for lamb meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. I absolutely love lamb but – unfortunately – so often it’s not cooked with enough care to bring out the flavour and texture it deserves. I was genuinely impressed that this dish served up exactly what was promised; a hearty, well-balanced portion that delivered the right balance of meat, fat, Provence herbs and the perfect level of acidity and body provided by the vegetable coulis.
Sarah loves a bit of meat so she went for the minute steak, a short-cut tenderised sirloin beef cut. It was faultless; medium-rare, a perfect pepper – but not too peppery – sauce accompanied with fries that weren’t double or triple cooked culinary clichés but just cooked well.
I’m ashamed to say, we didn’t have much space for dessert but Sarah and I had a final well-crafted cocktail from Harry before we skipped off on our own merry ways.
Mak is yet another game-changing restaurant in Worthing – it’s one to watch in terms of the wider Sussex food scene as there is clearly talent, a respect for quality and, most importantly, a real passion to cook well. The entire experience including service, food and rocking drinks was faultless. Mak, I’ll be most definitely be back.
Mak, 1a Connaught Buildings, Chapel Road, Worthing BN11 1BA
01903 204 304 | www.makworthing.co.uk