For those of you familiar with my weekly food and drink Argus Taste reviews, you might recall that I reviewed Meanwhile at the start of the year. At that time, the food offering was limited to breakfast running into brunch – and mighty fine it was too; well-cooked plates overflowing with Sussex produce. So as a regular to the venue – neatly tucked under My Brighton hotel on Jubilee Street – I was really excited to pop along and sample their new evening offering last week.
Meanwhile can be all things to all people, without doubt helped by its long opening hours. From the outside it does have a bit of a café and coffee shop vibe – Small Batch Coffee occupied the space for many years – but once inside, and following a recent refurbishment, it’s got a distinctly relaxed cosmopolitan feel to it.
There are, of course, tables of two-to-four people to be had but also a multitude of high tables and stools that I’m personally particularly fond of dining and drinking at. Perhaps the more upright position aids my digestion but more likely I prefer to sit on a stool so I have a birds-eye view and good-old nosey of everything that’s going on around me.
The shift from a venue known for daytime coffee, eggs benedict, full English, sandwiches and pastries to a full evening dinner service is brave but thankfully head chef Ian Aungier has been at the helm for a while now so has a very firm grasp of what locals, visitors and hotel guests want from a restaurant menu in Brighton.
Although the evening menu defiantly states ‘Small Plates’ these aren’t really small plates. They’d be better described as medium plates so from the get-go these are dishes to share or – as they are priced at £7-15 each – you can just enjoy a couple on your own and leave very well fed. A succinct but well considered drinks list offers wines by the glass.
The menu is vaguely Mediterranean with nods to the Levantine in terms of style but the use of hyperlocal produce very clearly influences the offering. As a long-standing champion of Sussex food and drink, I can hand-on-heart say that Meanwhile very pro-actively engages with more local producers than most. Even in these challenging financial times, that can unfortunately mean paying a premium for homegrown food, I don’t think you’ll find any eatery in the county that has a greater commitment to locality and provenance whether cheeses and butchery or beers and spirits.
I dined with a couple of esteemed industry colleagues – Julia from Brighton & Hove Tourism Alliance and Mark who runs The Gallery Restaurant at Brighton Metropolitan Collage – so we pretty much ordered everything from the ten option menu. Even so the food worked out at about £30 per head.
For anyone who loves the Spanish kitchen then the grilled octopus with potato, aioli and paprika will be familiar and this was a perfect example of the classic dish. I’ve said it before, and I’m clearly going to say it again: badly prepared octopus, squid or cuttlefish is thunderingly disappointing but chef Ian had cooked this to perfection: soft yet still structured with a rich taste.
The lamb dish exploded with flavours: smokey baba gamoush, lively pickled grapes, tangy coriander, fresh mint and sweet pomegranate seeds. It was the Eastern Mediterranean on a plate.
As I’m a sucker for anchovies, I was particularly impressed with Meanwhile’s smoked, oily little beauties that packed a punch alongside lemon zest, parsley and chilli.
Perhaps the star of the show was the porchetta with burnt leaks and pickled walnuts. Essentially a hand-rolled pork roulade, the meat was cooked perfectly – soft, tasty fat and the all-important crispy crackling.
Although I dare say the confit potatoes – chiffon-like slithers of delicate potato slow cooked in duck fat – should be considered a rare treat rather than a weekly indulgence, they are as close to culinary perfection as you can get. Available as a standalone or with a crazily tasty nduja spicy sausage they are crisp, flavoursome, moreish. Enjoying every morsel, I thought best to not ask about the calorie count.
My only slight disappointment was the roast pumpkin wedges that were a bit ‘clunky’ against the other plates. I wouldn’t say they were in any way bad, it’s just all the other dishes were simply better.
Interestingly, and unlike many restaurants that offer small plate dining, all of the dishes absolutely complement each other. There is a composite vision here of the menu; it is not only well executed but also really well thought through. My favourite individual dishes of the night – the pork roulade, octopus and confit potato – are matches made in heaven.
It may have, quite literally, taken Meanwhile a while to get evening dining off-the-ground but what they’re doing is bang on. I’d thoroughly encourage you to take advantage of their 50% food offer that runs on pre-booked tables on ‘Thrifty Thursdays’ until the end of January because next year Meanwhile is going to be one of the hottest dining tickets in town.
Meanwhile, 17 Jubilee Street, Brighton, BN1 1GE
01273 900 380 • www.meanwhilecafe.com