I’m increasingly impressed with the food scene in Eastbourne (yes, you read correctly). Sure, its never going to reach the heady heights of Brighton in terms of offering, choice and egos, but – if you do your research – then there are some great eateries that cater for all tastes and budgets to wet your whistle.
Although I had the pleasure of reviewing the afternoon tea at The Grand Hotel Eastbourne last summer, it’s been well over 15 years since I popped my head into their Mirabelle fine dining restaurant. Back in the day, The Mirabelle was not only the best restaurant in town but also regarded as one of the finest in Sussex although I have to admit that whilst the food was impressive the somewhat dated fusty and stilted atmosphere left much to be desired.
So it was with great expectations that I quite literally squeezed myself onto a train full of Albion fans heading to Falmer and made the journey eastwards. Maybe I’m getting older – and grumpier – but the marked difference between Brighton’s grubby seafront and Eastbourne’s genteel garden promenade is becoming ever more evident. Although a mere 35km separates the two, Eastbourne feels like a world apart… in a very good way.
Following a pleasant stroll, we were greeted at The Grand in true five star style by the doorman and head concierge who whisked us through the elegant central hall and garden room to The Mirabelle. I was relieved to see the old velvet drapes and the painful soundtrack of hushed voices, clattering silverware and mastication had been replaced by a light, bright and airy dining room with an amusingly quirky ‘classical’ muzak playlist ranging from Debussy’s Clair de Lune to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Although the interior design is respectful of the heritage of the property, it is contemporary enough to put one at ease.
The lunch menu is straight-forward three course a la carte, although there is a more extensive set tasting menu option in the evenings. As you’d expect from the destination restaurant in a five star hotel, the a la carte menu isn’t cheap. Starters range from £8-13 whilst mains between £25-48… but there are offers to be had if you do a bit of advanced groundwork. A three course lunch for two people can be had by buying a voucher in advance for a mere £84 – that’s a very reasonable £42 per person.
The two AA Rosette kitchen is headed up by Michael Sutherland, a talented chef who is undoubtably a leading light in the alumni of Sussex cooks. I’ve eaten Michael’s food in the past, and it’s reassuring to see that he’s not rested on his laurels like so many of his Sussex culinary contemporaries and continues to push himself.
It goes without saying that local and seasonal produce are at the heart of the menu but there are also clearly identifiable Scandinavian techniques alongside more than a nod to the Japanese kitchen. This is not only exciting stuff but incredibly well thought-out and executed too, which – trust me – cannot be taken for granted.
One glass of delightful Chenin Blanc down and our starters arrived. I chose the pan fried hand-dived scallops accompanied by cauliflower three ways – pureed, roasted and pickled – with sea purslane and a gel of sweet raisins. I’ve got to say I’m not the biggest fan of cauliflower – if I see ‘cauliflower steak’ on a restaurant menu nowadays then I run for the hills – but Michael has clearly thought long and hard as to how to bring out the best – one could even pretentiously say ‘the essence’ – of this otherwise rather dull vegetable to the dish. Truly exceptional work.
My dining partner thoroughly enjoyed her cured sea trout starter commenting that it was a ‘work of art on the plate and the palate’. Pleasingly, this dish not only offered layers of flavour but also texture with popped rice, umami seaweed, Japanese herbs and edible flowers perfectly balancing the rich flesh of the trout.
I opted for the catch of the day for my main; in this case Stone Bass from local fishers MCB. This was a hearty slab of perfectly cooked white fish, delicately plated on a tartare sauce of capers, gherkin and spinach and topped by a birds nest of deep fried vermicelli. Although perhaps not as visually stunning as the starters, this dish more than made up for that with its sheer honesty of cooking and quality of ingredients. This is a dish that I could eat once a week for the rest of my life.
I don’t tend to order desserts unless I absolutely have to but as I was on a roll – and enjoying my lunchtime quaffing of Chenin Blanc a little too much – I ordered the raspberry and chocolate mousse which I dare say was Pacojet-ed to within an inch of its life. The tangy fruit sat well with the dark chocolate making this a distinctly – and thankfully – a not-too-sweet dessert course.
The Mirabelle is without doubt one of the best restaurants in Sussex – this is seriously accomplished cooking and top tier service in a stylish yet unpretentious setting. I rarely say this following a review but I’ll be returning to The Mirabelle next month for more deliciousness.
The Mirabelle, The Grand Hotel Eastbourne, King Edward's Parade, Eastbourne BN21 4EQ
01323 412 345 • www.grandeastbourne.com