Within just a year, Brighton’s Shelter Hall has established itself as one of the city’s go-to destinations for food lovers. Nick Mosley pulls up a seat and checks out the four new kitchens that have opened this month.
With such a rich food and drink culture, it’s perhaps somewhat surprising that it took until 2021 for Brighton and Hove to get on the page with the national – and international – trend for food halls. Sure we’ve had farmers markets, more ‘street food’ eateries than you can shake a proverbial stick at and a veritable plethora of food festivals – of varying quality and success, I hasten to add –, but, no doubt mainly due to a lack of vision and political navel-gazing rather than the availability of relevant and suitable spaces, the city-by-the-sea seemed to have missed the food hall boat.
Thankfully, the entrepreneurial team at Sessions Markets saw the potential of the rebuilt Victorian Shelter Hall at the bottom of West Street and a year ago an entirely new dining, drinking and social dynamic joined Brighton’s hospitality line-up. Happily, its not been a flash-in-the-pan ‘concept’ like so many other businesses that ‘think’ they ‘know’ the Brighton market but unfortunately find out they are somewhat off the mark when reality eventually hits.
Shelter Hall appears effortlessly laid-back and louche but clearly a huge amount of thought and strategic planning has gone into every element of the design and day-to-day delivery. And it shows: thought, effort and commitment clearly pays.
There are seven kitchens to order from, ranging from Italian to Vietnamese via decadent pastries and gourmet burgers. On the latter, I hasten to add that although all the food is fast, this isn’t your typical fast food. Chef Kenny Tutt – of Masterchef and Pitch fame – has a new kitchen called Patty Guy and he’s spent months meticulously deconstructing the classic mid-20th century American burger to recreate what I can honestly say is the epitome of saucy, pickle-y, juicy perfection – and, thankfully not a brioche bun in sight.
Tom Samandi’s Lost Boys Chicken – who have featured in various guises in the Shelter Hall kitchen line-up for the past year – is rocking it with his new Chick Chick Crew concept. Choose from perfectly cooked chicken breast and thigh burgers – or vegan alternatives – drenched in spicy sauces. It’s sloppy, it’s messy but, boy, does it hit the spot (and my t-shirt). As an aside, this would absolutely be my definition of weekend hangover food to blast away any cobwebs.
My dining partner, DCI, was particularly taken with the new Korean kitchen – Tiger and Rabbit – from East London chef Jay Morjaria who’s culinary star is most definitely in the ascendence right now. I have to admit that Korean cuisine is one of my absolute favourites; although it plays second fiddle to so many other Asian countries it’s packed with ferments and mind-blowing spice. Morjaria’s Shelter Hall concept kitchen certainly doesn’t disappoint. Our Korean BBQ chicken bowl brimmed with so many layers of deliciousness – succulent meat, fried rice, kimchi vegetables – that I think that sublime is the the only appropriate word to use.
The fourth new kitchen is Sear by Salt Shed, an open-fire concept created by former Sussex University students Frank Sweeney and Laurence Stevens who’ve been developing their unique style in London for the past few years and now are happily back in Brighton. I think these guys really take the idea of street food to a completely new level. The grilled Pil Pil king prawns with garlic, citrus and chorizo, and the truly melt-in-the-mouth Bavette steak, could both easily sit alongside dishes at twice price at some of Brighton’s top restaurants.
With the cost-of-living crisis looming large in all our minds, with all the above kitchen offerings you can be more than sated for around £10-12 plus drinks. Obviously you can spend more but a decent quality and filling lunch or supper can be had for a very pocket-friendly price.
The striking thing about Shelter Hall is that it’s effortlessly all-things to all-people whilst also connecting to guests as individuals; it’s a perfect serve. Outside on the terrace tourists were lapping up the early evening sun over beers and snacks; parents were keeping their kids quiet with an outrageously delicious looking Nutella-topped pizza from the Amalfi ktichen; on the table next to us an elderly couple were enjoying coffee and tarts with their dog happily snoozing on the floor; and throughout the venue millennials were leisurely grazing and utilising the space to catch up with work, friends and their social media. In the meantime, DCI and I were stuffing our faces and enjoying a good old catch up about all things Brighton n Hove.
Shelter Hall is contemporary, delicious and more on-point in terms of offering, pricing, guest experience than most eateries in the city. For informal and affordable dining that’s fun and engaging, Shelter Hall is Brighton’s must-do.
Shelter Hall, King’s Road Arches, Brighton BN1 1NB, www.shelterhall.co.uk