Nick Mosley has the bitter-sweet job of revealing that the doors of Isaac At on Gloucester Street, Brighton, will be closing for good on Saturday 26 August. He shares his thoughts on the talent behind this nationally acclaimed restaurant.
The brainchild of then young-chef Isaac Bartlett-Copeland, Isaac At opened in early 2015. Back then – all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed – Isaac brought a lively new vibe to the city’s hospitality scene. Perhaps perceived by some more established chefs as a bit of an upstart, he and his young team rapidly made waves and firmly proved naysayers wrong.
Based in a former accountants office, the original concept was a weekend pop-up focussing on local food and wine – if you can delve that far back in your mind, a decade or so ago the ‘pop-up supper’ was the height of culinary fashion with amateur and professional chefs galore hosting dinners in their homes and unusual venues.
Hence it was rather ironic to build what was essentially a restaurant and call it a pop-up. Safe to say the idea hit the sweet-spot with Brighton diners and more evenings were slowly added, and a restaurant it became.
From day one, the ethos of Isaac At has been about using hyper-local, seasonal produce on a set menu accompanied by a purely English wine list. Isaac and his team have built strong relationships with local farmers, fishers, growers and foragers to ensure a constant and consistent supply of premium ingredients.
Although the menu offering has always been quintessentially ‘Modern British’ they haven’t been afraid to experiment with global flavours and inventive techniques.
The English wine list – curated with skill and passion by sommelier Alex Preston – still remains one of the most extensive in any UK restaurant. Isaac At can quite rightly claim to be the very first restaurant in the UK to focus entirely on English wines and wears that badge with pride. The wider wine industry has taken note of Alex; last year he was included in wine bible Harpers top 25 UK sommeliers.
One very notable thing to be said about Isaac At is that all the team are young. Until very recently, everyone who worked in the restaurant was 26 or younger, with staff mainly coming directly from Brighton Metropolitan College’s catering department. That’s simply amazing and shows that some – if, unfortunately, not all – young people in hospitality are in it for the long-haul rather than a stop gap job.
From a personal perspective I’ve followed the Isaac At journey from the start, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with various members of the team on special events ranging from Sussex wine dinners and the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival, via Boho Gelato’s ice cream cabinet takeovers and Brighton food trails, through to more recent charity pop-ups at both Brighton Toy and Model Museum and the Sealife aquarium. They’ve always been keen to engage and participate which I think is partly down to the eagerness and energy of youth but also that they are genuinely interested in the local community and want to give something fun and creative back.
Isaac himself disappeared from the helm of the restaurant around 4-5 years ago, although he remained very active behind-the-scenes and has done to this very day. He’s used his time away from the restaurant to develop new hospitality skills – both in the kitchen and front of house – and also widen his horizons with world travels. Along with Terre à Terre’s former head chef Dave Marrow, he recently launched Embers open fire cooking restaurant in Meeting House Lane which is already proving one to watch for the amazing food and – I have to add – cocktails.
In recent years, Isaac At’s head chef has been Caspian Armani who at just 23 leads the kitchen and steers the entire team with aplomb. Caspian is a very talented chef – I not only know that from my own experiences but I’m regularly told similar by respected hospitality colleagues. Having won the BITE Sussex Rising Stars Young Chef of the Year award for two years running, it’s clear that he has a very bright future ahead of him and I wholeheartedly wish him the best on the exciting journey he has ahead.
It may not come as a surprise that front of house manager Connor Harris and sommelier Alex Preston have also both scooped BITE Sussex Rising Stars awards in recent years too. And that’s alongside a clutch of fantastic reviews in national media and recognition in the likes of Square Meal, Hardens, AA Guide and Michelin.
It would be easy to roll out the cliches but I genuinely think that the phrase ‘all good things come to an end’ is particularly apt. I’ll fondly look back at Isaac At and the talented and unique young people who made their first eager forays into hospitality in that tiny open kitchen and bijou dining space. It has made a genuine impact on the Brighton and wider Sussex food scene that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. If there’s one thing for certain, this is just the start of all of their respective journeys and I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.
• The final service is Saturday 26 August. Over the next two months, favourite dishes from the past eight years will feature on the Isaac At menu. To book visit www.isaac-at.com or call 07765 934 740