Eating out can sometimes be a bit of a wet fish (see what I did there?!) - there's nothing worse than paying for a meal that, with well sourced ingredients, you can essentially knock up yourself. Don't get me wrong, there are some amazing places to eat in Brighton but I somehow stick to what I know. And when I go out for food I usually opt for fish as I'm just not very good at cooking it so I'm really quite ashamed to say I've never been to English's.
I was lucky enough to be invited down to English's as part of a bloggers event to test out the new Spring tasting menu and celebrate their 70th birthday. I'm quite selective about which of these events I attend as I'm not a review blog - there are other blogs in Brighton that do that so well but as English's source their ingredients from well thought out sources I thought my readers would definitely be interested in knowing about this Brighton institution.
English's itself is a traditional seafood restaurant and oyster bar that has operated from the same site for over 150 years but has been run by the same family since 1945. They have a number of refreshed dining rooms and every room feels airy and light (this is good news for a mild claustrophobic like me!) but our seat for the day was at the marble topped oyster bar.
Having propped myself next to my girl Alexis we were presented with a glass of classic cuvée from Nyetimber. Man, that was some good fizz. I won't pretend to know much about wine pairing but for me it complimented the food incredibly. The blurb says 'delicate bubbles pervade this light golden wine, filling the nose with aromas of lemon tart, biscuit and floral notes. The palate has a rounded mouthfeel, echoing the nose with flavours of lemon tart and pastry. The citrus character reappears on the long and fruity finish.'. So yeah... it was very nice indeed so you might be surprised to hear that Nyetimber are in fact a West Sussex vineyard. Read more about them on their website here.
Now... oysters. I have never tried an oyster, possibly due to having horrendous food poisoning at least 3 times from shellfish (I realise this is more a reflection on who served it to me than it as a food itself) and also perhaps I probably felt a bit embarrassed that I would have no idea what to do with it. Plus I've never been keen on anything slippery. Avocado - bleughhhhh. But Alexis said she was super confident I would like it so I went straight in with a raw one and.... I loved it. Jonathan (Super-bar-man) presented it to me on a bed of ice and had laced it with a bit of lemon, shallot and red wine vinegar and I think I might be a total convert. Jonathan is a credit to English's - extremely knowledgable, passionate and knew the menu inside out. If you're concerned about not knowing how to eat oysters, don't be. There's no eye rolling snobbery in English's. You are provided with a little fork to separate the oyster from the shell and then you literally just slip it down. I even had a little chew - was tasty as anything!
We were then bought a few cooked oysters and by this time I had definitely got into the swing of them and was whipping them away from the shell and into my mouth as quick as my movements allowed it. The tempura oysters were just something else. Then onto the menu - I took all these pictures very quickly ;)
Everything that is able to be sourced from Sussex is, with the scallops coming from Beachy Head and the cod in our shores until April where it comes from Scotland. The cockles come from Essex and clams from Poole Bay - I have a memory of my Dad taking me to Poole Bay to watch them come in in the morning so this pleased me! They keep a list of the sources behind the bar if you're interested in seeing the full list.
We were specifically trying the tasting menu and here's what it looked like.
Salad Niçoise, tapenade and egg mimosa - the texture and colour of that tuna really is something, especially topped with a bit of anchovy.
King Scallops, spiced butternut and samphire. This had to be my favourite course - the scallops were perfectly moist and buttery and I would never had thought butternut would be such a perfect companion. An absolutely outstanding dish.
Cod, asparagus & pancetta, cockle & shrimp sauce - I enjoyed it so much I even ate the cockles (also a first for me!)
A selection of desserts I regretfully had to share with Alexis! The star of the show was the white chocolate and pistachio mousse. Oh. My. Word.
So the verdict? Just amazing. I could have gone back the next day and eaten it all again. Definitely NOT food I could have cooked myself at home. I'm going to stop whittling on and instead implore you to just go and try. The tasting menu is £35 without wine and £59 with selected wines. Or you can choose meals from the main menu or pop in to try some oysters on the bar (from £1.85 each) with a glass of cuvée. What a very splendid thing to do.
Formally Emma Gutteridge