dinner

The Isaac At Experience

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Image: Isaac At

Everyone loves a pop-up restaurant; they create a buzz and keep the food scene in a constant state of flux. The obvious drawback is that you miss them dearly when they’re gone, so when a pop-up of exceptional class, like Isaac At, sticks around and continues creating that buzz, it’s pretty good news for a town like Brighton, where the food game is strong and the demand only continues to grow.

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

It should be noted from the outset that this is not the place to grab a quick, distracted bite on a Tuesday night after a draining day at work; it offers a fine dining experience that should be savoured slowly, and appreciated for the indulgent treat that it is. It is the ultimate post-payday decadence; somewhere to feel special and fortunate, as I discovered when I was sent to review their prestigious Tasting Menu with wine pairing.

The constantly evolving menu is built around locally sourced seasonal produce of the highest quality which the young, dynamic team of chefs whip up into first-class masterpieces with baffling ease. Wednesdays are for wizardry: brainstorming, liaising with foragers, spitballing ideas and concocting magic. The team’s talent is remarkable, and that magic is evident throughout the six course line-up (eight if you count the pre-starter starter, and the post-dessert dessert).

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

Here’s what I loved about Isaac At: everything. But let’s be more specific and break it down course by course.  

1. “The asparagus dish before the asparagus dish”

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Tiny though it was, this attractive amuse-bouche was quite the talking point. More complex in flavour than its appearance suggests, this fine West Sussex asparagus tip boasted the perfect crunch, and was a joy to nibble on. Topped with creamy charcoal mayonnaise and zesty lemon thyme, this was a little dish with a lot to say. [A brief shout out also, for the superb bread selection: warm Caramelised Shallott Brioche with home-churned butter and the exceptional Treacle & Stout Roll that made every bread experience thereafter pale in comparison].

2. Charred Asparagus, Egg Yolk & Hazelnut

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

I wouldn’t want to jump the gun at such an early course by stating that this was my favourite, but please understand it took tremendous willpower to stop myself licking the plate. Isaac’s isn’t a licking-the-plate sort of restaurant. Lightly charred, subtly bitter and thinly sliced, the asparagus’ dominant flavour was hazelnut, with a finely-balanced salty hit after each nutty bite. Giving the dish a floaty, sweet quality was the ultra-light egg yolk mousse; as delicate as can be, and greatly intriguing. Cutting through the nuttiness were the elderflower top notes of the Davenport Hosmonden Dry; a very good advert for British white wine, and a house favourite, having featured on the wine list since day one. 

3. Lemon Sole, Potato, Parsley & Nasturtium

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This graceful course demonstrated Isaac’s philosophy that when simple things are done well, the plate never needs more than four components at one time. A light and dreamy dish of tender sole and silky potato purée, its elegance and poise was punctuated by peppery nasturtium kicks and drizzles of nutty parsley oil. Paired with an equally nutty, oaked white from the Albourne Estate, this was a course I never wanted to end.   

4. Roasted Carrot & Bay Leaf

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When the humble carrot morphs into something so heavy as this, you know the chefs are having fun in the kitchen. Although switching to red wine ahead of another fish course initially felt unnatural, the weight of the Seddlescombe Regent-Rondo was entirely necessary to match the gravitas of the carrot. Smoky and salty in equal measures, this was an intense, seductive and very grown up dish. Charred and meaty, with sweet purée and hints of bay leaf, it was a carrot unlike any I’d encountered before.   

5. Hake vs Lamb, with Aubergine & Coriander

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

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My final fish course left me a little underwhelmed, but only when measured against every sensational mouthful that had preceded it. I say this reluctantly, as it’s like reaching the end of a Van Gogh exhibition and declaring The Starry Night to be disappointing – it can be true only if the senses have been over-exposed to beauty, rendering them unable to distinguish between the ordinary and the exceptional. It’s important I emphasise that in any normal restaurant this dish would have caused a riot, but as visitors to Isaac’s will appreciate, this is no ordinary restaurant, and these are no ordinary cooks. This is an establishment that habitually pushes boundaries, experiments without fear and delivers the goods with exceptional imagination. Feed me the hake as a standalone dish and I’m certain I’d be waxing lyrical about the deep, smoky character of the cumin-spiced aubergine, but perhaps by this point my savoury tastebuds were simply replete.   

Cooked achingly slowly at a mere 58°C, the lamb chump emerged as the winner of this course, paired with a full-bodied Bolney Estate red that made us think of cosy nights by open fires.  Simply delightful.  

6. Apple & Rosemary Sorbet

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

For someone like me, who gets as easily attached to a dish as I do a person, the knowledge that I may never again enjoy the rosemary sorbet is something akin to heartbreak. When it comes to the art of letting go, I clearly have some way to go. But if there’s another diner out there who can eat this memorable palette cleanser without yearning for it some weeks later, I’d like to meet them and argue the matter. Said frozen delight also marks an appropriate moment to mention food miles, because such is Isaac’s commitment to reducing unnecessary food miles that the rosemary was picked a few streets away, in the waitress’ own garden. With the exception of sugar, flour and rapeseed oil, all ingredients used on that Saturday were foraged or purchased within Sussex and its neighbouring counties, with full disclosure of locations and mileage on the menu.

7. Rhubarb, Custard & Pink Peppercorn

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In a dance-off between sweet and savoury, my loudest cheer always goes to the latter, and it takes a knock-out dessert to sway my allegiances. Isaac managed to deliver such a thing, and so it was that I fell in love with this beautiful pink creation. Presented as their answer to Eaton Mess, but aesthetically in a league of its own, the pretty pink tower was light and consistently refreshing, featuring sweet-yet-sour rhubarb sorbet, velvety custard clouds and decadent Viennese biscuits. But don’t let it’s saccharine visage deceive you: embedded in those thin sheets of delicate meringue were fiery pink peppercorns which crackled on the tongue, giving a sassy kick that built over time.

8. Petit Fours

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

Ending this exquisite Taster Menu with the lingering flavours of thyme-infused fudge was the treat I didn’t know I needed. I salute the team at Isaac’s because not only are they masters at their craft, but they don’t appear to give two hoots what’s happening around them. As the lovely sommelier explained to us, their key to success is not to look outward at what other restaurants are doing, but to look inward and focus on their own ethos and the quality of what they create. A beautiful sentiment for business and life alike.  

 

 

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Edendum

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Image: Edendum

Italian: the nation’s favourite cuisine, second only to the mighty curry. We’ve come to see it as safe, easy food; a collection of familiar, reliable dishes that can be knocked together in no time at all. It’s the “job done” meal that ticks everyone’s boxes, and it remains the average Brit’s dinner party go-to. But do we really know Italian cuisine? Are the dishes we order (often without so much as glancing at the menu, never mind the specials board) giving us the true flavour of Italy? The answer is, clearly, no.

I promise you, I cast no judgement over the types of Italian restaurants that the average town in England relies heavily on for its pasta and pizza needs (trust me, I’m as fond of a 2-4-1 steal as the next person). But if you’re someone who also seeks more than mass-produced lasagne and bland carbonara of a Friday night, then a dinner date within the welcoming walls of Edendum will be time (and money) well spent. Loosen your belts, dear reader, because it’s time to get under the skin of “the good old Italian”, one delightfully authentic course at a time.

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

I can’t help but love Edendum from the moment I step inside; it exudes a kind of shrug your-coat-off-and-relax warmth. Alluring deli produce lines the shelves, begging closer inspection, and the restaurant’s core beliefs and practices are stencilled across the walls. Any restaurateur who claims to transport a slice of real Italy straight to the mouths of Brighton gets my attention immediately, and upon talking to Diego (one half of the founding duo) it’s clear the word “authentic” isn’t bandied around without substantial backing. He and Lorenza are here to feed not only our hunger but our understanding of genuine Italian cuisine, and with a recently revamped menu this education may require a few visits.

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

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Starter

There’s only one occasion when I can tolerate the texture of velvet, and that’s when it presents as the smoothest, creamiest goats’ cheese. This heavenly cheese is the first component to get my approval on the gnocco misto fritto sharing platter, melting and expanding on my tongue. The kitchen is kind enough to separate the meats from the cheeses, so my companion and I enjoy a split-down-the-middle version of this house speciality. Accompanying the goat are: a pungent gorgonzola, a subtle brie, a nutty fontina and a burrata so oozy I need a spoon. Crispy-yet-soft doughballs soak up this dairy-heavy dish, while cerignola olives, cherry tomatoes and spiced homemade chutneys provide an essential acidity which cuts through the richness of the cheese.  

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

Over on the meat side of the table there are comments along the lines of “This is the best prosciutto I’ve ever eaten. In my life. Ever” which I interpret to mean that if I wasn’t a pescetarian I still wouldn’t get a look in. The generous meat board also offers servings of coppa, cooked ham, spicy smoked spianata salami and wafer-thin mortadella.

Almost too pretty to eat, the gamberoni and Roma broccoli heads dance on their slate backdrop amongst swirls of saffron mayonnaise and edible flowers. Since I relish any opportunity to get my hands messy when eating, I don’t mind the shell-on presentation of these marinated king prawns; the delicate flavours underneath are well-complemented by a glass of Soave Classico.   

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

Main

We continue at a slow pace, and my companion switches to a glass of the Sangiovese Bigi to accompany the filetto di maiale con fichi. His first bite confirms how perfectly tender the pork fillet is, and I leave him to explore the parsnip purée and fig reduction while I gush over fact that someone in Brighton has finally nailed polenta mash. 

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

The smooth and salty base of my polenta e branzino is so addictive that it’s a shamefully long time before I pay the crispy-skinned sea bass any real attention. The delicate morsels of fish are tender, flavoursome and surrounded by capers and anchovies. While the scattered sun-dried tomatoes provide a sweet balance, some might feel this dish dances on the wrong side of salty, but I maintain that it comes down to personal preference. Just ensure the friendly and efficient waiter keeps your glass topped up with a crisp, dry white.

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

Dessert

The dessert options are presented, and a certain crème brulée con sorbetto al frutto della passione winks at me, just as it did at 10.42am when I first drooled over the brief but comprehensive list of dolci. At this stage, I’m so full I’m beginning to resemble a ball of gnocchi, but I place my order regardless, because anything with a name so beautifully lyrical is worth a little discomfort.  

It transpires that the crème brulée has not yet properly set, and I’m told it would upset the chef if I tasted anything less than perfection. Inwardly I bow down in respect. Edendum’s founders believe that the success of a dish depends just as much on the person cooking it as the quality of ingredients, and with this one swift assertion from the kitchen it becomes clear just how much heart and soul they’ve invested into pulling together their wonderful Edendum family.

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Image: Barefoot Rosie

We share the cannolo sicialano instead, but in truth we’re too full to appreciate it. Limoncello shots follow, and we roll out of the restaurant with a jar of the crema di carciofi e aglio from the deli as a souvenir of a delicious evening. That’s artichoke and garlic spread to the rest of us, and it’s bloody exquisite.   

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Image: Edendum

Verdict

Edendum is the place to take your in-laws, because the menu will impress them so much that you won’t need to. It’s the place to treat your new beau, because the cosy ambience will show that you know how to make a person feel special. It’s the place to host a business associate, because the waiting staff will meet your every need without bothering you unnecessarily. It’s the place to be when what you really want is a holiday in Tuscany but you’re a little bit skint. It’s the place to drop in when you need authentic Italian ingredients for your supper club and don’t want to support a chain deli. It’s even the place to dine alone; somewhere you can sit solo, and enjoy a sharing platter for two without anyone casting a judgemental glance your way.  

It’s also a place to return to, for the burrata with green pea purée, for the good value Pre-Theatre menu and, of course, for that crème brulée. See you again Edendum. Grazie di tutto.