Lucy Self goes to Brighton and finds a seaside restaurant worth the trip, The Salt Room.
The Salt Room was one of those restaurants I knew I’d love long before I was seated in its smartly designed dining room. Partly because I’d read one of my favorite critics helplessly gushing over it’s seafood-focused menu. But mostly because it’s located in Brighton and I am located in London – meaning I was forced to book what I hoped would be a long, booze-sodden, Saturday lunch.
Apart from uninterrupted views of the beachfront from its almost entirely glass exterior, The Salt Room’s main USP are the menu of sustainably sourced seafood dishes. Though, similarly to Hawksmoor’s Air Street, a few meaty dishes from The Coal Shed (their sister restaurant) have made the jump to the new site.
The GM is ex-Hix, which shows. Everyone who crossed our path, from the front of house honey to our adorable waitress did his or her jobs properly, but with warmth. It was our waitress who insisted we try a plate of salt cod fritters with a potent black dip flavoured with smoked cod’s roe. Great start. Greaseless globes of fluffy gloriousness.
Not forgetting the boozy promise I’d made to myself, we kicked things off with ‘Spanish size’ goblets of gin and tonic from the ten strong menu – mine served with quarters of lemon and grapefruit which immediately made me want to book a flight to Barcelona. It’s probably a good time to note, the restaurant has its own bar and an enviable cocktail list.
Listing ingredients has become so commonplace; it’s almost a reverse gimmick. But when it works it, it adds that extra wow factor when a truly exceptional plate is put in front of you. My tiny crab salad, an elegant bowl of the freshest brown and white flesh, covered delicately in pickled shaved strips of cucumber and radish, jet black squid ink croutons and a tiny quails egg prodded open to reveal a burnt orange yolk, showcased this in stunning form.
Assembly job of the day, however, has to go to the scallop starter. Every eye-courting detail, the lurid pink prawn wrapped in crisp straw coat, the luminous dollop of avocado, delivered without a touch of twee on a pristine shell, is laugh out loud clever. Thankfully not as smart as the flavours of sweet prawn, citrus-drenched ceviche, silky fruit and a well timed yuzu jelly bomb hitting your tongue to bring everything together.
Mains suffered slightly for not being quite as show stopping, which is ridiculous really when you’re talking about two pretty much infallible fish dishes. A fillet of stone bass came piled with cockles in their shells and an artfully balanced artichoke. Then more de-shelled cockles cold in vinegar came on the side, served with a tiny copper pot of saffron rice.
Turbot on the bone, the bright white flesh laced with charcoal crosses from the josper grill, came topped with samphire and mussels. Sides of black-edged hispi cabbage quarters with hazelnut and sugar snaps with the extra snap of garlic crumb, showed Head Chef Dave Mothersill has his eye firmly on the details.
By this point we’d sunk a bottle of excellent Picpoul de Pinet and had dragged out lunch for a good two hours. Far from rushing us along (which is exactly what we probably deserved) our request for a ‘rest’ before dessert was met with the sincerest of understanding smiles.
Having watched half the lunchtime service order the restaurant’s trademark “Taste of The Pier”, then promptly coo over it loudly – we thought we’d break with convention and go for one of the other four puddings on offer (there’s also a cheeseboard and a few sorbets and nibbles).
First a trifle of understated brilliance (until you begin to take in the cloudlike custard and pops of Szechuan pepper imbedded in the raspberry jelly). Then a semi circular pile of dark ganache, sticky praline, cherry sorbet chunky with whole ruby fruit, chocolate pebbles, whiffs of pistachio sponge and bitsy edible flowers.
Once we’d scooped up the last mouthfuls of Mothersill’s gleeful take on a black forest gateau, slurped our last dregs wine and finally asked the waitress for the time along with the bill. It was approaching five.
Somehow this brilliant Brighton restaurant, with its clever food, charming staff and coddling interior, had held our attention so absolutely, we’d misplaced a few more hours than we’d intended. Which not only meant The Salt Room helped me achieve my boozy Saturday lunch mission, but is also the highest compliment I can think of to give it.
The Salt Room -106 King’s Rd, Brighton BN1 2FA