Brighton breezy

A decent meal in the capital of hedonism comes with too much personality
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Restaurants tell you a lot about the health of a town. Like a rude, outstretched tongue, they show you its preoccupations, problem areas and recurring bad habits. Krakatoa reveals plenty about Brighton. Once the epitome of British sleaze, Brighton today is all about hearty, cheerful hedonism. It is inhabited by blasé pleasure-junkies from all walks of life, filled with enough self-regard to make an existentialist blush. This is a town where your neighbours play the didgeridoo, where Euro-crusties pass you in the street loudly anarchising in perfect French, where many people consider lying around doing nothing to be a vocation. You can meet them all at Krakatoa.

Restaurants tell you a lot about the health of a town. Like a rude, outstretched tongue, they show you its preoccupations, problem areas and recurring bad habits. Krakatoa reveals plenty about Brighton. Once the epitome of British sleaze, Brighton today is all about hearty, cheerful hedonism. It is inhabited by blasé pleasure-junkies from all walks of life, filled with enough self-regard to make an existentialist blush. This is a town where your neighbours play the didgeridoo, where Euro-crusties pass you in the street loudly anarchising in perfect French, where many people consider lying around doing nothing to be a vocation. You can meet them all at Krakatoa.

They come to Krakatoa because this real-life toytown doesn't feed anybody properly. Grown-up restaurants can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. Endless pasta/pizza, all-you-can-eat stodge-fests offer fodder to penniless, tasteless students, drinkers and clubbers. The rest go to London to eat, or take up drinking instead. On the face of it, Krakatoa is a welcome attempt to adapt London-style grub for this distracted populace; good-looking pan-Asian food, bearing the requisite "modern" prefix, served up in smartish, blond-wood surroundings.

When we arrived, a pair of flustered Antipodean women - let's call them Laurel and Hardy - were presiding over some authentically Oriental chaos. Our Saturday night reservation for 9.15 had been written down by Laurel as 7.30. Hardy showed me the mis-booking, on an A4 sheet of paper covered in scribbles and doodles like a toddler's colouring book.

Reassured by a gracious apology from Hardy, we waited. Forty minutes later, we were seated in the coveted upstairs area. This restaurant is so small that people queuing have to go outside so others can leave. While the downstairs offers three bare communal tables with benches, the upstairs does Japanese floor-seating, with long, low shared tables and cushions. Every man in the room looks as though he's sitting on a spike. Soft lighting, semi-underground music and the somewhat haphazard decor - a Chinese teapot here, some Japanese etching there - make for a mildly hip, pleasant environment.

One drawback to a restaurant run by Lonely Planet globies is that they always have to talk about their feelings, to make their point - an attitude so unprofessional it qualifies as cabaret. Just as we were finally putting ourselves at our ease, Hardy demanded that some nearby diners clear out for the next sitting. Slightly piqued, they agreed. This wasn't good enough for Hardy, who told them off for "getting stroppy": "You can't expect to spend £10 a head in a budget restaurant and hang around all night." Naughty customers.

Food is cheap and, for the most part, both indignantly vegetarian and quite good. Far Eastern waiters wearing black bandannas hustle it in on huge wooden trays. A little later, a Japanese waitress provides you with cutlery. Vietnamese rice paper rolls (£3.50) were a fresh-tasting combination of mint and basil wrapped around clear vermicelli and vegetables, enclosed in translucent rice paper. Prawn Katsu (£3.95) gave you three battered king prawns, plastered with sesame seeds and accompanied by a sturdy chilli sauce. Miso soup (£2.50) was huge, but tasted mainly of salt.

Main courses try to straddle South-East Asia, but don't always make it. Javanese gado gado (£5.50) promised vegetables, tofu and egg in spicy peanut sauce, but delivered all the ingredients smothered in what tasted like Sunpat. Udang Sambal Belacan (Malaysian stir-fried prawns, £5.95), on the other hand, was excellent. Fat shellfish, spicy and plentiful, scented with lime leaves and chillies. Thai red prawn curry (£5.50), was equally generous with seafood, but nullified by too much coconut.

Aside from the cabaret, desserts, all £3.50, are the best thing here. A Balinese pancake stuffed with coconut and rich palm sugar was light and, surprisingly, not too sweet. A pudding of pecans and apricots submerged in a sticky, caramel-infused brown broth tasted better than it sounds. Wines and beers are few, but perfectly drinkable. As far as foodie culture in Brighton goes, Krakatoa is a step up - even if the management do insist on taking two steps back every time they open their mouths.

Comments