When was the last time you left a restaurant raving about the green salad?
When was the last time you left a restaurant raving about the green salad? Normally it's one of those things that passes without comment, like the mineral water, or the napkins, only with slightly less flavour. Not at Brighton's Due South, where they serve a green salad so vivacious, so thumpingly full of fresh, unusual flavours, that I practically pinned our waitress to the floor to try and find out its secret.
The answer is pleasingly Brightonish and hippy-dippy, and perfectly in keeping with the funky charm of Due South. Their herbs and salad leaves are supplied by the chap who tends their pot plants. And he is part of a collective of bio-dynamic gardeners, who plant and harvest at certain times of the day and phases of the moon, thus harnessing the earth's strength rather than depleting its energy. I know, it sounds like a load of old guff - but hey, you should have tasted that salad.
There's always been a strong organic movement in Brighton, and Due South is a wonderful showcase for small local producers. It opened a few months ago in a seafront arch tucked beneath the prom, among a tawdry strip of souvenir shops, bars and the kind of food outlets where, it's probably safe to say, bio-dynamically planted salad isn't a big thing.
The owners, Robert and Kathy Shenton, were formerly publicans of a Wandsworth gastropub, and they've ticked all the right boxes in conceiving somewhere that day-trippers (and, no doubt, locals) have long dreamed of finding; right on the beach, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with an open-air terrace and loads of fresh fish and seafood on the menu.
If you choose to eat inside, you're shown into what feels like a tube tunnel, pleasingly cool and dark on a summer's day, and plainly furnished with brown leather benches and broad wooden tables. The prime tables, by the huge arched window, have uninterrupted sea views, blurring the boundary between inner and outer space. The heritage-sensitive, however, might prefer to sit where they won't have to gaze at the collapsing ghost of the once-glorious West Pier.
The chalked-up daily specials on the day we visited included grilled local black bream, langoustines in white wine and garlic and a whole crab served with garlic mayonnaise. From the regular lunch menu, we could have chosen a steak sandwich made with Pedigree Sussex beef, asparagus from Midhurst, seared local scallops, and locally smoked wild salmon with poached eggs. Even the feta cheese is local.
From the specials, a deceptively subtle pea and broad bean risotto gradually won us round to the gentle charms of the lovage pesto which flavoured it, less clamorous than the basil variety. We made short work of a generous dish of langoustines, cooked in a garlicky broth of butter, herbs and white wine which required an extra basket of bread to do it justice. The bream, served whole with sautéed new potatoes, was simply grilled with lashings of thyme, garlic and lemon. Due South's chef Ricky Hodgson came from Brighton veggie institution Terre à Terre, but he obviously hasn't lost his touch with meat dishes. South Down lamb kebabs, meltingly soft and cumin-scented, came with couscous salad, raita and pitta bread; big, simple flavours, perfect for a summer lunch.
And then there was that salad, made strikingly less green than most green salads thanks to the presence of flowering herbs like thyme and borage, along with wild rocket, chervil and what may well have been nettle. My local friend, Marina, spent years in the wine trade, and her sensitive palate almost exploded. "This is the nicest food I've had in Brighton," she raved.
Other reasons to love Due South, in no particular order. Their tea and coffee is fairly traded. The children's menu includes organic mini beefburgers and a mini roast lunch on Sundays. The wine list which starts at £13 for an organic Chenin Blanc from Argentina and rises to some good (and according to Marina, reasonably priced) Burgundies at around £40. The puddings; ours included a sublime fresh chocolate brownie, served warm with chocolate brownie ice cream, and a delicate rhubarb and elderflower pannacotta. And the prices; we paid around £15 a head.
Judging by the crowd occupying the terrace on the day we visited, Due South is already finding a cool, young customer base, but it's great for families too. Now all those emigrant Londoners, like my friend "Brighton Marina", can be even more smug about their timely move due south, dammit.
Due South, 139 Kings Road Arches, Brighton, East Sussex, 01273 821218 www.duesouth.co.uk
SECOND HELPINGS: BRIGHTON BELLES
By Caroline Stacey
Momma Cherri's Soul Food Shack
It's smart for a shack, laid back for a restaurant. Momma Cherri puts her heart into southern-states staples like jambalaya, fried chicken and sweet potato pie; American beers do the rest.
11 Little East Street (01273 774545)
The full French-restaurant thing without the need to fork out too heavily. Local fish and the kitchen's savoir faire come together for red mullet with tapenade and turbot with lemon butter, now in new premises.
105 Western Road (01273 722556)
Well-intentioned places come and go, but this mostly take-away veggie café deserves to stay. They know we all need sweet treats like chocolate biscuit cake and even take the trouble to make their own roast nuts.
48 Queens Road (01273 724873)
The Real Eating Company
Shop for some of Brighton's best bread, local vegetables, British cheeses and deli delicacies at this fab-looking store. Stop at the café for the same fine ingredients, simply cooked.
86-87 Western Road (01273 221444)Reuse content