Table, Jubilee Square, Brighton, East Sussex
Saturday 10 July 2010
On paper, Brighton's Table looks like the perfect modern restaurant. Everything about it screams "like me!" – from the location, attached to a hip designer hotel in an acclaimed new development just behind the Royal Pavilion, to the pedigree: it's operated by the admirable Company of Cooks, who run top-notch catering outlets in London's Royal Parks and at cultural institutions including the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Opera House.
The menu – breakfast, lunch and dinner, naturally – from an ex-River Café chef, follows the contemporary orthodoxy of sourcing good, local produce, cooking it simply, and surrounding it with big, punchy flavours. The look of the place – designer canteen, with sweeping plate-glass frontage and tasteful mid-century modern furnishings – is so 2010 it looks like an architect's drawing, rather than an actual restaurant.
So why is it, on a blazing Brighton day, that this apparent paragon, which can accommodate 80 diners plus more on tables outside, is occupied by only four people when my friend and I arrive for a midweek lunch? And to rub salt into the wound, the surrounding area, which resembles a little piece of Canary Wharf beamed down in the North Laine, is full of the kind of inoffensive chain restaurants people come to Brighton to avoid – Las Iguanas, Yo Sushi, Pizza Express – all of them apparently doing good business.
It may be part of a group, but Table, despite its slightly bland appearance, feels bespoke, from its inlaid wooden tables to the servers keen to explain the provenance of that day's locally sourced ingredients.
Fish and seafood, from nearby Newhaven, are the central feature of the menu, and we built our lunch around them, starting with a shared bowl of devilled whitebait, served with shaved fennel, orange and red onion. A single sardine, chargrilled so that the soft, smoky flesh was exposed beneath the heat-blistered skin, came with rocket smartly dressed with peppery olive oil.
Only a smoked trout salad combining fridge-cold fish with equally chilly Jersey Royals and underpowered horseradish cream fell short; shame, since this was the dish our charming waiter recommended.
He responded with good humour when we identified a stowaway among the deep-fried violet artichokes which accompanied my chargrilled black bream. My friend Marina insisted the stray single whitebait was a playful joke on the part of the chef, a visual evocation of the pilot fish. No, the waiter confirmed, it had just got left in the deep-fat fryer.
Our only non-fishy dish was exactly the sort of food you want to eat in a heatwave – a Middle Eastern-inspired partnership of spatchcocked chicken, zippy harissa-flavoured yoghurt dressing and a veg-packed couscous which, unusually, not only tasted of something, but tasted actively fantastic.
Given that we were by now the only two customers in the place, it was unfortunate they began setting up for that evening's music event around us. It's hard to relax when men in overalls are unloading speakers and spotlights all around you. "A restaurant this good shouldn't have to diversify," Marina observed, over the grunts of the lighting engineers.
The monthly music events – the "children eat free" policy, the Sunday roasts, the set lunch of two courses and a drink for £12 – all mark out a restaurant that is doing everything it can to pull in the punters. If it were any more eager to please, they'd be offering foot massages and head rubs, though this being the new Brighton, they'd be more likely to come and redesign your website.
We ended with a deliriously good slice of chocolate nemesis. For the third time in as many restaurants, mini doughnuts appear on the menu; here a brace of them come with brandy-soaked cherries and yoghurt. Naughty, but nice.
With apéritifs – a couple of glasses of fizz from local producer Bolney Wine Estate and a glass each from the reasonably priced wine list – we paid around £40 a head before service. Marina insisted I had a look around the bar of the adjoining Myhotel before we left, and I could see why; this jaw-dropping lair is the equal, design-wise, of anything I've seen in London or New York. Could rackety old Brighton really be going all flash? It's certainly getting more corporate; my route back to the station took me through the North Laine, where a branch of Starbucks has recently opened, among the quirky little shops and cafés.
Perhaps the problem with Table is that it doesn't quite fit into one camp or the other; it's independent, but part of a hotel, and its sleek appearance gives it the feel of a concept that could be rolled out, like Canteen. The menu ticks all the foodie boxes, but unless it attracts the Carluccio's crowd, it isn't going to take off. And it would be a real shame, in a city that isn't over-endowed with brilliant places to eat, if a few more Brightonians didn't get their feet under the Table.
Table, Jubilee Square, Brighton, East Sussex (01273 900383)
Around £40 a head before service
Tipping policy: "No service charge. All tips go to the staff"
Side Orders: Brighton rocks
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Dishes like broad bean espresso with samphire, linseed leaf relish and asparagus soldiers epitomise the creative veggie cooking here.
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