The Real Eating Company, Hove, East Sussex

Brighton's latest gastronomic venture is so good, it could provide a recipe for the continued renaissance of British dining. And it's cheap...
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If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a loaf of bread - so that I can live out my next life at The Real Eating Company in Hove.

If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a loaf of bread - so that I can live out my next life at The Real Eating Company in Hove.

Then I could be toasted and served under oven-roasted tomatoes drizzled with sweet garlicky juices for breakfast, or squashed either side of a heap of ham and salad greens to form a big fat sandwich, or served in a little balsawood basket with a rich, creamy cauliflower soup for lunch.

A relatively recent addition to the Brighton scene, this deli-coffeeshop-wineshop-cheeseshop-take-away- traiteur-café makes me go all silly because it is the way I want to eat for the rest of my life.

The name is a real statement of intent, and so is the storefront. The big glass windows are full of boxes of fat figs and strings of dried chillies and heads of garlic. The fridges are stocked with Chegworth Valley apple juice and organic sausages and the marble-topped counter is loaded with croissants and slabs of chocolate brownies. The shelves are filled with carnaroli rice, French sugar cubes, strozzapreti pasta and opal basil vinegar; while upstairs is a kitchen and a deli with a stash of Spanish and Italian charcuterie, British farmhouse cheeses and marvellous wines and olive oils.

With all this food, goodness knows how owner Helena Hudson found room to fit in enough simple, unadorned wooden tables and chairs to seat 35 people, but thank heavens she did.

The menu does not carry a single item I do not feel compelled to leap upon. There are crab fishcakes with tartare sauce, macaroni cheese, eggs benedict, home- potted shrimps with brown toast, rabbit, mushroom and ham pie, and a choice of charcuterie and cheese platters from the deli.

Not only that, but every dish that comes to the table over a leisurely breakfast and a long lunch remains imprinted in my mind as clearly as if it were a beautifully photographed cover of a Donna Hay cook book. Breakfast was two beautifully cooked fried eggs on a generous spread of hand-sliced jabugo cured ham (£12.50) eaten at a blond-wood table bathed in sunshine. Lunch starts with potted duck with piccalilli and toast (£6.50); a small glass preserving jar of moist, shreddy duck rillettes and a pot of creamy, electric yellow piccalilli forming a toast rack for three fine, large slices of toasted Poilâne, the best sourdough bread in the world. The richness of the duck is balanced by the freshness of the relish and the crunch of the toast.

A salad of soft, curdy buffalo mozzarella, small figs, peppery rocket and crisp Spanish Marcona almonds (£7) is a precociously pretty pile of goodies that is great simply because all the components are great.

But the kitchen can do more than clever assemblies of produce. A main course of cod with alubias beans, chorizo and mussels (£11) is as good as anything in London's more fashionable dining-rooms. No, it is better. The fish flakes off in lobes that look like giant, pearly scallops; the soupy juices are at once smoky and spicy; and the mussels are so juicy, they must have been plucked from the pot within seconds of their shells creaking open.

Good food deserves good wine, and the list is unpretentiously good. Try the impressive Nyetimber blanc de blanc from West Sussex (£6) as an aperitif, and follow with a buttery, spicy Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio (£19.50). The cakes on the counter are spruced up into puds, so a light and buttery blueberry cake comes with a syrupy blueberry compote and vanilla ice-cream (£5), although I am not sure a good cake needs tarting up.

Real Eating is shaping the way we should be eating in Britain. The kitchen is caring and the food is full of flavour and not too far removed from its original shape and form. The place is happy without being hippy, and casual without being slack.

Now it is time for the food knowledge to extend further than the kitchen, so that the serving staff, too, can cut a decent wedge of Parmigiano, know the brand of free trade coffee they serve, and pronounce Poilâne with a pwa, instead of with a poy.

What you get for your money is so generous that I feel churlish suggesting they could serve smaller portions for a little less, but it would mean you could finish two courses without having to walk the length of Brighton beach afterwards in penance.

Real Eating is something that most restaurants in Britain are not - it is modern. It belongs to today, instead of yesterday. The restaurant industry has a real choice: to stay mired in the dated and overly detailed French style of dining, or to seize the day and redefine itself, with a serious commitment to quality produce presented without fuss or bother in a uniquely British manner. At the moment, the gastropub movement is the closest intimation of how great real British dining could be, with rare treasures such as Real Eating providing further refinement and definition.

The combination of great food and a relaxed, modern dining style has to be the way forward. I just hope it happens in this life, and not the next.

15 The Real Eating Company 86 Western Road, Hove, East Sussex, tel: 01273 221 444. Breakfast and lunch daily; dinner Wed-Sat. Around £65 for two, including wine and service

Scores 1-9 stay home and cook 10-11 needs help 12 ok 13 pleasant enough 14 good 15 very good 16 capable of greatness 17 special, can't wait to go back 18 highly honourable 19 unique and memorable 20 as good as it gets

SECOND HELPINGS: More real eating in Brighton

The Gingerman at Drakes

43-44 Marine Parade, Brighton Tel: 01273 696934

Local star, chef Ben McKellar, has just solved one of his biggest problems- what does he say to people who can't get into Gingerman, his ever-popular Norfolk Square restaurant? Now he simply directs them to his smart new dining room located under Drakes, Brighton's swishest, newest boutique hotel, where they can dine on foie gras poached in Sauternes and rack of Downs lamb with a luscious garlic puree.

One Paston Place

1 Paston Place, Brighton Tel: 01273 606933

With its French formal manners and classic upmarket dining, this was Brighton's big night out. It still is, although it is now less French and less formal, thanks to new chef/owner Francesco Furriello. His Italian heritage shows in dishes such as polenta gnocchi with truffled cheese gratin and ceps, and fillet of red gurnard with braised Catalogna chicory and crab ravioli.

Good Friend

25 Preston Street, Brighton Tel 01273 779836

The first thing you notice in this fresh, bright Chinese caff is the sweet, enticing smell of freshly steamed rice. It's a very good sign that the modest, homely dishes of rice noodles with beef, and barbecue meats such as roast crispy pork, roast duck and soya chicken are going to be as delicious as they are simple (and as cheap).

E-mail Terry Durack about where you've eaten lately at t.durack@independent.co.uk

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