One of the major factors in my decision to move to Brighton was my lifelong obsession with beach food. And I don’t mean the foraged seaweed and razor clam variety (although I will never say no to a freshly plucked winkle) but proper seaside fodder – hot sugary doughnuts from the pier, sticks of pink peppermint rock with my name narcissistically written through it, and those little polystyrene tubs of vinegary cockles you eat with a pin. And while my beloved Brighton is a champion for locally grown, organic food and home to some of the country’s best independent restaurants, sometimes only a double ’99’ cone and a battered sausage will do.
Hot, paper-wrapped fish and chips eaten on the beach is one of life’s great pleasures. Since moving here nearly five years ago, I’ve taken on a personal challenge to find the city’s best takeaway fish and chips. After years of sampling soggy chips and limp batter, I’ve found the king of the fish supper at Fish & Liquor, a hip comic-themed chippy on Madeira Drive. Sparklingly fresh cod shrouded in a crisp light batter and served with a mountain of perfectly fried, firm but not hard, chips, a proper pickled onion and soft, sweet mushy peas – I will never look at another chippy again.
But seaside scoff is not all about the batter. I grew up in Southend-on-sea, when a family jaunt to Leigh cockle sheds was a traditional Sunday treat. So when I crave that briny buzz, I head down to Brighton Shellfish & Oyster truck in the historic fishing quarter on the seafront. Owned by the charming Cliff and Linda, it serves the freshest pots of vinegary cockles, jellied eels and dressed crab, as well amazing poached lobster and crayfish tails when in season. Time it right, and you can grab their freshly shucked Whitstable oysters doused in their homemade lime and chilli dressing or sparky shallot vinegar. Brighton Shellfish & Oyster Bar, Kings Road Arches.
However, my fondness for a pickled mollusc does not mean that I’m a cheap date. On the contrary, if you want to pull out all the stops when it comes to the best in seaside fare, there’s only one plaice to go (groan). The Salt Room, situated on the ground floor of the Metropole Hotel opposite the atmospheric remains of the West Pier, has been wooing Brighton locals with its fantastic fresh seafood dishes since it opened in February last year. Occupying a prime spot overlooking the new BA i360 (opening soon) and a rare fancy restaurant with a big seafront terrace, The Salt Room is set to rocket in popularity this summer.
I was lucky enough to have dinner here recently where I unashamedly gorged on fat heavenly scallops, soft, succulent skate wing doused in blackened butter and capers, and a magnificent grilled monkfish with samphire and bacon. However, it was the Salt Room’s signature dessert which completely knocked my pop socks off. Arriving with all the fanfare of a fairground carousel, the Taste of the Pier sharing plank is a beauty to behold. It’s served, rather fittingly, on a piece of salvaged driftwood from the West Pier, adorned with sticks of candy floss like spun pink gold, fresh hot doughnuts, slabs of homemade nougat and coconut ice, shiny chocolate ganache pebbles, a soft, rhubarb marshmallow, and finally, a brace of salted caramel ice creams served in a deliciously salty batter cones. A barrage of Brighton’s best seaside treats, perfectly executed and unashamedly kitsch; for me, there’s no plaice batter – I’m hooked.
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