With an increasingly ‘trendy’ dining scene here in Brighton, there’s a danger that our original, brilliant fine dining establishments might get lost in the ‘noise’. I must admit, I don’t hear many people talking about the Gingerman restaurant as much as, say, 64 Degrees or The Set. But this is no bad thing. It’s a bit like the way in which Londoners don’t really talk about Le Gavroche or The Square, but rave about Hoppers and Frenchie.
The Gingerman, like The Square in London, has been quietly and confidently producing excellent food in comfortable, elegant surroundings for years. It’s stood the test of time.
I had been here a handful of times over the years and always found it great. I’d heard of the recent refurbishment and re-launch with a new menu and had been keen to revisit it. So off I headed one sunny afternoon, for lunch with lovely Carlo, himself a restaurateur and purveyor of (in my opinion) the best authentic Spanish food in Brighton (review coming soon). He and I are food ‘soul mates’, always agreeing on new openings and food favourites. He’d been through the mill recently and so I thought this would cheer him up (and frankly I wanted the entertainment, his life is better than Eastenders).
The new décor is beautiful and subtle. I tire of restaurants with obtrusive décor - the focus should be on the food not the wallpaper. Here it’s exposed brick, comfortable seating and white tablecloths. Simple, informal and relaxed. The perfect ambience for my favourite lunches – those that go on for hours with flowing wine. And that’s exactly what happened.
It kicked off with one of my absolute favourites, Ridgeview Rose de Noir sparkling wine – quite difficult to find, the other Ridgeviews (e.g. the Bloomsbury) being ubiquitous. The Rose de Noir (written about in my review of Ridgeview winery) is rich, fruity and creamy with enough structure to drink throughout a meal rather than as just an aperitif. The menu reads like food heaven, which made choosing quite a challenge. Luckily Carlo is a sharer, and as food soul mates we were able to narrow it down quickly enough. An exquisite pulled pork bon bon with barbecue sauce arrived as an amuse bouche with freshly made bread and truffle and honey butter that I couldn’t leave alone.
We chose three starters to share; Pear Walnut and Chicory Salad with Pear Puree, Pickled Walnut, Caramelised Chicory and Blue Cheese; Guinea Fowl Ravioli with Wild mushroom, Parsley Oil and Parmesan; and a Devon Crab, Roulade and Beignet, Charred Sweet Corn, Avocado, Cucumber, Quail’s Egg and Bisque. All were superb. I would say the crab dish was the best, the roulade delicate and flavoursome and offset by the beignet with its crunchy exterior. The bisque was light yet rich. A masterpiece.
The pear dish was ranked second. The blue cheese turned into a delicious crumb atop the caramelised chicory, a classic salty / sweet combination followed through by the pear and walnut combination on the plate. A very clever, complex dish, true to the quality of its ingredients.
The guinea fowl ravioli we both agreed was a little under-seasoned but good nevertheless.
Our mains; I chose a Grey Mullet with Bouillabaisse, Cornish Mussels, Squid, Marinated Salmon, Crispy Cod Cheek, and Jersey Royals. Carlo chose Aged Rump of Beef, Fois Gras Nugget, Ox Tail, Boudin Blanc, Mashed Potato and Confit Tomato.
I have decided I like all things cheek. My cod cheek ‘fritters’ were delicious, and each element of my dish perfectly in balance. This was an exercise in complementary fishy textures and flavours.
Carlo’s beef was a harmonious meat lovers delight. The fois gras nugget and ox tail stood out, with extraordinary depth of flavour (much needed if you’re serving a simple rump). This chef really understands about balancing flavours and textures without disturbing simple ingredients.
Onto desserts. I recall being impressed with the soufflé when I last dined here so I ordered it again. Carlo - thankfully - chose the Milk Chocolate Delice, allowing me to get my chocolate fix. The soufflé was good but slightly overcooked and therefore the texture a little ‘eggy’ - not as good as I remember from last time, but then, soufflé can be a tricky thing. The chocolate dessert was rich, light and satisfying.
Unfortunately, I cannot recall the pre-dessert or the petit fours (this was a long and boozy lunch you understand) but l know l thought both were delicious and at three courses for £37, this represents very good value for this level of cooking.
We emerged in to the bright sunlight of the spring afternoon with a satisfied glow, knowing that we’d awake in the morning without a hangover. I have decided lunch might be the new dinner.
Read my interview with the founder of the Gingerman group in last month’s issue on-line or at PeoplePlacesFood.co.uk.
THE GINGERMAN RESTAURANT
21a Norfolk Square Brighton East Sussex