Burnt Orange, Brighton: âDelivers on its smoky promiseâ â restaurant review
Burnt Orange, 59 Middle Street, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1AL (01273 929923). Starters Â£4-Â£10, mains Â£8-Â£19, desserts Â£4-Â£7, wines from Â£22
Brown foods are the best. We know this. Brown foods are about caramelised sugars and the Maillard reaction; theyâre hefty flavours, emphasised and accentuated. They conjure images of prehistoric campfires and the lick of the flame before the lick of the tongue. So much about Brightonâs Burnt Orange, which opened in June, is calculated to trigger these lustful, crisped and crispy thoughts. The name was given to a shade of orange in 1915 and is, say web sources Iâve decided to trust, designed to evoke thoughts of leaping flames.
Step inside the achingly refurbished site on Middle Street, just up from the seafront, and itâs all very much burnt orange. Take in the toasty toned leather banquettes, the varnished slat-wood frontage to the bar, the downlit stone walls with chunks of flint, the paint work in shades ofâ¦ well, you get the idea. By this point the presence of a stonking wood-fired oven at the heart of the kitchen almost goes without saying.âGlazed with miso, pelted with pomegranate seedsâ: roast aubergine. Photograph: Alex Lake/The Observer
At Burnt Orange thereâs a lot of searing and blistering, smoking and flaming. The menu is sprinkled liberally with these words. There are also outbreaks of Persian limes and harissa, preserved lemons and wild garlic. It thrums with an apparent eagerness to display on-trend credentials. Because the site is just a few doors down from where Skint Records used to have its offices, they have even asked the labelâs one-time star signing Norman Cook, AKA Fat Boy Slim, to âcurateâ the music.
At which point I ball my fists and feel moved to repeat a rant. Curate is not another word for âchooseâ, however much those bearded men who write craft beer menus might wish it were otherwise. Cook hasnât curated anything. He has chosen some tunes.âFried to crispâ: lamb shoulder âcigarsâ. Photograph: Alex Lake/The Observer
Oh look. I appear to be assembling the evidence for the prosecution. What saves Burnt Orange from being an annoyingly self-conscious exercise in trend-surfing is the food. The complex dish descriptions and that wood-fired oven deliver on their heat-bubbled promise. Given the team behind it, led by skilled restaurateur Razak Helalat, thatâs unsurprising. They know what theyâre doing. They also have the Salt Room, housed in an outcrop of the cheerless Hilton Metropole on the front. There, among many good things, I was served an expertly flame-grilled whole fish, which showed a clear understanding of the power of both direct and indirect heat. Elsewhere in Brighton (and more recently, London), they have the Coal Shed where everything is, as the name suggests, cooked over burning coals.
Now, itâs all about the impact of smouldering wood. Among the starters at Burnt Orange thereâs a crudo of smoked stone bass. Thereâs grilled halloumi from Sussex, as well as heat-blistered sardines with fried bread and an anchovy cream. Lamb shoulder has been long-smoked until it is on the edge of a breakdown, then shredded, formed into fat filo-wrapped âcigarsâ and fried to crisp. On the side is a dollop of cooling yoghurt. It is a lot of textures and butch lanolin flavours playing catch-up with each other. Spiced calamari fritti, under a generous leaf fall of sliced chillies, come with a preserved lemon aÃ¯oli the colour of daffodils. The thinnest slices of friable toast are piled with salted cherries, tomatoes and a tumble of buffalo stracciatella, that milky, foetal cheese of stretched curds. Itâs a canapÃ© designed by someone who has never spilt food down their shirt. Itâs nice to eat: fresh and curiously purifying amid all the caramel star turns. Itâs just a total bugger to get into your mouth, without disgracing yourself. I disgrace myself.âPiled with salted cherriesâ: stracciatella on toast. Photograph: Alex Lake/The Observer
The main courses are where the real action is. A thick slab of aubergine has loitered in the oven until it has reached a paunchy baba ganoush softness, and is laid on a puddle of sour cream. Itâs glazed with miso, pelted with pomegranate seeds and finally, for texture and giggles, sprinkled liberally with fried onions. Most things should be. A slab of rib-eye is marinated in fermented chilli for flavour rather than brow-furrowing heat, then given a full wood firing, and topped with melting Tropea onions, capers and a dribble of jus.âItâs very nice. Itâs just not a shawarmaâ: pork âshawarmaâ. Photograph: Alex Lake/The Observer
Thereâs also something described as a pork shawarma, which does make my brow furrow. I associate shawarma, an Arabic word, with the generally Muslim, non-pork-eating Middle East. Subsequently, I check in with Claudia Roden, the great expert on the regionâs food. In Greece and Cyprus, she says, there is a kind of doner using sliced pork, which is referred to as a shawarma. Except here, they are serving heavily sauced cubes of pork belly. I send over a picture and Roden identifies it as souvlaki. Words used on a menu like this do matter. They should help you understand what youâre ordering. These donât. Still, the cuts of meat are pleasingly soft and heat-kissed to a sticky dark caramel. For light against the shade, thereâs a perky salad of shredded fennel. Itâs all very nice. Itâs just not a shawarma.
The short dessert menu is another one of those designed for ease of service. Thereâs a well-made lemon tart because, right now, offering one is apparently a condition of getting a restaurant licence. Naturally, thereâs a scoop of chocolate mousse. This one comes with sugared macadamias and cherries. The real eye-catcher is their drop-dead-gorgeous pistachio ice-cream, with dribbles of chocolate and fresh mint. Bravo. Have that. Prices are keen, with most dishes in single figures and only a few in the teens. Or you can pay Â£35 a head and get them to chuck half the menu at you.âThis one comes with sugared macadamiasâ: chocolate mousse. Photograph: Alex Lake/The Observer
On a warm weekday lunchtime Norman Cookâs choice of top tunes ricochets vigorously off all the hard surfaces in a way that will make the space difficult for some. Restaurants tend to be set up by younger people who have yet to experience the sensory ravages of age. One day it will be their turn. Still, service runs at a cheery clip, and thereâs a good stage show from the open kitchen. A quick note on booze. Among the cocktails is a concoction of Grand Marnier, vermouth, bourbon and cherries called the Bitter Untwisted. It should probably be the house drink of the Restaurant Critics members club, should one ever open which trust me, it never will.
In a crowded market the Delicious Cookbook, which is designed to be personalised, looks like fun. It starts with a choice of cover, the option to put the recipientâs name in the title, and a dedication inside. There are then a dozen recipe sections â Impressive Main Courses, Marvellous and Meat-Free, Showstopping Desserts and so on â from which you choose six, before swapping recipes according to taste. The shellfish section includes baked eggs with crab and cayenne, while for meat-free thereâs a tomato, thyme and ricotta tart. It costs Â£21.99 for the paperback and Â£24.99 for hardback.
Five years after they were forced to shut their original restaurant in Londonâs Shoreditch, the team behind the Mexican Santo Remedio, near London Bridge, are returning to the area with a new venture. Santo Remedio Taqueria will open in September. It will have a changing list of monthly specials and a takeaway hatch âserving an array of Mexican street food favouritesâ. Visit santoremedio.co.uk.
The South Lodge Hotel in West Sussex has appointed chef Greg Clarke to run their Pass restaurant for the next six months. Clarke, who has time at Midsummer House in Cambridge and the Ledbury in London on his CV, will offer a Â£50 five-course menu at lunchtime and an eight-course dinner menu at Â£95. Dishes will include a mushroom tart with Baron Bigod and blackberry leaf, and roast mallard with heart ragÃ¹.
Email Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1