Monday, 30 October 2017

Pascere, Brighton

As you may have noticed, I'm a hopeless restaurant spod, and in common with many other hopeless restaurant spods my attitude towards any part of the world is inextricably linked with my experience of eating there. I love Bristol, for example, where Bell's Diner and the Lido and of course the annual Grillstock barbeque competition means memories of that beautiful city are always shining gold. I took a while to warm to Manchester (I am from Liverpool after all) but thanks to the French and Manchester House I look forward to trips there now as much as anywhere. Similarly Cornwall, and Yorkshire, and Lancashire, and anywhere that has fed me well - that's more or less all it takes to win me over. I mean, access by train helps but isn't essential.

Brighton, then, after a desperately disappointing meal at the Salt Room, had a lot of work to do. Just as I (perhaps unrealistically) idealise anywhere I've had a great meal, I'm also prone to dismiss anywhere that hasn't impressed, and I was ready to file the seaside town alongside Liverpool (trip to Wreckfish pending) and Winchester in the "must do better" pile.

Fortunately, there is as good reason to jump on the train down south (or in the case of this last weekend, the train then a bloody bus replacement service from Hayward's Heath), and it's a lovely friendly little bistro in the Lanes called Pascere. Small but perfectly formed, Pascere has about 20 seats downstairs and a handful more upstairs where there's an attractive "kitchen table" bar area. As far as I'm concerned, the smaller the restaurant the better - if I barely have to glance up to attract the attention of a member of staff, this is all to the good - and it's to Pascere's credit that tables are still nicely spaced out and the place feels airy and bright.

The menu is short, full of lots of attractive, exciting things that normal people want to eat, and remarkably good value considering the quality - and generosity - of cooking on display. Croquettes feature in a couple of guises, firstly these containing chicken, with a clever chicken 'powder' scattered over the top and a chicken skin mayonnaise beneath. Chicken three-ways, all of them good.

Next stone bass croquettes, strikingly darkened with squid ink with a similarly Vantablack mayo, had a perfect fish-potato mix (as in around 50/50) and also came with a dairy-free tartare of chopped sweet pickles and capers. They were also very nice, although this being 2017 they must suffer the reality of existing in a world where José Pizarro's chicken, and fish, croquettas are also available to buy. Still, at £6.50 for three you could hardly complain too much.

Also from the 'snacks' menu were these beautiful things - Portland crab tarts, containing a huge mound of sweet white crab meat and topped with a kind of bisque-y hollandaise. Another intelligent balance of texture, ingredient and seasoning.

And we hadn't even got to the starters yet. Baby squid suffered a little from overseasoning but was still an impressive bit of work, with a gentle parsley cream binding some noodly thin mushrooms, and topped with a very Rogan-esque (I'm sure they won't mind me saying) squid ink cracker. Underneath it all was a perfect bright green square of something else that tasted vaguely vegetal, but we couldn't work out exactly what it was. Looked nice, though.

Braised ox-cheek next, rolled up inside breadcrumbs, with pickled red cabbage. I think we'd liked to have seen a bit more of the advertised black pudding purée and, after two courses of croquettes, a little less breadcrumb, but this was probably just as much our fault as theirs. The little cubes of ox tongue were lovely, too - bouncy and salty with bags of flavour.

Both mains were more than up to the task. Roast duck, pink and juicy, came with a (-nother) breadcrumbed nugget of richly-flavoured leg meat and various bits of winter veg dressed in a nice dark jus. I'm not a fan of parsnip, so I'll recuse myself from criticising that element of the dish - suffice to say my chef friend loved it.

My own main course was an impossibly vast chunk of ox-cheek, tenderly cooked and beautifully textured, drenched in another addictive Bovril-y sauce and on a bed of pasta so delicate and wisper-thin that the beef seemed to float above it. I'm not ashamed to admit that thanks to the number - and size - of the preceeding courses I didn't quite manage to finish this, but what I ate was beautiful - my favourite in fact of all the dishes at Pascere.

We shared a dessert - a lemongrass mousse affair with mint meringue and passionfruit sorbet which was just as cleverly concieved and executed as everything that had come before. If some of the dishes at Pascere use too many ingredients, as arguably in this dessert and perhaps also the roast duck, it was never at the expense of fun and flavour. I'm looking for things to criticise because, well, that's my job - by anyone's standards these guys certainly know what they're doing.

Perhaps the most notable, and laudable, thing about Pascere is the overwhelming sense that these are a bunch of people with hospitality in their very bones. Yes, there were issues here and there with loading the table with ingredients, and an over-reliance on breadcrumbed nuggets of meat, but they could hardly be accused of laziness, of skimping on portion size or technique, of charging too much for too little. This charming place is doing almost everything that's required of a local restaurant, and much more besides, and deserves all of the praise and custom coming its way. Brighton should be very proud indeed to call it their own.


I was invited to Pascere


Alex C said...

Hi Chris,

Are you not getting hungr? :-)

Dr Martin Huang said...

This looks spectacular. Heading to Brighton soon and this should be in my food list.