Monday 2 October 2017

The Salt Room, Brighton

On paper, or rather PDF, Salt Room looked like an absolute sure thing. A proper, grown-up seafood restaurant in a town that knows a thing or two about eating well, it seemed to fit the bill exactly; we were aware of big Brighton names like 64 Degrees, Pascere and Chilli Pickle but had settled on the Salt Room because we wanted something informal yet sophisticated, somewhere we could get messy on fresh shellfish and drink good cocktails and then spill out onto the pier for faded Victorian seaside fun.

And things started well. Happy to escape the insane number of people that flock to Brighton of a weekend - good lord, this place is busy - the warm welcome of the Salt Room bar and the attentions of their head barman soon settled our nerves. Martinis were ice cold, made with an interesting gin from Islay, and a cute Bloody Mary style thing came with a mini pot of nacho chips and pineapple chilli salsa as a garnish. We were about halfway through these when a 20-strong crowd of hen-doers arrived so, thanking our lucky stars we'd got our drinks order in already, we headed for the restaurant.

Apparently all the nice, bright, quiet window seats had been taken by people who had been here before, and knew to request them, so we were sat near the toilets between two massive tables of noisy families with toddlers. Quite why anyone would bring a 3-year-old to a smart seafood restaurant is beyond me - even if they find anything to enjoy about the food they'll be bored witless after ten minutes and want to race around the place screaming.

Amidst all the darkness, chaos and the screaming, there were bits and pieces to enjoy. Clams in sherry with chorizo and beans were a tad on the salty side but contained plenty of plump bivalves if not much chorizo.

Fishcakes had a nice smooth consistency and delicate crust, even if it was a bit low on fish - still, I can enjoy a deep-fried potato croquette as much as I can a fish cake, so this wasn't too much of an issue.

Some of the slices of bread were a bit stale on one side, like they'd been sliced a good while ago. Again, not a terrible failure once they'd been dunked in the leftover clam sauce or spread with the nice homemade tartar sauce but it all added to the impression that their attention wasn't on the details. Even the menu contained a few spelling mistakes (we think they mean XO sauce that came with the crab, not ox...), and details, in a place like this, are eveything.

It all rested, then, on the main seafood platter. If it had been up to scratch, all the issues with oversalting and stale bread and the squealing toddlers would be forgiven. We'd have knocked it all back, polished off a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet and been back on the streets of Brighton with a spring in our step. Sadly, it wasn't to be. But first, the good bits - oysters were full of brine and flavour, and the house mignonette was good. Raw scallop was nice, too, gently dressed with lime.

But the rest of it? I was immediately suspicious that the Salt Room, a specialist seafood restaurant, only offers crab claws and not whole dressed or cooked crab. This makes me think that rather than buying in whole fresh crab, they're getting hold of frozen claws separately. I can't say they do this for certain, but that's the impression I got, and having tasted the end result I'm going to need a lot of persuading that they don't. Similarly the langoustine, desperately overcooked to mushy, had strange, bendy shells - again, if they were cooked from fresh I'd be very surprised. Prawns were similarly mealy and bland. And the less said about some terrible soily, chewy chips the better.

Of course, the tragedy of poor seafood platters is that they still generally cost quite a whack. After having drowned our sorrows in a second bottle of Picpoul the bill came to £62.30 a head, a decent amount to pay for a good seafood lunch perhaps, but for this half-hearted display, served with only the occasional glimmer of competence from an Italian member of staff that, to be fair, was acting as half-waiter half-babysitter for most of the afternoon, it really didn't feel like value.

I hesitate to denigrate an entire city based on one dodgy meal, but I wonder if at least some of the problems with the Salt Room are that they operate in an area so oversubscribed with day trippers that even the mediocre places do well. Maybe when they first opened they served fresh crab and bought in live langoustine and made their mark, but have gradually realised they make just as much money buying in frozen and using yesterday's bread. Who knows.

What Brighton does have going for it, though, is faded Victorian seaside attractions, and lovely cozy old pubs. So we had a go on a ricketty old roller coaster, and a couple of pints in the Pull & Pump, and soon disappointing crab was a distant memory. I will try Brighton again - and very soon in fact, I'm booked in at Pascere next month. But for now, I'll choose my fruit de mer more carefully. Life's too short for mediocre seafood.



RachaelA said...

I recommend The Urchin in Hove as a great place for Seafood!

Ollie said...

Agree with your review. It didn't feel like value on my visit either. It doesn't live up to the hype it generates in Brighton.

Craig said...

For the amount you paid I would definitely complained. That is not good enough at all!

Hollow Legs said...

still annoyed that despite booking weeks ago they didn't mention the seaside tables needed to be requested.

tad said...

I've lived and grown up in Brighton and you hit the nail on the head

Anonymous said...

64 Degrees is astonishingly good, my last meal had some dishes (truffled corn polenta and that GBM winner) that were as good as anything Ive had in the London 1/2/3 stars. loveitloveitloveit.

Terre A Terre is the richest and most indulgent vegetarian food ive eaten, we haven't done a Brighton trip without eating there. Huge fan.

Issacs was most enjoyable and had good, local produce and a omakase format im used to from London places.

We also like Iydea for breakfast, and check out Murmur (64 degrees new restaurant) which ive not managed to do yet. Silo weve only had a snack and salad and really want to go back too.

- EdesiaBlog