Zoe Thomas enjoys a lunchtime banquet at Brighton & Hove’s Graze Restaurant
Squeezed unassumingly between a grocery store and a phone shop on Western Road, is Graze – a tiny but immaculately presented restaurant that, thanks to its quaint awning and outdoor seating, has the elegant appearance of an upmarket Parisian café.
Once inside, we discover proprietor Kate Alleston and her staff are in the middle of a wine pairing class with Suzie from BBC’s Saturday Kitchen – already a good indication that we’re about to experience something extraordinary. The décor itself is rich and quirkily opulent, with purple suede chairs, chandeliers and a gilt ‘mirror’ at the far end of the room, which, I realise after a while, is actually a porthole through to the kitchen where head chef Adrian Hawkins works his magic.
After an extremely friendly welcome, we’re shown to our seats by the open window at the front of the restaurant, which offers a warm breeze and pleasant views of the hustle and bustle of the street outside.
We’re here to try the new Short Menu, which offers three courses for £20 designed for lunchtime and midweek evenings, perfect for entertaining clients, taking business meetings, or breaking up the working day with a spot of people watching and a cheeky glass of wine.
We decide to compare the Short Menu with the three-course Set Price Menu to see where the differences lie. The obvious difference is that, instead of offering five or six options, the Short Menu has just two for the starter and main. While the ingredients are slightly lighter than those found on the Set Menu, they are equally as premium and unusual. My guest opts for the ‘home smoked chicken and ham hock terrine, chicken skin and rye bread crumble’ from the Short Menu, while I choose ‘carrot panna cotta, walnut and fennel granola, heritage carrots and star anise yoghurt’ from the Set Menu.
Before our starters arrive, we’re treated to thick cut bread with a choice of garlic mushroom and salted butter, as well as a delicious smoked chicken amuse bouche, which certainly whets our appetites.
My carrot panna cotta is a work of art. Bright, light and beautiful, it ticks all the boxes for a luxurious summer starter and sends me into a blissful trance usually reserved for dessert. The cool, creamy panna cotta is offset by the sweet crunch of the granola, which in turn is cut through with the slight tang of pickled carrot – an incredible combination of textures and flavours that could surely only have been concocted by a culinary genius.
As for my guest’s terrine – the presentation again is impeccable and he assures me that the onion chutney doesn’t overpower the dish, instead adding a touch of sweetness to the full, meaty flavour of the terrine.
Soon our dishes – scraped clean of every morsel, are replaced by our main courses. Again I go for the vegetarian option, which is smoked duck egg yolk, Jerusalem artichoke, mushrooms and summer truffle. The smoked yolk is a first for me, but it’s exquisite – rich and salty with a creamy texture that goes perfectly with the garlic roast potatoes and crispy artichoke leaves. My guest opts for suckling pig with jersey royals, peas and mushrooms. The portion is substantial but presented beautifully as haute cuisine. The piglet is incredibly tender, having been marinated for 12 hours and then slow-cooked for a further two.
Feeling satisfied but not full, we’re pleasantly surprised to be presented with a ‘pre-dessert’ of lemon and thyme panna cotta topped with soft, flambéd meringue. I could certainly demolish a full-sized version, but alas – I have a chocolate brownie on the way.
The brownie is actually from the Short Menu, and far from being skimpy on the portion front, comes presented as a great big wodge of mouth watering crispy-on-the-top-gooey-in-the-middle chocolatey goodness. My guest opts for the banana parfait with toffee popcorn, passion fruit meringue and peanut crumble which appears on both menus.
All in all, we were mightily impressed with both menus – but especially the Short Menu due to its incredible £20 price compared to the £37 Set Menu.
I really do recommend Graze as a perfect lunch-stop for those who want fine dining at excellent value.