Isaac At Restaurant Review: ‘Top of any Brighton food-lover’s wish list’
Gloucester Street has recently acquired a new and rather excellent restaurant, in the well-formed shape of Isaac At. It’s somewhere halfway between a supper club and a ‘normal’ establishment, and it has a few quirks. For starters, it’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays, has just over 30 covers, offers one weekly changing five-course menu in one 7pm sitting, and places people in a mixture of individual and communal tables. If this doesn’t necessarily appeal, then it’s worth pointing out that the hugely talented young chef Isaac Bartlett Copeland is serving some of the most interesting food anywhere in Brighton, in small but perfectly formed surroundings.
Guests arrive to be greeted with the week’s menu and a small, locally-oriented drinks list; all the wine comes from small Sussex producers, and there are some top-notch beers and cider too, such as the Black Fox cider from Herefordshire. The friendly manager Sophia ensures that everyone’s settled and happy, and then Isaac begins his course-by-course explanations of what you’re going to eat, in keeping with his stated intention of breaking down the traditional barrier between chef and diners.
None of this would matter if the dishes weren’t top-notch, but they are perfectly executed and presented. A pre-starter of tuna carpaccio on sourdough crostini was tiny – a mere morsel – but perfect, and stout and treacle bread and onion brioche are both superb appetite-whetters. The starter proper of Jerusalem artichoke with smoked apple and coriander was superlative; not only did it taste delicious, but it was presented with consummate skill and panache. The same could be said for the fish course, hake with butternut squash. I’m not normally the biggest fan of fish – too insipid, too many bones – but this was utterly brilliant; it had a subtly meaty flavour that would be robust enough to satisfy any carnivore.
If the course that followed – roast chicken with tomato and cumin ketchup – was the least interesting that we tried all evening, this is less down to the skill of the chefs and more because chicken is an intrinsically boring meat; the addition of the ketchup, which could have been disastrous in less experienced hands, at least gave it a kick. Then we were back to full strength for two excellent desserts, a raspberry sorbet that actually tasted of raspberry rather than the insipid half-sour, half-sweet nonsense you normally get, and a delectable combination of poached pear, cardamon caramel and golden butter ice cream. You arrive at the ending of the meal with a sense of having been on a splendid journey, with new companions and a more than assured captain at the helm. And all of this is far from expensive; £37 on Friday evenings, £42 on Saturdays. Given the calibre of the cooking, this is a bargain.
Of course, some people will prefer a more anonymous ‘sit down, eat, pay and leave’ experience, and this probably won’t be for them. My only real criticism is that the short, well-chosen wine list could do with being available by the glass, especially the sparkling Ridgeview and Nyetimer varieties. Hopefully it will, in time. Otherwise this should be at the top of any Brighton food-lover’s wish list for a properly satisfying culinary experience.