Semolina Brighton Review
15 Baker Street
Visited July 2015
The much heralded London Road regeneration has seen a number of new cafes and bars established in the area and, of course, the opening of the redeveloped Open Market. The neighbourhood has certainly been spruced up a lot over the last 18 months (although the ludicrous claim that London Road is the ‘new Shoreditch’ has raised a few eyebrows amongst Brighton residents). Despite this revival in the area’s fortunes, it’s still somewhat of an unlikely place to find a restaurant like Semolina.
Situated opposite a white goods repair centre and a print shop on unassuming Baker Street, this tiny bistro has been open for eight months and has already earned a lot of fans with its unfussy, seasonal food and intimate atmosphere. Linda and Orson, the husband and wife team behind Semolina, used to run the kitchen at the Shakespeare’s Head, so they understand honest food prepared with quality produce.
The emphasis at Semolina is on seasonal ingredients and menus change regularly to make the most of produce available from local Sussex suppliers. The summer menu is an eclectic mix of classic British, and Mediterranean, Asian and Middle Eastern flavours, with dishes such as Thai-style sirloin salad, and lamb cannon with pickled aubergine and dukka, sitting alongside smoked beetroot with Sussex goat’s cheese.
Both of the starters we opt for feature sunny Spanish influences. The incredibly tender squid is dressed in a peppery vinaigrette and served with deeply smoky chorizo and mini falafels (a little dry but so adorable it’s ok). And delicate white crab meat is piled on a thick square of crisp toast, surrounded by a vibrant tomato gazpacho.
Seduced by further seafood offerings, I order Dover sole, a beautiful fish, cooked simply and served whole with an exquisitely buttery sauce and sweet, salty clams. My friend’s fillet of sea bass is also perfectly cooked, served with a light, herb-flecked soup and a garlicky homemade basil pistou.
Desserts err on the super sweet side, for example, white chocolate crème brûlée with lavender, and meringue piled high with fresh berries and served with a sorbet that is fresh but not too tart. The Sussex cheese board promises to be a great option for anyone without a sweet tooth. My dark chocolate and cherry frangipane, packed with plump cherries, has incredibly crumbly shortcrust pastry and is perfectly complimented by decadent amaretto ice cream.
The food is unpretentious but touches of refinement ensure that it feels extra special nonetheless. The homemade bread with spelt, for example, is accompanied by butter flavoured with truffles. Whilst it’s certainly not a budget restaurant, Semolina offers good value for the superb quality. (Dover sole is a notoriously expensive fish, but here it’s half the price of a similar dish at one of Brighton’s better known hotels.) The bistro also has a fantastic set lunch menu, offering two or three courses plus a glass of wine for £15 or less (as much as you’d pay in any pizza restaurant chain).
Linda explained that a little while ago she and Orson wouldn’t have dreamt of opening a restaurant in this part of town; their willingness to take a chance on it now is already paying off. There’s certainly a place for Semolina in the plans for a revitalised London Road.