The Set Brighton Review
Artist Residence Hotel
33 Regency Square
Visited March 2015
Until recently much of the buzz of Brighton’s dining scene has been generated by mid-range and budget establishments – by vegetarian cafes, gourmet burger joints and food festival stalls. The past year, however, has seen a flurry of activity at the (formerly fairly staid) upper end of the market, with a number of experimental pop-ups (Thai–Spanish fusion tapas anyone?) and restaurants appearing, aiming to capitalise on the city’s reputation as a home for the open-minded and non-conformist. First, Silo arrived with its zero waste manifesto, recycled plates and electrolysed water; now the chaps behind The Set, formerly a pop-up, have found a permanent home in the eccentric Artist Residence hotel.
The menu offers a choice of three seasonal set menus. The four tasting courses are listed not by dishes but by key ingredients; clearly The Set expects you to trust your chefs’ judgement. A dish that lists simply ‘cauliflower’ (vegetable du jour), for example, doesn’t hint at the fact that the cauliflower has been treated in a number of different ways: fried, pureed and pickled, served with crispy cauliflower leaves and an Indian-spiced granola peppered with plump raisins. Arguably one of the blandest vegetables, here manipulated into something wholly unexpected. This is characteristic of The Set. If Silo’s philosophy relies on the purity of ingredients and honest food production then The Set is much more playful, embracing radical techniques pioneered by the likes of elBulli. One of our dishes, for example, comes with ‘leek ash’, made by blitzing cooked leeks with maltodextrin. This is food for the Heston Blumenthal generation.
The first course, however, doesn’t quite deliver on high-tech wow factor. The artichoke and blue cheese jacket new potatoes are presented in a parcel of tin foil, with wild garlic and a thick sauce of Brighton blue. The potatoes aren’t fluffy on the inside with crisp jackets as expected, but of a much firmer, waxier consistency. I’m not a massive fan but still enjoy the dish, which goes to show that if you smother anything in enough good quality blue cheese it will be delicious.
The plates that follow are more sophisticated. There’s a fillet of mullet with peppery leaves of honesty cress, and salsify that has been roasted, pickled and fashioned into crisps. The oxtail dish is wonderful, showcasing a small piece of meat that is meltingly tender inside but seared and deeply charred outside, served with delicate onion rings and purees. Lettuce puree tastes pretty much how you might imagine – a bit like watery lettuce. The toast puree however, isn’t very redolent of toast. It’s far tastier – rich and deeply savoury – and perfectly complements the square of toasted brioche it sits atop. The third vegetarian course is a little insubstantial, but its flavours of charred leeks, salty smoked cheese and honeyed pecans contrast beautifully.
One of the high points of the meal comes in a surprisingly small package: a single miso marshmallow presented before dessert. It’s sticky to the touch and creamy on the tongue, with just a hint of burnt caramelisation on top – an unobtainable campfire dream. The taste is beyond surprising. This is what happens when sugary sweetness meets savoury umami flavour in perfect measure: candy for grown-ups.
This tiny sweet treat leaves you with one thought: ‘Dessert is going to be very, very good.’ And it is. It’s a deconstructed banana split with a wafer-thin banana crisp, Malteser mousse, salted caramel ice cream, butter cake and what appears to be dehydrated milk powder. It occurs to me as I’m eating this final course that however much I love this dessert, it’s likely that when I return to The Set it will no longer be an option included in any of the ever-changing set menus. It’s even more enjoyable with this in mind.
Beyond the food one of the nicest things about The Set is that despite being as cool as it is, it manages to avoid feeling at all try-hard. A decent playlist soundtracks our evening, the service is easygoing, and the corrugated iron walls and tile-topped tables look good but not contrived. At between £25–£30 for the set meals and £25 for accompanying flights of wine, the price point also feels spot on for the quality.
I get the impression that the chaps behind The Set are not all that interested in just feeding people dinner; they’re out to provide a fun, slightly challenging dining experience – exactly what this city needs.