I’ve been keeping a close eye on Isaac At since it came out in 2015. The original concept was a pop-up, but the offering proved so popular that chef and patron Isaac Bartlett-Copeland had to transform into a restaurateur overnight.
It was no small feat for a young man in his early twenties who, after his education at Westminster Kingsway College and a stint in the kitchen of the Grand Hotel, was making his first foray into Brighton’s restaurant scene.
From day one, Isaac At’s concept and vision was pretty solid. The small – and it’s no exaggeration how small – open kitchen serves small plate menus with ingredients from local suppliers, farmers, fishermen and gatherers. There were no compromises – if the product weren’t available in season from a Sussex producer, it simply wouldn’t appear on the menu.
When I look back seven years, it was still somewhat revolutionary. Certainly Brighton restaurants worked more with local producers, but not for the entire menu. Which, in hindsight, leads to an even more startling claim to fame: the restaurant was the first in Britain to serve an all-English wine list.
Again, we’re increasingly familiar with Sussex wines, whether in bars or retail, but by the middle of the last decade stocking only English wines, beers and spirits was seen as off-piste and crazy at best by some restaurateurs at worst. Would consumers accept purely English wine? Could enough margin be made?
The answer is clearly a resounding ‘yes’ and the efforts of sommelier Alex Preston, who at the proud age of 27 is the father of the front of house team, have clearly paid off. In early July he was named one of the UK’s top sommeliers by the prestigious Harpers trade magazine.
With other notable sommeliers working for some of the biggest names in British gastronomy including Red Carnation, The Ritz and Mandarin Oriental, it’s no small recognition for someone working at an independent restaurant with around 30 covers on Gloucester Street, one of the Back streets of Brighton, North Laine works.
Although still involved in overseeing the restaurant himself, Isaac is now developing his career and skills elsewhere, leaving the insanely talented chef Caspian Armani to oversee the menu and oversee day-to-day kitchen operations. At just 22, Caspian has a maturity and culinary knowledge well beyond his years. He is living proof that there is hope for the future of hospitality. And like the entire team, there is very little ego, just an obsession with preparing local food well and ensuring guests enjoy a premium creative experience. The fact that the restaurant holds two AA Rosettes says it all.
The food, unsurprisingly, falls into the modern British category.
There are two main options: a three-course menu available on Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday lunchtimes for a darn cheap £30, with local wine pairings for an additional £25; or the tasting menu for £60. Gluten free, dairy free or vegan diets can also be accommodated with a smile.
From my vantage point on the two-seater pass table overlooking the kitchen, it’s clear this is a well-oiled machine and a space where employees support one another and enjoy one another immensely.
Although I tend to avoid tasting menus these days—I’d like to say it’s because I’ve become fussier, but the truth is I can’t pack in six courses and go home now—the tasting menu appeared seamlessly in front of me next to one Never- last row of glasses with wines like Plumpton, Wiston and Albourne.
The “starter” tomato salad with smoked and salted baked beets was great. If you have never tasted the amazing tomatoes from Nutbourne Farm near Chichester then add this to your bucket list. They are delicious – like tomatoes should actually taste.
The plaice dish caught on the south coast was next level. Caspian explained how they flash cook the fish by dragging it in and out of the oven to maintain a temperature of around 50-60ºC. The fish is then dressed with a shared seaweed hollandaise sauce and dressed with harvested seaweed and crispy seaweed. The Salty Fingers were collected for the restaurant by Andy Garfield, while taking the opportunity to also include Japanese Wire Weed, which grows here but is ultimately an invasive species that doesn’t belong on the Sussex coast. In terms of taste, there is nothing to complain about here.
The Saddlescombe Lamb and Courgette dish is inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine. Lamb-spiced courgettes topped with Sussex Golden Cross goat cheese, green peppers, walnuts, lettuce and mint with that all-important acidity that sumac brings to the party. Sumac – with its tangy citrus flavor – may sound exotic, but this particular spice was harvested from a tree in the front yard of a home in Fiveways.
We enjoyed a couple of smaller amuse-bouches, the obligatory Sussex cheese platter and finished with a refreshing semi-sweet, semi-savory dessert of poached pears with milk ice cream, custard and crumbs.
The cheer up of a sprinkling of lemon thyme turned a good dish into a great one.
Brighton has maybe a dozen independent restaurants of real significance and this is one of them.
There is no pretension but an amazing level of integrity in all aspects of the delivery. These guys have more integrity in their little fingers than many more experienced – and jaded – chefs and restaurateurs twice their age.
https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/20584484.brighton-restaurant-offers-sublime-food-inspiring-young-team/?ref=rss The Brighton Restaurant offers excellent food from an inspiring young team