Is there any point in doing a day trip to Brighton on a cold, rainy winters day when the sea is a murky grey and the beach a bleak, uninviting wasteland of pebbles? Of course, there is because – haven’t you heard? – Brighton is a hub of brand new, exciting and must-visit restaurants.
Halfway down Duke’s Street and opposite a (saddeningly) bustling branch of Nando’s, lies Pascere. Opened in May of this year, the head chef Johnny Stanford (of Michelin starred The Pass and Edinburgh’s 21212) has already seen the restaurant awarded two AA rosettes within the first six months of opening.
Pascere is situated in the unit that was previously occupied by the Cornish Pasty Company and spreads over two floors. The decor is dark yet the vibrant blue used for the branding gives the place a lovely lift. Our table happens to be the only one in front of the bar area which means we are uninterrupted by other diners for the majority of the night (the bar area is strictly reserved for those who will be dining at the restaurant). The only downside to this is that you are sat in the window which not only gives you unparalleled views of Duke’s Street on a rowdy Saturday night, but it gives all the passing revelers a great opportunity to have a good old nosey at you and your food. However, none of this managed to spoil our night here.
The decision over menus is another easy one at Pascere; a 10 course tasting menu (vegetarian option available) is priced at a staggeringly good £65 a head, while the à la carte options are not unreasonably priced either.
Decision as easy as one, two, three; our first two courses arrive along with two freshly baked bread buns. Clearly a trend at the moment, it’s another selection of onion and treacle breads with whipped brown butter. The addition of muscavado sugar and black sea salt to the butter gave this tried and tested combination a lovely crunch and provided deliciously contrasting sweet and savoury elements.
The butternut squash crackers were a delightful mouthful, however, it was the crab tartlets which stole the show here. Delicately thin cases of filo pastry held the fresh white crab meat, while a glorious shellfish custard sat on top.
Excited doesn’t even come close to the feeling I get when I see Jerusalem artichoke on a menu. It’s similar to the feeling you get when the cheese trolley is rolled out and the waiter asks which you would like to try, and you think “can’t you just leave me and the trolley alone for a while?”. Anyway, a mash of Jerusalem artichokes made up the base of this pretty-as-a-picture dish. Fried artichoke peelings, raw radishes and cubes of amazing sherry vinegar set off a series of flavour explosions in my mouth. Far and away my favourite dish of the night.
An interesting dish of baby squid was up next. Sat on a perfectly cut out set square of parsley cream, were varying elements of baby squid. The body was simply pan fried, while the tentacles had been battered and deep-fried like calamari. The squid ink had been used to make a deliciously dark mayonnaise and to colour the tapioca crisp on top. Hidden under the body of the squid was a small pile of enocchi mushrooms which I assume were there to add a contrasting umami flavour to the plate. However, they were lost among the bold squid flavours and could quite easily have been left off.
This next dish is the epitome of why being a vegetarian could never be a lifestyle choice for me. Roasted pork belly, bacon jam bonbon, burrata mouse and a caramelised pumpkin purée, oh dear Lord this was a good dish. “How can you possibly improve bacon?” I hear you cry. Well, turn it into a sweet, sticky, meaty jam, then breadcrumb it and deep-fry it – that’s how. If these bacon bonbons were a bar snack, I’d have a permanently reserved spot at the bar.
The term velouté comes from the French. A word which here simply means velvet and that is exactly what this next dish was; a bowl of velvet sweet potato. I’ve had a number of veloutés in my time, but none have ever been able to hold their own shape quite like this one did, it was closer to a mousse than a soup and simply delicious. Roasted chestnuts and another inspired addition of vinegar pearls rounded off a fabulous dish.
A take on soup was followed by another take on soup, this time a clam chowder. This was a great example of a classic dish where the chef has put his own take on each ingredient. So instead of a soup-y chowder, we had a rich sauce; instead of boiled celery, it had been lightly pickled; the clams were pan-fried and the dish was topped with a shellfish foam. A very interesting and clever take on a classic; the only negative? Slightly rubbery and chewy textures from where the clams had been overcooked.
The last savoury course starred my favourite meat; duck. A perfectly cooked slice of duck breast with salivatingly salty skin sat in between crispy duck leg and a liver parfait. Slightly disappointingly, the parfait had been over cooked – clear from the grey tinge which is a telltale sign of overcooked livers. Despite the bitterness that this then had, the rich jus and the chicory purée underneath were enough to mitigate any great disaster that this could have done to the dish. It was also a nice change to see parsnips on the menu; a vegetable which I think is often treated like turkey and usually only seen during the dreaded Christmas dinner season.
The return of the black bowls marked the start of the sweet dishes. Not the best looking dish in my eyes, but the combination of lemongrass, pistachio and passionfruit intrigued me. Torn up pieces of vibrant pistachio cake were as light as air, as was the aerated lemongrass mouse which was on the slightly spiced side of lemon. Despite being a powerful element in itself, the passionfruit sorbet married really well with the other elements.
With the previous dish still erring on the savoury side of the spectrum, a sweet dessert was in desperate need. Cue, an apple parfait and blackberry sorbet finale. Although it is still my personal belief that a pudding without chocolate is not really a pudding, and if it’s fruit-based then it’s really more of a fruit salad, this was in actual fact, the perfect end to the meal. The apple parfait was a fantastic combination of rich, creaminess with that refreshing green apple cutting right through it. The blackberry sorbet was the quintessential accompaniment to the apple parfait and ended the meal on a zingy high note.
At this point of the night, the bar directly behind us was getting quite crowded, and one guy had even decided that it was OK to sit on the back of my chair while he waited, so it was a bit of a relief when the waitress brought the bill over. This was a really intriguing and inspired meal; some dishes were pure perfection while others could have done with a bit more attention to detail. Our experience certainly reflected the well-deserved two AA rosettes, despite the strange request for us to hold on to our cutlery for the first few courses… Nevertheless, Pascere is certainly good value for money and is a brilliant addition to Brighton’s food scene.