Thursday, 22 November 2012

Notes from Brighton

Having dispensed with that educative visit to the Royal Pavilion, last weekend’s Brighton trip plunged into the rhythm of work and the slightly odd aspect of living away from home while not on holiday.

Work on Saturday meant that I didn’t get chance for lunch until close to four in the afternoon. By that time, with the staff dinner only about four hours away, I didn’t want to eat much – but fodder was required.

Standing outside my hotel, the smell of fish and chips drifted to my nostrils. That and the malt vinegar.

A tray of chips, freshly fried and drizzled with the holy combination of malt vinegar and salt, seemed the obvious solution.

It took a while to be served, as an entire hen party queued for sustenance, with one or two behaving really rather rudely to the young man – almost certainly low paid – who was trying to get their orders filled as quickly as possible, and even though he was clearly going as quickly as was possible.

And as I made an effort to stare down the particularly rude one, who happened to be nearest me, I couldn’t help but notice one of the older women with the group.

It’s well past 11 November, but she was wearing a poppy on her coat, making a winning combination with the deely boppers atop her bonce.

This particular one – a Crystal Buckley Poppy Brooch from the Royal British Legion shop – has the royal seal of approval apparently, because the Duchess of Cambridge has worn a larger version.

A hen party, deely boppers and a bling poppy: It seemed an odd way to remember the young men who died in the Flanders mud. What would Wilfred Owen have made of it all? Or Erich Maria Remarque, for that matter.

It was a classy as the shop window proclaiming: ‘We heart vajazzles’.
The chips, when they came, were eaten standing up, outside and gazing across the promenade to the sea.

And like that, it’s difficult to imagine anything much better.

Later that evening, a small group of us headed to one of the town’s two Zizzi’s, a chain of Italian restaurants.

Now I’m not generally enamoured of chains; Brasserie Blanc is the exception, but long-time readers here may remember the fun and games we had at a similar staff get together at Piccolino in Bristol two years ago (which did have a resolution).

Just as I would always look for an independent coffee shop over one of the chains, so I like to find independent eateries. But I don’t do the bookings – and my attitude toward food is not the dominant one.

So. Zizzi’s.

Well, I was very pleasantly surprised.

I started with arancini, the Sicilian speciality of mini risotto balls, packed with mozzarella and peas as well as the rice, then breadcrumbed and deep fried.

Then came with a tomato and chilli dipping sauce, and the inevitable pile of rocket.

My nearest fellow diner shared one of the arancini with me, swapping it for a generous half a dozen or so calamari, thus giving me the rare chance to taste two starters.

And it was very enjoyable; with well-balanced flavours and textures.

Next up, a dish of penne alla vodkapasta quills, paired with king prawns and peas, and a creamy tomato sauce with a hit of vodka and chilli.

To be honest, I never quite ‘got’ the vodka part of it, but the rest was tasty enough, if predictably there was far too much for me.

But the real surprise was dessert. Feeling unusually like a change from ice cream or sorbet, I opted for the tiramisu – and a good choice it was too, turning out to be light as a feather.

I let others select the wine and we had a New Zealand chardonnay that was light enough on the palate.

It wasn’t the greatest meal I’ll ever have. Yet in its consistency and balance, it was ultimately better than that at English’s the day before.

You really never can tell what you’re going to find.

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