Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Salt Room – winning deserved recognition

Pig's head
For the last couple of years, a trip to Brighton has meant one non-working thing: a visit to The Salt Room for a top-class meal.

Many eateries could learn a great deal from this place – menus that change regularly to reflect the alchemical fusion of season and place are an unfailing incentive to revisit.

After arriving in time to watch a stunning sunset that saw the sky to the west slashed with red and the magical sight of a murmuration of starlings fluidly circling over the silhouetted skeleton of the West Pier, it was time to get ready for dinner.

There are occasions when I wonder when, why or how Britain lost its understanding of seasonality in food.

We have the ridiculousness of asparagus and strawberries all year round, and people have simply come to expect that, apparently little noticing what that means for actual taste.

In October, The Salt Room was named as the UK winner in the 2017 Seafood Restaurant of the Year competition, organized by Seafish and The Caterer.

The competition, in its third year, was launched to highlight creative use of seafood and businesses’ knowledge of often under-used species in all types of restaurants.

Such recognition could hardly be more deserved.

A number of times when visiting, I’ve plumped for a mackerel dish to start – a fish that is so often ignored, but is always impeccably fresh here and cooked superbly, with innovative accompaniments.

However, this time I began with pig’s head, salt-baked parsnip, plum and miso.

The pork was soft and flaky, sitting atop a fat slice of parsnip that had just enough bite. Half a plum added a hint of tartness and firmer texture, while plum purée continued the theme. The miso was a little thread of flavor below.

Tiny pieces of nut on the side had somehow been given a light texture that made them a divine nut popcorn. Simply gorgeous and absolutely full of warm autumnal flavours.

This was accompanied by a glass of Tandem Ars Nova from Spain – a combination of Tempranillo, Cabernet, Merlot – which continued the earthy themes.

Next up was a superb piece of hake, with cauliflower presented in a number of ways, with chanterelles and lightly pickled chestnuts – a dish that illustrates perfectly why The Salt Room picked up that award.

A blackberry delight
It was accompanied by a very pleasant Sancerre, Domaine de la Rossignole.

For dessert, a blackberry meringue ball that opened to reveal a quenelle of crème fraîche, with fresh blackberries, lemon curd and lemon thyme.

This was positively a symphony of richness, tartness and texture – incredible flavours. And yet again, totally in keeping with the season.

The Salt Room is not cheap – but you get what you pay for and given that, just a few doors down the road, a plate of frozen scampi, frozen chips and mushy peas with a soft drink costs over £12, real quality is bound to cost more.

Very helpfully, they have an excellent range of wines that are available by the glass.

So there you have it: once again, The Salt Rooms illustrates the joy of seasonal food, locally sourced and cooked flawlessly. That is why it has been named the top fish restaurant in the UK. And why I think it is only a matter of time before it wins yet more plaudits.

If you’re in Brighton do visit – but booking is essential.

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