Stokes Croft is what you make it. For some, it’s what Nathan Barley warned us about- for others it’s a thriving hub of independent businesses, hedonism and some decent graffiti from time to time. Whatever your preference, Stokes Croft has bore the brunt of gentrification with relative aplomb; even Turbo Island got a mural. Even on my worst days, I’ve always got time for a fist bump or hug with Jeff.
I love him. I love you, Jeff.
But things have gotten somewhat bleak in the last couple of years; ghost properties of overseas property magnates remain in stasis and now Hamilton house is under threat. Maybe everything would be OK if Banksy boshed out another piece, or Slix took over Meat Liquor. We’ll see.
Having heard so much about this place, my interest piqued at the mention of Billy Trigg and Charlie James former head chefs at the Ethicurean and River Cottage Cafe, respectively.
The whitewashed walls give a clean and beautifully simple feel, that coincides with industrial air vents and hanging lights- the sort of thing that used to make me despise almost every coffee shop in Brighton but here, it convinces me.
The lunch menu is pleasingly short and thoughtful, with two plates and a side for ten pounds. No asterisk, no contingent purchase. Just a tenner.
I start with the brown butter, sauerkraut, capers, herb emulsion and breadcrumbs. It’s warm, nutty, sumptuous and livened with the vibrant emulsion. The salty acidity of the capers cut through the heft and play off against the sauerkraut, which is toothsome and tangy- the breadcrumbs tying it all together with a satisfying crunch.
Not unlike Oliver Twist, I look up to the waiter who has clearly seen my kind before and almost without prompt, slides me a piece of fresh crusty bread to soak up the rest of the butter.
I think I love him, too.
Within minutes, the caramelised cauliflower, black garlic, mojos and hazelnuts come. The cauliflower is verging on fudgey, with a hint of smoke, the mojos give a rich and bursting kick of peppers, garlic and paprika that in my primitive mind points me towards something like harissa, but with more class. The black garlic sits like torn rizla and I’m careful to make it last with each bite.
My final plate appears and it’s fried chicken, Kim-chi, peanut sambal and macerated kale with a decent lick of habanero mayo. I don’t care where I go or at what level, fried chicken is my jam. Instead of a roughly textured batter, it’s a smooth, intense golden brown that has a shatteringly crisp exterior yielding a fluffy and slightly sweet batter, that in turn encompasses extremely juicy thigh meat.
As a lover of satay chicken, this dish is a witty tribute; the peanuts sparkle in a sweet and spiced glaze that offers a visceral bite, along with the supple kale that gives the plate balance. Beneath this is a confidently spicy mayonnaise that’s rightfully unapologetic. Once finished, the waiter casually points out that they have a few Pastéis De Nata left and some salted caramel ice cream.
I practically put my finger to his lips and whisper ‘shhh’.
The bake on the pastry is textbook. The inside, meltingly creamy, paired with the ice cream is my ideal! With a deep caramel flavour cut with an honest degree of salt, there’s not a single ice crystal to be found. Melding all of these elements together, it was just moreish.
I sit, quietly stunned. I signal to the waiter with a dazed look that says I’m ready for the bill. He’s seen that look before, too.