It’s raining when I meet Angela, my VIB (very independent Brighton) food-tour guide, under a marquee outside New Road’s Unitarian Church in Brighton. This isn’t just drizzle though, it’s a proper June Glastonbury/Wimbledon downpour. I’m here to shove my snout into a pick-and-mix of the city’s most interesting independent food vendors. There’s no itinerary, presumably to give the tour an air of discovery, so we splash off blindly in a northerly direction, wondering what’ll be the first course on our perambulatory mezze plate…
There’s pouring inside as well as out as we duck down Gardner Street to Bluebird Tea. This is their flagship store, but they now have a three-store empire, with one in Bristol and another in Tunbridge Wells. Here, we sniff blends of matcha: a vibrant, leafy-coloured powder made from ground green-tea leaves, spliced together by the resident mixologists. One smells of freshly cut grass; another of Refreshers — remember those chewy, fruity, yellow sweets?
Up the road at the Brighton Sausage Company we’re introduced to Welsh chorizo. The store’s owner, Paul, gifts us a charcuterie board to share, where the meats are rich and moreish but the star is the Stilton-like Spanish cheese Picos Blue. “We’ve only found two things that didn’t work in a sausage: pineapple and spinach,” he tells us. Pineapple indeed…
After wading, umbrellas aloft, up London Road, we shelter in the Open Market. Here Christian, the proprietor of Smorl’s Humous, gives us the lowdown on his brand. “We make anti-supermarket humous,” he says. “Long-hand humous, as opposed to short hand. Everyone has their garlic threshold, so we produce a range of increasingly garlicky dips.” I try all three, with some pitta and falafels. Nobody’s gonna kiss me for a few days, but that’s nothing new.
Just around the corner, opposite the exit to the Level, it’s hot chocolate time in Rainbow Organic Chocolate. This hidden treasure is run by a lady called Suzanne, who trained as a chocolatier in France. It’s the finest hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. It’s like it’s been laced with crack. When we emerge, on a silky cocoa buzz, so has the sun.
After a mooch around Hisbe (great for the tourist; bit weird if it’s where you usually buy your bog roll), it’s off to Burger Brothers, where co-founder Pip gives us a quarter of a burger each. “We do taste other people’s burgers. It’s our job. It’s a tough life, but it has to be done,” he beams smugly, before giving us a briefing on how me maintains the structural integrity of his buns.
Then it’s on to English’s for oyster tasting. We try three varieties: Carlingford, Lindesfarne and West Mersea, each garnished with red wine vinegar, chopped shallot and green Tabasco. “People are very welcome to breeze in and just have oysters,” we’re told. “I think we’re the only place in Brighton that does three different types.”
Finally, dessert takes us to Boho Gelato, near Pool Valley Coach Station. A huge queue snakes out the door, past the adjacent kebab shop and up towards East Street, but eventually we get our teeth into three flavours: strawberry, basil and black pepper; carrot cake; and lemon and poppy seed. Strawberry gets the gold. “It’s been the busiest week ever for us,” says owner Seb, who discovered his passion for ice cream in Sicily. Now he’s a gelato “mixologist” (that word again, sorry). “We’ve had queues out the door every day.”
Good for them, their passion for the produce shines through. We’ve met Seb before and he’s always happy to dish out samples and chat about the inspirations behind them.
As the group dissolves — each floating off to ruminate, cogitate and digest — I wonder how the past three hours evaporated so quickly. The samples on offer were enough to stave off the hunger pangs, without leaving me too stuffed for dinner. And everyone got a small discount (ten per cent) in most places too. Local foodies will already be familiar with most of the destinations on this tour, but I’d recommend it to anyone looking to sprinkle some unusual seasoning on a day trip.
Words and pictures by The Wine Ninjas
First published on www.brightonsource.co.uk