Pascere review: Few can pronounce Brighton’s hottest new restaurant’s name, but there’s a good reason for that. It’s Latin (meaning “to nourish”). The staff tell me it’s “Pas-ear”. But, let’s face it, the food does most of the talking.
En route to Pascere, Brighton’s latest fine-dining experience, I realise I’ve forgotten my notepad. I nip back and grab a sheet of blank A4 from my six-year-old’s room. At least, I assume it’s blank. It’s not until I’m at the restaurant that I realise there’s a little drawing on it. A green stick figure standing next to a plate of food. There’s a trail of dots descending from the plate, at the bottom of which it says: “Yum. The end.” I assume it’s some kind of prophecy. And later, when the pre-starters arrive, I realise I’m right…
Two breads: saison-beer-and-onion; and stout-and-treacle. Black salt butter on the side, capped with muscovado sugar. The soft lick of muscovado with the onion bread is so good that time slows down. We’re sat upstairs, with a great view of chef Johnny Stanford and chums in the kitchen on one side; a not-so-great view of Nando’s out the window.
Our waitress, Rosie, plays along with my rubbish small-talk as she brings out beef cheek tortellini with mushroom pureé and beef consommé. The beef’s so tender it disintegrates in the mouth like a snowman hit by a wrecking ball. I have to eat it quickly though, as we’re being attacked by an air conditioning unit that feels like a Siberian anticyclone. My only regret is that I don’t save a chunk of that beer-and-onion bread to mop up the consommé with.
Next to land, a multi-layered baby squid dish with parsley cream and mushroom noodles. The ink leaves a pretty black residue on the plate, like a monochrome Jackson Pollock. It arrives with a white Côtes du Rhône that smells like Preston Park’s wild-flower garden. My friend says it “smells like the NHS”. I think she enjoyed it though.
Chicken breast with baby carrots and hay mayonnaise makes us glance smugly across the road at Nando’s. But it’s not the chicken here that impresses the most: it’s the carrot. It’s the least carroty-looking but most carroty-tasting carrot I’ve ever eaten. It’s been barbecue-burnt on the outside and tastes like the earth. It’s a turbo-charged carrot; a carrot cubed (and I mean mathematically here, not spacially).
Carrot with chicken. Or is it the other way around?
My friend tells me she ordered the trout because she “doesn’t like trout”. I assume I’ve misheard, but no.. this is a clever test: any chef who can transform something you think you dislike must have a special gift. It’s an ordering tactic so dangerous that you can only admire it.
This trout not only passes the test with distinction, it gets its picture taken holding a scroll and wearing a mortar board. “I can’t tell you how much I hate trout,” she says. “But this is lovely.”
We tell chef Johnny how much we’re enjoying the lightness and delicacy of the food.
“I hate heaviness in food,” he explains. “It does taste wonderful, but you leave feeling… [a pregnant pause substitutes the words heavy and bloated].
“I grew up cooking French food,” he continues. “But it’s so rich. You can extract much more flavour when you reduce the fat content.” He expands on this philosophy with reference to my favourite carrot. “I just cook things that taste nice. [I ask] How do I make carrots taste nice? Why can’t a carrot be fine dining? And I hate throwing things away. Cauliflower leaves? [as served with the trout] Why can’t they be used?”
It’s a similar attitude to one of my other favourite Brighton chefs, Silo’s Doug McMaster. And it’s a philosophy I deeply appreciate…
Almost as much as I appreciate the buttermilk sponge with honeycomb and milk ice cream that follows. Sorry if I sound like I’m tripping here, but it brought to mind a marmalade sandwich with a Crunchie on top — fine-dining style. Like Paddington Bear’s lunch box, reimagined by a chef. It was my favourite dish of the night.
Buttermilk Sponge au Paddington Bear
On the other side of the table, the strawberry and white chocolate cheesecake also evoked childhood memories. It looked like a plumped-up strawberry bootlace; a shiny lipstick-red pipe injected with creamy cheesecake. Sound sickly? On the contrary, it literally had me saying…
4 NINJA STARS
Pascere is at 8 Duke Street, Brighton BN1 1AH
A version of this review also appears on Brighton Source