A little while ago, when I wrote about Brighton and its restaurants, I might have allowed the faintest air of condescension to sneak into what I said. ‘Great for outside of London’, might have been my implication, with the unwritten inference that, were the various highspots of the East Sussex coast to be moved 40 or so miles North, they would be found wanting. This is, I think, an unfair judgement. Some of the best places there – Chilli Pickle, 64 Degrees, The Salt Room and The Little Fish in Hove – would more than hold their own, wherever they were located. And now to their number can be added Pascere, a small but (oh yes) perfectly formed gem in the Lanes that eschews excessive complexity in favour of doing lovely food exceptionally well. I doubt that there are many places roundabouts that offer a more straightforwardly satisfying experience.
From an aesthetic perspective, you know that you’re in good hands as soon as you arrive in the beautifully decorated downstairs dining room. It has all the quiet and discreet comfort of a Michelin-starred establishment with none of the stuffiness, although families should note that this isn’t a place to bring bawling babies. There are two important factors at play here, food and wine.
The first comes courtesy of head chef Johnny Stanford, who has served his time in Michelin-starred restaurants (including at the nearby Pass at South Lodge Hotel), and the second owes its excellence to the restaurant’s owner Amanda Menahem. A former food and drink editor of Platinum Business magazine, she has an innate understanding of what people want to eat and drink, and a comprehensive wine list comes with the vast majority of its selections by the glass and half-bottle carafe, allowing for plenty of choice. And, of course, a wide variety to be paired with the dishes.
There is a slightly different menu on offer at lunchtime and dinner; the evening experience is more ‘fine dining’ in its ethos, whereas the earlier shift has a more egalitarian emphasis. If you wanted to come here and snack on a couple of small plates, such as the sensationally good chicken croquettes and chicken skin mayonnaise, or the English pea custard with lavender brioche, you’d be more than welcome. (I’d strongly suggest a glass of the superb cava, which has a delightful taste of the crispest of green apples, and is both refreshing and moreish.) Conversely, if you wanted a proper three-course meal, the main courses – hearty beef cheek papardelle and a truly enlightening duck dish – are just this size of overwhelming, meaning that if you have to do anything other than enjoy a post-prandial slumber, you’ll cope. Although you might have to eschew a glass of the very fine South African Syrah that comes – as if by intuition – as a perfect accompaniment.
Dessert is where a lot of very good restaurants slip up, on the almost apologetic grounds that sweet things are for children, not grown ups. That could not be further from the case here, where a sensational chocolate mousse with malted milk ice cream is a show-stopping finale to a fantastic meal. Washed down with an appropriate glass of Domaine Cazes, it sets one up for the afternoon. As I left Pascere on a wet Wednesday afternoon, clutching an umbrella barely fit for use, my clothes and demeanour might have appeared soggy, but my heart was soaring. Once again, Brighton’s culinary pioneers have come up trumps.
Pascere, 8 Duke Street, Brighton. For news, reviews, menus and more, visit www.pascere.co.uk.