Brighton, that fun-loving seaside town all Londoners visit when there’s an unexpected heatwave and they’re in need of some escapism and a fetching deckchair tan, is not the most obvious choice for a fine dining experience. However, one restaurant to consistently receive the approval of both locals and the down-from-London crowd is The Restaurant at Drakes, located in the unassuming basement of the trendy boutique hotel.
Devon-raised Chef Andrew Mackenzie, whose training included working under Allan Hill at Gleneagles and Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico, first worked here when the dining room was known as the Gingerman Restaurant, but when the Gingerman group sold the business, prompting a re-branding exercise, Mackenzie stayed on as Head Chef and succeeded in achieving a solid reputation in a town sadly lacking in inspiring gastronomic destinations.
The handful of Brighton restaurants calling themselves ‘fine dining’ are far more relaxed than their capital city counterparts and as such tend to struggle to attain any form of Michelin recognition. Instead, the attention is rightly focussed on satisfying regular customers and it just wouldn’t work to overdo the front of house fuss required to up-the-ante on the award stakes. Personally, this more casual setting makes a refreshing change.
The Restuarant at Drakes is nonetheless an ‘occasion’ venue, with a distinctly grown-up feel, although it’s a shame that the dining room doesn’t boast a sea view and that they have chosen to locate the cocktail bar (which doubles as the hotel reception) in the more dramatic space. The Restaurant therefore relies heavily on ‘the buzz’ generated by diners, which can be an issue mid-week.
I selected the well-loved classic of roast Scottish scallops with pea purée and crispy bacon – a succulent taste of the sea. The main, a generous trio of pork (belly, crispy pig head & boudin noir) with creamed Savoy cabbage, fondant potato, roast apples and thyme sauce, was a sublime take on a roast dinner, even if that meant it struggled to look entirely elegant. It’s clear that chef serves a refined version of what he likes to eat and the result is food with plenty of heart.
The evening ended on a high note (literally) with the signature Mirabelle soufflé, served with vanilla ice-cream and poached Mirabelle plums, a beautiful balance of sweetness and acidity. One of my favourite desserts executed with finesse. We retired to the bar for coffee and a nightcap – thankfully being on the first floor meant we didn’t have far to travel.
The Restaurant at Drakes, Drakes Boutique Hotel, 43-44 Marine Parade, Brighton, BN2 1PE. For more information visit the website.