The early signs were inauspicious. The Landlubber and I had arrived in Brighton to weather that might politely be described as ‘bracing’, but is in reality closer to ‘bloody awful’. There had been a contratemps with a tailor over an unmade shirt, and I don’t believe that anyone is going to describe Brighton’s main drag, West Street, as anything other than horrible. A far cry from the bohemian delights of the Lanes or the Regency splendour of the seafront, it’s not a particularly enjoyable welcome to Brighton’s newest attempt to stake a claim in the upmarket dining sphere, The Salt Room.
And then, thankfully, all is ameliorated as soon as we walk in the front door. The design – all exposed brickwork and timber, mixed with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the seafront – is slick and contemporary, but also smart and highly sophisticated. The staff are friendly and welcoming, happy to chat and properly engage with the customers rather than blankly waiting to receive orders. After a superbly mixed gin and tonic (using Ford’s gin and raspberries – try it, it’s something special) and a welcome nibble of whipped salt cod and top-notch bread, we sit by the window, stare out at the tempestuous scenes outside and raise a glass to what, we hope, might be the best place to have arrived on the South Coast in quite a while.
When we visit, the restaurant had been in operation a week. Traditionally it’s always dangerous to attempt to assess a new opening (although that’s never stopped the majority of London critics) until it’s had time to bed in, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue here. Sticking closely to a menu of top-notch meat and seafood (as the sister restaurant The Coal Shed does), the cooking is precise, adventurous when it needs to be and, thanks to making use of local produce wherever possible, tastes fresh. A starter of lobster and shellfish cocktail might be an upmarket take on that favourite of Berni inns everywhere, the prawn cocktail, but it’s really good. The Landlubber had a tricky time getting to grips with her fire roasted crab claws – it’s not a dish to order if you want to eat delicately – but the succulent crab lurking inside more than rewarded her efforts.
Anywhere that boasts a Josper Grill always gets our vote for going the extra mile, and the meat and fish cooked on it was of a predictably fine nature. My Black Angus rib-eye steak was far from cheap at £32 for 400g – without sides or a sauce – but good beef isn’t and cannot be an economy option. The Landlubber’s monkfish cooked in yoghurt and ginger was predictably fine. Washed down with a bottle of Rioja recommended by our excellent waitress Penelope (‘I’m from Spain, so I’d always suggest wine from there – but it’s really good!’), it was a pleasure to take refuge from the miserable weather inside.
There are several desserts on the menu, but the one that any pair of diners ought to order is the so-called ‘Taste of the Pier’, a witty deconstruction of what people might expect from a seaside restaurant. Combining many on-trend pieces of sweet delight (salted caramel ice cream, chocolate honeycomb ‘pebbles’) with a couple of old-school treats – an unironic doughnut – it’s an opportunity to scamper back to childhood, bucket and spade figuratively aloft. Although not many childhoods featured the Espresso Martinis lurking in the desserts section of the menu, an all-too-moreish kick of Stolichnaya, Tia Maria and espresso to send one out into the cold, miserable afternoon feeling altogether more cheery than when you’d walked in. For that, and for much else, all hail the coming of the Salt Room. I expect it to be one of the most talked-about openings of 2015, and for all the right reasons.
106 King’s Road, Brighton BN1 www.saltroom-restaurant.co.uk.