Monday, December 03, 2007

Terre a Terre, Brighton (revisited)

71 East Street,
East Sussex BN1 1HQ

I last went to Terre a Terre in June 2006. This year, a friend and I made the trip down to Brighton on a very windy night. It was my friends first visit and I was hoping that it would be as good as my last trip.

From the front, Terre a Terre is fairly unassuming. However, once inside it opens up to reveal quite a sizeable restaurant with polished wooden floors and wooden tables. Upon arrival, we were given the choice of sitting at the large open area towards the rear of the restaurant which is quite noisy or one of the four tables near the front, where it was quieter. We opted for the latter and duly took our seats and were presented with the menu.

Choosing starters was easy as Terre a Terre offer a "tapas" of starters that includes most of the starters on the menu and more. Mains were more difficult as we wanted all of them… So, we ordered some wasabi cashews as an appetiser, drinks and the starters hoping that by the time the waiter had returned with the drinks and nuts we would have decided. And, as luck would have it, we had. So, we ordered dishes called "Fundamentally Fungus" and "Poke Mole and Turtle Soup." Oh, and a side of Smoky Scrunch Chips with Bang Bang Salt.

The wasabi cashews, although quite expensive for what they are, were fab. Not too hot, but just enough to give a pleasant kick and to keep you busy until the starters arrive. I guess its one of those indulgences you just have to try.

The starters arrived on rather a large plate and the waitress explained what each of the dishes were. Now, my memory is a little fuzzy on the exact contents, but here goes. There was sushi, Mushroom cappuccino and parmesan doughnuts, Spiced puff cakes and charred aubergine, sweet potato fritters, tandoori halloumi, various leaf and grain salads and foccacia bread. I'm sure there was more, but my memory fails me. It was all very nice, especially the tandoori halloumi and the sushi. It was also very filling and I was worried at one point that I may not be able to fully sample the rest of the menu.

There was a bit of a mix up when they delivered the wrong main courses. However, this was remedied quickly and politely and we both tucked into our not-insubstantial main courses.

My main was titled Fundamentally Fungus and the menu described it as "big rich mixed wild mushroom merlot regout, tarragon strands and shallots crammed into polenta crumb collars served with salsify frizz, roast barley buttered black cabbage toasted hazelnut milk and creamy mashed potatoes." And that's pretty much what it was. The mushrooms tasted very similar, if not the same, as the "mushroom cappucino" in the starter "tapas" and were served inside a polenta tube (for want of a better description) which was a very imaginative and tasty way of using polenta, one of the worlds most boring ingredients. The same mushrooms were also on the plate separately. The cabbage was lovely and the salsify "frizz" (foam) was divine. The creamy mashed potatoes were indeed creamy and extremely nice.

My friend had Poke Mole and Turtle Soup which consisted of sweet potato fritters served with a poke chipotle gazpacho, avocado mousse, lime oil and warm spice corn. The sweet potato fritters were, again, similar if not the same as the ones on the starter plate, and the gazpacho was quite spicy. The "bang bang" chips that we had to accompany the meal are a "must have" if you're ever here and come with a wickedly spiced guacamole, despite the fact that we were too full to finish all of them.

At this point, dessert looked an impossibility, but after looking at the dessert menu, we decided that we would "go for it". So, shortly afterwards "Bananas and Custard" and "Rain Vodka Cherry Chocolate Churros" were brought to the table. The bananas were caramelised and accompanied by custard, almond fried rice pudding, muscavado ice cream and a whisky and vanilla syrup. Apart from the rice pudding, which was tasty when first bitten, but then with every subsequent chew, became bland and glutinous, it was superb.

The cherries, although not to my taste, were pronounced a dessert marvel by my friend, especially when a cherry, accompanied by a piece of churro was then dipped into the chocolate and then eaten. Even I subscribe to this fact. Though I didn't like the cherries on their own, when eaten in combination with the chocolate and churro, they were very, very good.

This was then followed by a coffee (and I was delighted to find somewhere in England that serves "flat whites" - a milky coffee I came to love in Australia) and the bill which came (with tip) to a round ton.

Sure, its not cheap, but Terre a Terre has lifted itself above the usual "nuts & lentils" vegetarian restaurant. This is a restaurant that creates imaginative and tasty food that just doesn't need meat or fish.

Having been here before, I thought that this time the meals were much more "complete meals" rather than my last visit where you received a plate that seemed to consist of separate small tasters that ended up with too many ingredients and tastes on the same plate.

As a vegetarian, it is quite exciting to see a menu of this calibre where I can eat everything. However, as mentioned before, the prices mean that I am unlikely to frequent Terre a Terre that regularly, so if the tapas style starter idea was extended to a tasting menu where one could sample examples of many of the courses, I would be an eternally happy bunny.

I also think that a slight redesign of the restaurant would make for a slightly better dining experience. Although where we were sat was fairly quiet, being quite close to the door we did get disturbed by diners that were coming in later in the evening and standing around waiting for tables. By using this area as a waiting area on busy nights, serving drinks while the tables are made up etc the dining experience could easlily be improved, and quite possibly, more money made.

Also, the back of the restaurant, due to the open space, is quite noisy so white table cloths could help deaden the sound as well as giving it that more "high class restaurant" feel that it undoubtably deserves.

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