Casual elegance at Pascere, Brighton
The seaside town's newest offering in fine dining combines the best of land, sea and air
Fine dining is often an ordeal. With exorbitant prices, tiny courses and unnecessary formalities, it can often make a fun night out feel more like a chore, when all you really want is great food without the fuss.
With a touch of class and intuition, restaurateurs Amanda Menahem and Johnny Stanford have managed to avoid the usual pitfalls with their new restaurant Pascere, set among the cosy, winding streets of Brighton's Lanes district.
Menahem, former food and drink editor of Platinum Business Magazine, and Stanford, former head chef of Pass restaurant at South Lodge Hotel, have combined their wealth of knowledge to create what they describe as "a blend of comfort and luxury", pairing beautiful food, sleek interior design and a stunning wine list.
Within the tasteful teal-tinted walls, patrons can choose between large family tables and outdoor seating downstairs, while upstairs diners can sit at small intimate tables, or perch on high stools peering into the bustling kitchen to watch the team at work.
And work they do, serving up a small but complex a la carte menu, each dish jumping off the plate with bold colours and even bolder flavours.
To start, the rich but delicate beef's cheek tortellini, with a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, strikes a perfect balance between fine dining and comfort food, topped with mushroom puree and resting gently in an aromatic beef consommé.
Meanwhile, the visually stunning baby squid is a delight, pan-fried to perfection and complimented by a bed of mushroom noodles, while a parsley cream brings out further subtle flavours from both.
The mains, however, are where Pascere really hits its stride and, realising the potential of their standalone ingredients, the kitchen team take a step back, giving the flavours room to breathe without constraint from overwrought ornamentation.
The Week Portfolio recommends the pan fried stone bass, plucked fresh from the ocean in nearby Newhaven and served up with wild mushrooms, sea vegetables and Johnny's trademark pressed potatoes - an austere yet nourishing take on dauphinois that is at once airy and light while also deviously indulgent.
The roast lamb rump and barbecue lamb shoulder with watercress puree and samphire is where meat lovers will get the best bang for their buck, with juicy, tender textures and barbecue flavours left to flourish under the subtle puree, taking the place of often heavy, stodgy sauces associated with similar cuts of meat.
For dessert, highlights include the strawberry and white chocolate cheesecake, a hearty, satisfying addendum with a refreshingly crisp strawberry sorbet, and the cheese board, a thoughtfully chosen selection of ripe, complex British cheeses to round off the meal.
As an avid wine aficionado, Menahem has compiled a comprehensive wine list too, with a fresh, citric Verdicchio pairing up nicely with the stone bass, and Menahem's own favourite - a bold Sangiovese - revealing deeper flavours hidden in the lamb.
Although Pascere is mere weeks old, it feels like an old friend in Brighton's Lanes, both homely and chic, providing patrons with excellent, daring food that never lets pretention get in the way of taste.
Pascere is a haute-cuisine-on-white plates kind of establishment, but with all the stuffiness stripped away, and with a stylish, vibrant interior and food of this quality, the first time you visit Pascere will almost certainly not be your last.
Pascere, 8 Duke St, Brighton, BN1 1AH
For reservations, call 01273 917949 or email firstname.lastname@example.org