When I first moved to Brighton I was struck by just how many great pubs this fair city possessed. For us normal folk looking for a place to enjoy a drink and a bite to eat this is great news; perhaps not so much for those seeking our custom. Many have the security of being part of a major chain or the backing of a large brewery in order to survive. The downside to this is that these venues are often restricted in their choice of beers, food and décor as a result. One new pub that has decided that they want to go it alone and avoid this is The Independent in Queens Park.
Having purchased what was the Walmer Castle, owners Matt and James spent three months renovating the pub before opening in late June. They have created a laid back, understated but stylish space that retains a pub feel. With a record player on the bar and a selection of vinyl to choose from it is a bit like having a bar in your living room; the dream we all dream – or is that just me?
The pub has a strong emphasis on food and head chef Nick has over twenty years’ experience working in a variety of restaurants and hotels in London. His vision for The Independent is classic bistro style cuisine. His cooking is about pleasure and providing food that people want to eat rather than seeking personal glory – leave your bells and whistle at the door please. The menu is seasonal and ever changing based on what produce is available – sourced locally of course, but there is no need to go on about it.
I was delighted to see that they offered merguez (£5.50) – a North African spiced lamb sausage – on the starters menu. I’ve had a hankering for these for some time and was not disappointed. Supplied by the Brighton Sausage Co, they had a satisfying balance of both heat and spice. Served with an apricot couscous and a pepperoncini sauce for added heat and a mint yoghurt to counteract it I quickly polished them off.
For my main I went for the herb crust hake with mash, kale and green beans in a beurre blanc sauce(£13.95). As I waited for my main to arrive I sat sipping a pint of Goose Island IPA as Lou Reed’s “Transformer” came on the stereo; I really could be at home. The food arrived and I tucked in feeling quietly content. The meaty yet mild hake was cooked beautifully with the crust and crisp skin on the bottom adding texture. Super creamy mash and basic greens complemented it well with the beurre blanc giving just the right amount of acidity. This is the sort of food that I like to make at home, just done better.
I finished my meal with a chocolate orange pot served with home made biscotti (£5.75). Chef Nick trained as a pastry chef and so I had high hopes for this. As with the previous courses I was served a no frills yet very tasty pudding. The slightly salty biscotti had a crisp yet chewy texture that was much nicer than some of the overly crisp offerings I’ve had previously. The chocolate pot was silky smooth and indulgently rich with a hint of orange that lingered on the palette.
When James and Matt took over the pub their aim was simple. To open the type of pub that they would like to eat and drink in and give that to the community. With Chef Nick in tow they have achieved just that. I shared my evening with a table consisting of three generations of a family to my left and a variety of couples to my right. Every one of them was happily chatting away and then murmuring contentedly when their food arrived.
I am told that their Sunday roasts are now pre-book only and based on what I ate I can see why. The food is there to enjoy and feel comfortable with. This is not food that needs to shout about itself as that is not what it is about. This is food to be appreciated in its simplicity and focus on great taste and that in itself is a wonderful thing.
95 Queen’s Park Road
This review first appeared in the November 20th edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent and can be viewed here
The restaurant was aware that I was reviewing and food was complimentary, this in no way influenced my review.