Head into many of the city’s pubs and you will be presented with a menu that bears, not the name of the pub, but an independent business looking to make a name for itself.
For those willing to delve a little deeper into the less obvious independents there are other dining options that are not so easy to spot.
Behind what appear to be ordinary front doors on quiet residential roads throughout the city, ‘secret’ supper clubs are springing up. A way for budding chefs and food enthusiasts to share their passion with like-minded individuals; ordinary people are transforming their living rooms into restaurants for the paying public.
I tried out a couple of the regular supper clubs that are taking place in the city and it was an enlightening experience.
My first was a supper club focussing on plant-based superfoods. The event was devised by Karen Lee who has created The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen to showcase her healthy eating philosophy.
The meal was hosted by Jane who utilises a spare room in her home to host events. I was surprised by the overall experience, this was just like any other dinner party with guests sipping wine and having a good time despite most having little previous contact with each other.
The meal started with a light and fresh salad containing walnuts and pomegranate. This was followed by a comforting and filling stew where the key ingredient was kale; known for its anti-oxidant benefits but also as an anti-cancer and urinary health superfood.
The next course was a first for me – a dish consisting mainly of millet balls. These were served with a vibrant green sauce, garlic greens and a parsnip and potato mash. I thought that millet was only used as bird feed but apparently it has a uniquely high nutrient content; it also tasted pretty good.
This was my first supper club experience and it was an interesting one. Karen really understands the subject, suffering from some food- related intolerances herself, and explains the benefits of each dish.
In linking this nutritional knowledge with her experience of disease as an intensive care nurse; Karen is on a mission to inform and educate us about our diets and our health.
My second supper club experience was much more within my comfort zone. Dine at 39 is the brainchild of Charlotte and Paul Sims who hold regular events in their home in central Brighton. Paul is a professional chef who has worked with celebrity chef Gary Rhodes during his career.
Wife Charlotte takes on the all-important role of hostess and front of house. On the evening I attended, Paul prepared a modern Indian inspired feast. After being greeted by Charlotte, tamarind margaritas were served along with some delicious onion bhajis and yoghurt dip.
Now suitably lubricated and with introductions made we took our seats in their converted living room – most of the furniture had been moved upstairs to accommodate a large dining table.
We started with lightly spiced tandoori chicken wings with mango chutney, pickles and a homemade hot chilli jam to give it some additional kick. This was followed by roast cod, duck leg samosa, dhal and a chilli and potato gratin.
The food had that home-cooked feel to it, but of a much higher standard than most can achieve themselves. The dishes were balanced with both the chicken and then cod given the treatment that they deserve.
I enjoyed each of the plates and felt that perhaps the starter was the stronger of the two; the main had some fantastic flavours, however, the gratin did not bring much to the dish overall. We finished the meal with a dessert of salted caramel and chocolate pave, coffee ice-cream, pumpkin and cardamom. In this we saw Paul’s former skills as a chef coming through; a fantastic dessert that delighted the senses and was a fitting finale to any meal.
Dine at 39 has great food and Charlotte held court very well having been attentive to the guests needs and engaging in conversation. I spent some time chatting with them afterwards and they told me that they will be running regular events each month that explore varying themes.
If you are inspired to give either of these a try there is a fantastic new website where you can browse and search for events. Tabl (www.tabl.com) was recently launched in Brighton and has events ranging from those I attended, to supper clubs based on dining through the ages; or book clubs and film nights. Why not give it a try, you might just like it.