This has been my go-to pub for the last eight years since moving down from Bristol and it has rarely let me down. As a student many a “study day” was spent drinking ESB with my housemates and tucking into a seafood platter for lunch. Whilst my visits are less frequent these days I still look forward to popping in when I can.
The food has always been excellent and has seen the pub win silver at the Brighton Food Awards in 2015 (and gold for best pub). The menu has generally remained unchanged since I started drinking here with the daily specials representing the only variations from the core options. Head chef Ben Hutton decided it was time to shake things up and try something new to keep pace with the rest of the competition.
I went down to give the new menu a try and see whether it is up to scratch – purely in the interests of journalism of course.
Ben has worked at the pub for four years now working his way up through the ranks to head chef and so understands what makes the pub so popular. The new menu represents Ben’s first major move since becoming head chef, and he has done so with respect to the spirit of the pub.
The food is still championing pub classics, with an emphasis on quality and locally sourced seasonal ingredients, with a couple of other interesting additions. There is a much more extensive “nibbles” menu and some small plate options that could work as starters or light meals. Mains are split into “Farm”, “Earth”, and “sea” with sharing platters and side options completing the menu.
We started with a couple options from the nibbles menu and kept it meaty with the pigs in blankets (£4) and homemade pork scratchings (£4). When they arrived I was instantly excited and in piggy paradise.
The impressively proportioned scratchings were crisp and salty and accompanied with a sharp yet sweet burnt apple sauce. The pigs in blankets had been cooked in maple syrup and sesame seeds and the combination of salty bacon, savoury sausages and sweet syrup and sesame was joyous – these are the premier league of pub snacks.
Still reeling from the joy of the intro we then had the cayenne popcorn shrimp and Bloody Mary ketchup (£6) and sweetcorn and chilli fritters with a raw slaw (£6).
I enjoyed the popcorn shrimp which had a gentle heat and the slightly crisp texture and fried taste took away from the rich sweetness that you can get with shrimp. The ketchup delivered on its promise of Bloody Mary flavouring and accompanied the shrimp perfectly.
The sweetcorn fritters were light and crisp with the sweetness of corn running throughout. These were pleasant without being delicious and I felt that there could have been a bit more heat or perhaps Asian flavours to add more punch. The raw slaw also could have done with a little more oomph or vinegar hit to contrast the fritters.
We finished with the dish I most associate with The Basketmakers – a seafood platter.
This latest incarnation is offered up as a sharing platter for two at a cost of £20. We were presented with juicy sweet prawns and mussels with a creamy wine rich broth, tender well-seasoned salt and pepper squid and smoky oily mackerel all of which were a delight. Potted shrimp were mildly spiced and a buttery indulgence when spread on the sourdough bread – although perhaps not to everyone’s taste.
Everything was cooked perfectly and the quality of the ingredients was clear to be seen. My only thought was that, for the price, a side of fries or similar would really make this feel like a dish for two people to share.
It is always a little concerning when something you feel comfortable with changes. Thankfully Ben has remained true to the Basketmakers reputation and has not been swayed by trends or current food fads in delivering a quality new menu.
What you get at The Basketmakers Arms is a top quality boozer serving proper pub food that compliments the environment rather than overshadow it.
The cooking is top draw and you would be hard pressed to find better pub food in the city. The addition of pub snacks is inspired, and if the rest of the menu is as good as the food we tried then the Basketmakers Arms reputation is safe in Ben’s hands as far as I am concerned.
The Basket Makers
12 Gloucester Rd, Brighton,
This review first appeared in the May 20th edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent