Just a couple of weeks ago I found myself out of my comfort zone enjoying a vegetarian meal at Planet India’s new restaurant in Hove. Fresh off the back of that experience I have taken things up, or down depending on your point of view, a notch by paying vegan plant based restaurant Rootcandi a visit.
Rootcandi was created by Steve Billam, the man behind the hugely popular Iydea café; and classically trained, award winning chef Reuben Waller. Rootcandi started a year ago as a pop up dining experiment that received rave reviews from local reviewers. In March this year they designed a new menu and took over the Western Road branch of Iydea transforming Rootcandi into a full time restaurant.
I am no expert but I hear that plant based is the new word used to describe vegan food. This sounds like a clever PR stunt on the part of the vegan community to rebrand a cuisine that has suffered from years of lentil based ridicule. Whether this is the case or not, and I am not saying that it is, the concept of a purely plant based or vegan restaurant is a brave one – even in Brighton.
I was invited to try the new restaurant and popped by on a pleasant Tuesday evening taking a seat in the large window side of the restaurant. They have transformed the site into a tidy and bright space that feels smart without being overly formal – smart casual if you will. The menu is split into four geographically focussed tapas sets with the concept that diners share the six dishes from one of the menus. If this is not up your street you can pick and choose, although I think that would be missing the point.
As I am dining alone I decide to pick a few dishes from the “Stanmer” menu – that’s modern European to you and me. The other options are the pan Asian “Queens”, Indian inspired “Brunswick” and the South American themed “Preston” – no prizes for guessing where they got the names from.
I’ve been on a bit of a martini mission of late and so I order their lychee and blackcurrant version (£7.30) to enjoy as an aperitif. Obviously I was not expecting a classic offering with those flavours and it wasn’t. It was, however, a very enjoyable fruity cocktail with the tart blackcurrant nicely balancing out the sweet lychee.
My tapas set arrives and the team have clearly given some thought as to how they want to present the dishes. Rather than cram loads of little dishes onto the table resulting in inevitable noise and mess, a spinning vertical stand is used with each dish occupying its own branch – very clever.
The full Stanmer set would cost £22 per person based on two sharing, representing the most expensive option on the menu compared to £16 for the Brunswick.
I start with the “King Oyster Scallop” featuring roasted king oyster mushrooms in a pea and asparagus puree (£6.90). It is an excellent adaptation of a classic starter with the meaty mushroom looking the part if tasting somewhat different to their fishy counterpart. The dish is fantastic and I start to realise that this is going to a really interesting experience.
Next up a tomato tarte tatin with pesto (£7.90). This inventive and sprightly take on the classic French dish is bursting with freshness and flavour and I happily chomp through it. The only sticking point being the lack of a flaky crisp base which I can overlook.
A braised salsify puree with red wine jus and caramelised red onion (£5.90) strikes me more as an accompaniment. It is a good bowl of what I can best describe as a fancy mash but not a stand out dish – a term I save for the last two dishes.
First up the last of my savoury choices, smoked cauliflower and wild mushroom risotto (£7.90). We all know that the secret to a good risotto is a ton of cheese and butter so a vegan risotto just does not compute. Well think again. This delicious bowl of earthy mushroom and rich truffle goodness could have been served in any fine dining restaurant in the city and I would have been pleased with it.
Topping the evening off was a dessert that was so good I had to double check that I was in a vegan/plant based restaurant. The chocolate ganache tart (£6.90) served with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream was a rich and indulgent treat that took me completely by surprise. My only previous experience of vegan chocolate came courtesy of an old work colleague. He would force bone dry and flavourless “chocolate” cookies on me whilst claiming they were better than the standard ones. They weren’t, but this dessert was.
If my visit to Planet India opened my eyes to vegetarian food and helped me to accept that it could be enjoyable, Rootcandi has shown me that it can also be refined and delicious. I was very impressed with the quality of the dishes and the chefs are clearly an inventive and creative bunch. Having only tried the one tapas set I would be interested in seeing how the others stand up, but based on my experience I have no reason to doubt the quality. The restaurant was lively and busy even on a Tuesday evening and so it appears that I am not the only one who has been impressed with their food. Well worth a visit, even if you are a carnivore like me.
105 Western Rd, Brighton BN1 2AA
This review first appeared in the August 12th edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent. The meal was complementary, however, this did not affect the outcome of the review in any way.