When it comes to pubs Brighton isn’t exactly struggling to pull its weight. Depending on your point of view the city is positively blessed (an indication of my point of view) with a plethora of drinking holes. Whatever your preferred style of establishment from fancy wine bar through to dodgy back street boozer Brighton has got it all and more.
When it appears that every base is covered, and at a time when British pubs are still struggling to survive, it takes a certain amount of guts to put your name in the hat. Well the Caxton Arms has done just that and three months ago it reopened under the guidance of a group of friends. Beth, Kate and Natashsa had plenty of previous experience working in the industry, most recently at Craft in Brighton, and when the opportunity to own their own pub came along they took it.
The Caxton Arms is a classic local boozer where you can go for a quiet drink on your own or for a slightly rowdier night out with friends. They do not have a specific clientele in mind and just want to create a friendly and welcoming atmosphere for locals and visitors alike. There is a large function room downstairs which they will use in the future, but for the time being the pub is their focus.
After a two week refit period, where they have given the place a vivid new blue colour scheme that is calmed by sleek black, they have created a pleasant environment. With fireplaces and comfortable seating plus an outdoor space the Caxton ticks many of the pub requirements. When it came to the food they decided against a franchise kitchen and kept everything in house enlisting the services of their friend and chef Kev.
Head chef Kev has worked in kitchens for 10 years and was previously head chef at La Choza having spent time working in restaurants in Australia. With sous chef Jack alongside him it is early days for the duo who have got big plans for the future. The current menu looks fairly standard at first glace but on closer inspection there are a few hints at the aspirations of the chefs. Alongside a selection of burgers and wings, including an interesting smoked aubergine in tempura option, there can be found Caribbean smoked chicken or honey glazed duck mains. For the vegetarians there is a sweet potato gnocchi dish or a battered halloumi dish with pickled fennel both of which sound interesting.
I grab a quick chat with Kev who tells me that they are working on the menu for winter and Christmas that will involve lots of slow cooking and pickling. He appreciates that this is a new kitchen and they need to establish themselves but they do not want to stand still and would like to experiment with some lesser known cuts and techniques. Nose to tail is a concept that Brighton has become very comfortable with thanks to Tom Griffiths at Flank and they would like to do something similar but with their own take on it.
I decide to opt for the honey glazed duck with beetroot and pearl barley as I want to see what they do with this dish. Kev heads back to the kitchen to prepare my dinner and I sit back listening to Joni Mitchell on the stereo which wins a few bonus points with me.
My food arrives and I am pleased to report that it is a very attractive and inviting looking plate of food. Both Kev and Jack have restaurant experience and this looks like a plate of restaurant food, not something from the kitchen of your local boozer. That being said it is also a good hearty sized dish as well which is good to see. Once I get stuck into it I am pleased to find that it is not a case of style over substance and the dish works well with a variety of textures and well balanced flavours. The duck is smoky and flavoursome with my only negative being that I would’ve preferred it more pink. The pearl barley is cooked perfectly and gives a nutty edge along with the hazelnut salad dressing. Crunchy seeds give further nuttiness and texture and the beetroot is earthy and sweet although slightly too tart which Kev admits to when I speak to him afterwards. In all it is an accomplished dish that shows plenty of promise with a couple of minor tweaks.
I leave the Caxton Arms feeling as though I had eaten a decent meal and looking forward to seeing what they come up with in the future. Considering they have only been open such a short time they have accomplished a lot, both in the pub and in the kitchen. I regularly read good things about their food on social media and the pub is doing better than it has for some time. Okay it is not a trendy craft beer pub and is linked with a brewery that limits the beer they can serve; but it is a nice place to drink and the staff have created a decent local boozer. As food destination I think it could be a case of watch this space and see what happens.
36 North Gardens, Brighton BN1 3LB
This review first appeared in the September 22nd Edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent. The food was complimentary and I was invited to review, this did not affect the outcome of the review in any way.