A little over a year ago a young team of chefs and a single front of house staff member turned a disused accountancy firm into a pop up dining experience. Operating a Friday and Saturday evening service only, they managed to catch the attention of local food lovers with the innovative fine dining concept.
Their focus on local ingredients and modern cooking techniques won them many plaudits. During this time the team have honed their skills and teamwork to the point where it was time to expand.
Having been closed over the summer to spend some time refurbishing the space and extending the small kitchen, Isaac At reopened on the 9th of September. With the same team of chefs joined by a new front of house, they are operating a full restaurant service five days a week. There are now two menus to choose from, a four course set menu for £35 or full tasting menu for £47 with an optional wine or juice pairing.
I was invited to a preview night of the new Isaac At just a couple of days before they launched to the public. Having been a fan of the previous incarnation I was looking forward to seeing how the restaurant had developed and what head chef Isaac Bartlett-Copeland and his team had in store.
Initial impressions of the new look Isaac’s are positive, with the environment more refined and stylish. It remains a laid back space that is uncluttered and informal whilst offering a sense of sophistication. We are shown to our table which is compact but beautifully presented. The menu scrolls are a lovely touch that I remember from before, and the cutlery holders make a great use of the space.
One new addition that I cannot say I am a fan of are the TV screens showing what is happening in the kitchen. Call me old fashioned but I still want a meal to have an aspect of mystery and intrigue about it and not be a live cooking show.
The menu still celebrates local Sussex produce and the ingredients list with the distance that each was sourced from the restaurant further emphasises this. With an all Sussex wine list alongside Sussex beers, ales and juices this really is a local affair.
We would be experiencing the full tasting menu and so settled in for the evening. A pre-starter of grey mullet on a rye bread croute showed skill and a great balance of flavours. This was followed by a celebration of butternut squash that not only looked fantastic on the plate but wowed with its variety of techniques and flavours. I was concerned it would be an overly sweet dish but the rosemary oil and yeast extract balanced the dish superbly and roast seeds gave a welcome nutty crunch.
A monkfish dish with cauliflower puree and sauce vierge was a little underwhelming as it lacked seasoning and the vierge was not tart enough to lift the fish. This was followed by crisp pork belly and smoked broccoli. The pork was the star of this show in that it was indeed crisp giving way to a melt in the mouth finale, I just wish there were a little more of it on the plate. The smoked broccoli was a little unnecessary and absent I felt.
The second meat offering of roast chicken, celeriac and gem lettuce featured succulent chicken with the bitterness of the charred lettuce balancing the sweetness from the meat. Again I felt there could have been slightly more on the plate as it was gone before I could really get into it.
A palette cleansing sorbet of hand picked berries is super smooth and packed with tart berry flavours and refreshing cucumber undertones. This is followed by a rather delightful dessert celebrating Sussex strawberries. Served with a pink peppercorn ice cream and shards of dehydrated milk foam that added texture and creamy richness to complement the sweet strawberries perfectly.
Our meal is over but there is still more to come. I love the little extras that Isaac and his team add to your evening. Earlier we had enjoyed some wonderful breads, the treacle and stout is a joy to behold, with smoked or salted butter. After dessert we were presented with some petit fours in the form of a deliciously moist lemon drizzle cake and a burnt apple shortbread.
My Isaac At experience was a positive one overall and given that this was their first service in the new set up it is understandable that it wasn’t the finished article. The dishes were generally of a high standard and with a few tweaks I think they could be excellent. The Sussex wines were generally good, with the highlight being a Davenport Pinot Noir which was the best Sussex red I’ve tried. Some of the whites were not chilled sufficiently which was a shame.
It is great to see this young team take things up another level with the challenge of a five day a week service. Based on this preview there is a lot to come from Isaac At and it will be interesting to see how they develop over time in their new format.
2 Gloucester Street, Brighton, BN1 4EW
This review first appeared in the September 29th edition of the Brighton and Hove Independent. As this was a press event the food was complimentary and I was invited to attend.