Change is an interesting thing. Some people embrace it and crave it whilst others fear it to such an extent that they would remain in a negative situation purely to avoid it. I’ve been unfortunate enough to have spent most of my working life in offices, and never before have I encountered such resistance to change than in my working life. I’ve seen people fight tooth and nail against changes that would make their working lives easier and had to sit through hours of change management training as a result.
Change is often a necessary and positive force; the world would be a much less interesting place if things never changed. Tastes, trends and society as a whole needs change. I for one am someone who looks forward to change and actively seeks it out. Don’t get me wrong, I can be as stubborn as a particularly belligerent mule when the mood takes me and can get pretty stuck in my ways, but I recognise when things have to move on.
The food industry is one where things move pretty quickly. Chefs are notoriously nomadic in nature and tastes and trends change more frequently than Southern Rail’s timetable. This can often mean that changes are forced upon restaurants when their head chef leaves to take on a new challenge.
This was the case for the The Independent pub in Queens Park. Back in November of last year I reviewed the pub for my column and was thoroughly impressed with the simple bistro style menu. It was one of my favourite meals of the last year, so when I heard that the chef had decided to move on I was interested in seeing what else may have changed.
I was contacted by the new head chef, Sam Ireland, who had previously worked at The Basketmakers Arms back when I was a regular. After leaving the pub Sam spent some time at the somewhat less popular Skyfall, the first restaurant I reviewed for this paper nearly a year ago. Now back in a pub kitchen I was looking forward to what Sam had in store.
I am still a big fan of the pub itself which is welcoming, stylish and comfortable. They have a fantastic range of ales and craft beers which is one of the advantages of not being tied to a brewery. We went by on a Thursday evening on the place was pretty much full with most tables reserved for dinner. I felt, however, that with so many tables reserved solely for dinner the pub atmosphere was a little lost.
The menu is a little less varied than before with quite an autumnal feel about it. We opt for the ham hock terrine (£5.50) and cod fish cakes (£5.95) to start followed by slow cooked beef short rib (£13.00) and mackerel in puy lentils (£12.00) for the mains.
With some fantastic beers on offer we tuck into a Wild Beer Co “Madness IPA” which is a punchy little number at 6.8% and full of refreshing fruit notes and a bitter finish. This is followed by the superb Cloudwater DIPA V6 which at 9% is a potent beer that is incredibly complex and extremely impressive.
With such complex flavours present in the drinks the food had a lot to contend with, and some of the dishes found it difficult to keep up. My terrine is an uneventful start which tastes fine but lacks a real punch of flavour. It could’ve done with a bit more seasoning and a sharp contrast of pickle against the sweet chutney. The fish cakes are not good unfortunately. Not much in terms of flavour and a wet consistency that is a far cry from what we had expected.
With a lot of ground to make up the mains are up next. My beef short rib has got rich comfort food written all over it. Slow cooked in stout with an oyster and ginger jus (gravy) the meat falls away from the bone without the slightest resistance. Pickled red cabbage offers some tart contrast and the bone marrow butter on toast it comes with is good, although I would have preferred some mash or greens with this.
The mackerel is a much heavier dish than we expected. Pan fried and served in a puy lentil stew with spinach and salsa verde it is a big earthy plate of food that would be ideal on a wet or frosty evening. The salsa is a little lost in this setting as are any hopes of crisp skin but overall it is a good plate of food.
We share a dessert of ginger loaf with caramel sauce (£5.95) which is a solid example and a decent end to the meal before heading into the night.
Change is a necessary process in all walks of life and it can sometimes take a little while for things to settle and the benefits to be seen. This could well be the case at The Independent. Given the work that the chef has put in previously, notably at The Basketmakers, and what the pub has achieved I think they can make this work. I guess they are still working around the change curve and have not quite reached the acceptance phase, or at least that’s what my training manual says.
95 Queen’s Park Road, Brighton, BN2 0GH
This review first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent and the venue had invited me to review and the meal was complimentary