When I first moved to Brighton, nearly 10 years ago, I ended up living in Kemptown village just behind the Thomas Kemp pub. I lived in a shared house with complete strangers, who quickly became friends, an unpredictable ginger cat, whom I quickly tamed, and worked in a local off licence. I loved living there. The people and community feel was great, and it will always be my Brighton home.
Just around the corner from where I lived was Spinelli Coffee House. This was a mainstay of the community and always seemed to have people converging there. After my second stint in Kemptown, which ended a couple years ago, I heard that Spinelli’s was closing to be replaced with a new Mexican restaurant called Zona Rosa. This felt like the end of an era. That was until I heard that it was the same people involved. Having secured the services of chef Nick Roberts from The Independent Pub, who’s food I had greatly enjoyed on my first visit there, my hopes were further raised.
Zona Rosa takes its name from an area of Mexico City known for its bohemian atmosphere, multicultural communities, creative vibe and LGBT+ community (sound familiar?). The food focuses on traditional Mexican dishes with a modern twist and a touch of International flair. The owner hails from California and has recreated the type of restaurant he enjoyed back home. We might not have the weather of California but Zona Rosa is bright and colourful enough to make up for that.
As you can imagine there is an extensive menu, feeling a little passive that evening we went for set menu “tres” plus some hot tamales to start. Whilst we wait we chat and enjoy the laid-back feel of the venue and a rather nice bottle of red.
First up is the hot tamale, consisting of roast jalapeno and Sussex Weald ricotta with sour cream and salsa. This is a deliciously light and balanced starter and well worth the £4.25 price tag, a real star of a dish and certainly worth the trip on its own. This is swiftly followed by a zingy and refreshing prawn ceviche tostada, and a Mexican bruschetta called Mollette; which does not quite reach the heights of the other dishes.
Pork Pibil tacos follow, which raise the bar again, with succulent spiced pulled pork and bright crisp vegetables ticking all the sweet, spicy and citrus boxes. A bowl of roast sweet potato with chilli lime salt are as good as they sound and exceptionally moreish, sort of like a potato based tequila shot. A quesadilla with pineapple, chilli and cheese could derail the whole meal, neither of us are pineapple fans, but turns out to be well considered with the fatty cheese balancing the tangy pineapple.
Our dessert of toasted cornbread with berries and vanilla cream is a delightful surprise and ends the meal superbly, so much better than greasy old churros. Make sure you leave room for this as it is well worth it.
I had been looking forward to trying Zona Rosa and it did not disappoint. This is simple honest food that is fresh and flavoursome, plus it is excellent value for money at just £36 for the set menu. This is a fantastic neighbourhood restaurant that operates during the day offering a lovely sounding brunch menu and coffee. It is the sort of restaurant that this area needs, somewhere informal and relaxed that also offers a space for a coffee and catch up during the day.
24 Garnet House, College Road
Brighton, BN2 1EU
01273 818 819
I was invited to review and the meal was complimentary. This did not affect the outcome of the review in any way and my opinion was, as always, honest and factual. This review first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent.