Everybody’s talking about Cin Cin, Brighton’s unique counter dining experience in the heart of the North Laine, and rightly so! The founder David Toscano and head chef Jamie Halsall have made quite a splash on the vibrant Brighton foodie scene since they opened their inaugural restaurant on Vine Street back in 2016. Winning all sorts of awards and accolades in their first year of opening. Such as “Best Welcome” at Brighton’s best restaurants awards, and being voted “6th best restaurant” within their first three months of opening. With their new site opening on Western road imminently, we thought it was about time we visited to find out what all the fuss is about.
Being used to me getting us lost, “It can’t be down here” Sally, my fiancé and dining companion for the evening muttered as we walked down the mainly residential Vine Street. I was beginning to doubt myself before we came across it. These doubts disappeared when we saw the inviting glow emanating from the restaurant windows, and, once inside,we were warmly welcomed by the manager Fabrizio into the cosy authentic Italian eatery. Introducing us to Donal the chef, and waitress Lisa, straight away felt like we were being welcomed into someone’s home.
Being the first customers of the evening we were able to take in our surroundings as we took our seats at the bar which circles service, preparation area, with the kitchen in full view to the rear. Cheeses, cured meats and fresh loaves of bread were proudly on display and the smells emanating from these offerings as well as the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen awoke a hunger in me that needed to be immediately satisfied! Sensing this Fabrizio handed us the menus and suggested some nibbles and an aperitif to start the proceedings.
We selected some beautiful plump green Nocellara del Belice Olives, and Bresaola – cured venison fillet with shaved parmesan Cula, and sipped our “Cin Cin Belini as we watched Lisa thinly slice the meat. This process let off even more of an aroma and I couldn’t wait to tuck in! The Bresaola, lean and rich in flavour anyway, was further enhanced by the parmesan scrapings, and the olives were some of the juiciest I’ve tasted.
Left in peace to peruse the rest of the menu, which is small and simple, consisting of a selection of nibbles, Antipasti sharing boards, small plates, pasta, and deserts. Each section with three select dishes, all well thought out and based on seasonal ingredients sourced from all over Italy. Fabrizio, with his passion for Italian food showing, was keen to explain that being winter, the current menu focusses more on Northern Italy, and the dishes will be hearty and meaty, and as spring comes along the focus will be more geared towards fresh vegetables from the south.
We opted to try a couple of dishes from each section and share them, as Fabrizio explained in big family homes in Italy, this is how food is served, with plates in the middle and everyone helping themselves.
Skipping the antipasti as we were still nibbling on the Bresaola and Olives, we began by sampling the small plates, and as we couldn’t possibly choose between them, we opted to share all three from the menu.
The first to arrive was red wine soused squid, capers and castelfranco, which was proudly presented by Donal. The squid was succulent, meaty, and flavoursome, and cooked to perfection. I’ve never tasted squid like it. Even Sally (who usually refuses to eat anything with tentacles and suckers) couldn’t get enough of it.
Next we were presented with Burrata and heritage beetroots. A wonderfully creamy dollop of cheese, akin to Mozzarella, but way creamier, on a bed of tangy beetroot, which gave the dish an extra dimension and a wonderful sharp contrast to the cheese.
The third and final small plate, Nduja and Polenta crochette. A cylindrical crispy croquette filled with a creamy sauce and packed with spicy sausage with a dollop of vibrant green parsley mayonnaise. Satisfyingly crunchy, wonderfully melty, with subtle piquant meaty essence. Absolute bliss.
All washed down with a lovely rich and complex Italian Chardonnay recommended by Fabrizio, which was citrusy, fresh and elegant and went down a treat!
While we ate Donal made regular appearances from the kitchen area to check on his customers and make sure they were enjoying the food. He was genuinely interested in what people thought. Fabrizio, with his passion for Italian cooking apparent, talked at length about dishes from Palermo, Sardinia, and all over Italy, and explained the concepts behind each dish we sampled.
The first plate of pasta arrived as A fabulously berry-licious Via Nova Merlot was being poured for us. Ravioli bigusto of Jerusalem artichokes, winter truffle, ricotta and leaks. The pasta, wonderfully soft, as is freshly made on site each day, encased an eruption of rich earthy flavours which wowed the taste buds. The second plate, Gargonelli, with Sussex pork ragu and parmesan cheese was equally as delicious, with much more rounded meaty flavour, and was as equally filling, as it was delicious.
We continued with the sharing theme with our deserts, although I have no idea how we found room left to fit them in. On offer were two wildly different and contrasting plates. A blood Orange pannacotta, Tanginess layered with velvety pistachio cream and topped with crunchy Pistachio nuts. A dreamy desert with which Sally could not hide her delight. My favourite however was the Chocolate Neapolitan – white mousse, dark ganache and milk crumb. The lightness of the mousse soothing the sharpness of the dark chocolate, which Donel informed me he made with water, rather than milk, so as to not dilute the flavour.
To summarise, this was an experience we will not forget. The food simple, yet incredibly well executed and of a dazzling high quality, at a reasonable and accessible price. The ambiance unmatched in Brighton, with the friendliest, most knowledgeable staff to boot. 2018 is going to be even bigger for them. Making it into the Waitrose good food guide, and introducing their new addition to Western Road offering a similar intimate experience, with the additions of a private room for hire and adding Charcoal robata style grill, giving Jamie even greater scope to put his Italian spin on Local meat, fish, and vegetable dishes.