New On The Foodie Scene Pabellon By Circo Opens In Brighton
Circo (formerly Senor Buddha) has long been a favourite eatery of mine. I have often made the trek across town from where I live in Hove to this modern, cosy but lively neighbourhood tapas bar for owner Lee Shipley’s unique take on Spanish small plates with East Asian flavours. So I was truly excited to hear about its brand new glamorous sister restaurant Pabellon, opening up in a gorgeous listed building right next to the Pavilion in the heart of Brighton. After being dragged round the shops by my wife Sally, we took full advantage of the convenient location and paid them a visit.
It was one of those lightbulb moments when we actually realised that Pabellon is Spanish for Pavilion (and Circo – circus… As in Preston Circus… Clever!). The restaurant is situated at the bottom of North Street in what used to be the old Pavilion servants quarters. Upon entering, we were immediately impressed with the attention to detail that has gone into the refurbishment of this striking period building, with arches and original wooden floor features still intact. The dining room is painted head to toe in a rather regal Haig-blue. Diners sit at a huge bar surrounding the kitchen area, with an aged wooden countertop decorated with gorgeous authentic Spanish tiles, and you can admire the chefs busily going about their craft. If you prefer, there are tables scattered around the outskirts of the dining room where you can admire art from Naked Eye, which is rotated every couple of weeks.
When the infectiously charismatic and charming manager Hugo welcomed us, we opted to sit at the bar and straight away ordered a couple of gin and tonics from the first-class gin menu .Relaxing into our stools, Hugo took us through the menu and suggested some Padron Peppers to provoke appetite, but jokingly warning us that one in ten of the peppers usually turn out to be somewhat hotter than the rest so beware. They were delicious, none too hot, and perfectly seasoned with sea salt. Our appetite had certainly been roused.
The menu consists of three sections; Planta, Pescado, and Carne (veggie, fish and meat), with six to eight dishes in each which are updated every two to three weeks. With a selection of “Tortillias Del Dia” (Spanish omelettes of the day) and some very innovative sounding Postres (desserts). Hugo explained three to four dishes are usually enough between two. We gave in to temptation however and somehow got through six (eight including desserts).
We went a bit potato crazy with our selections from the Planta section, opting for both Papas Arrugadas con Mojo Rojo and Patatas Bravas Bomba. The earthy Canarian papas, drizzled in a lightly spiced Mojo red sauce were an absolute delight, but it was the Patatas Bravas that stole the show. Perfectly crisp, light and fluffy and “kiev” style with aioli bursting out with each mouthful. This is an exciting and innovative take on a classic tapas.
From the Pescado menu we chose Soy Blackened Cod which was, light, sweet and salacious, cooked to perfection with the juicy meat flaking with the slightest touch of the fork and served on a bed of edible Wakame seaweed laced with kimchi giving it a light tang. Taking a recommendation from Hugo, we also plumped for Pulpo Pabellon, a truly wonderful dish and a work of art. The plump tentacle was so tender it was like it had just been plucked from the ocean, on crisp artichoke heart and laced with Sobrassada peppers for a nice gentle kick. Everything on the plate was working in harmony to emphasise the taste of the octopus, complimenting and not overpowering the main attraction. Sensing our delight, head chef Rahul proudly explained that he lightly shaves the outer layer of the fresh octopus which makes the meat even softer. Genius.
Taking another recommendation from Hugo, we opted for the Albondigas from the meat offerings. A staple addition you will find on most tapas menus, we were somewhat hesitant in ordering this as we wanted to try something new. I am glad we listened however as these were unlike any meatballs we have tasted. The incredibly flavoursome 28 day aged beef disintegrated in the mouth revealing the full intensity of the meat. Crispy thin slices of chorizo added an extra dimension to the texture and nicely spiced the dish, without overpowering the meat and the whole thing was rounded off with a divine peppery sauce adding lubrication and complexity. For our last dish we got stuck in to the flatiron steak, served with more Canarian Papas and drizzled with delicate and subtle sauces, artichoke ajo blanco and a coriander aioli which succeeded in highlighting the taste of the steak. A great hearty dish to finish.
Throughout the relaxed meal we enjoyed watching the chefs dance around each other like a carefully choreographed and well-practiced routine. You certainly would never know they had only been working together for less than two weeks. Head Chef Rahul, possibly the most enthusiastic excitable passionate individual I have met in the industry, was a pleasure to talk to and made our night even more memorable. His passion for the dishes he designs and creates himself is contagious, making us want to try everything on the menu. By this point however we were completely stuffed and finishing off the fruity and vibrant Rioja we had picked from the select list of wines from all over Spain. It was this passion and vigour, combined with the incredibly tempting and inventive sounding list of postres that convinced us to find room for dessert.
Proudly presenting incredibly light and puffy Catalan doughnuts “Bunyols De Vent” Rahul explained they are very popular in the area where he grew up and he wanted to add his take on them to the menu. Coated in palm sugar and caramel and with chilli ginger chocolate drizzled on the plate, these were fun to eat, and not too filling after a big meal, and the caramelised miso tart was invigoratingly light and refreshing. It is obvious just as much thought and energy has gone into creating these fantastic deserts as the rest of the menu. Make sure you save some room when you visit.
Pabellon is a restaurant we will visit again and again. I would happily sit for hours, drinking cocktails and sampling small plates from their ever changing menu, or settle in again for a long meal with some fantastic Spanish wine. Pabellon are also open from 10am at the weekend for Spanish style brunches with a Pabellon twist, and being right in the centre of town I will most certainly be popping in to try them out with an Ibizan coffee (or Bloody Mary, depending on how much I have over-indulged the night before). If what we experienced tonight is anything to go by, I am sure they will be phenomenal.