The Salt Rooms A Brighton Icon On The Foodie Scene of Sussex

 

Whenever I tell anyone I write restaurant reviews in Brighton for Absolute Sussex Magazine I am asked if I have been to the Salt Rooms, and I have been met with utter disbelief when I have said I have not been yet. Such is the reputation that this ambitious and prestigious establishment has built over the last three years that I have made it my mission to give the place and food a thorough shakedown. So despite Absolute Magazine publishing a glowing review by one of my colleagues only recently, I managed to convince the editors to let me give it a go, if only to prove the old saying that “you can’t have too much of a good thing” wrong. Having now seen what all the fuss is about, I am certainly glad to have finally visited this out-and-out gem of a restaurant.

As if you do not already know, The Salt Rooms by Coal Shed restaurateur Razak Heletat, is located at the ground floor outcrop of the Hilton Metropole, and on many occasions my wife Sally and I have wandered past the busy and vast outdoor terrace which boasts amazing views of the Skeleton of the West Pier and i360. Each time we comment that we must book ourselves in, however we have not quite got round to it. Finally arriving on a particularly beautiful, sunny, albeit chilly October Monday lunchtime, we opted to sit inside. We were shown to our table by the huge window, which meant we were still able to enjoy the stunning views and sunshine, and also get to appreciate the quite striking rustic-meets-industrial interior décor, in which no expense has been spared. Bare brick walls are sparsely adorned with a grandiose wine rack and the odd west-pier design blueprint, rustic iron downlights and stylish comfy teal leather backed chairs. The restaurant was surprisingly busy for a Monday lunchtime and the relaxed friendly waiting staff busily attending to the tables immediately gave us a sense our dining experience and service will be outstanding.


We were not wrong. Our waitress Stacey was a perfect mix of friendly, attentive, and empathic to our needs. She was an absolute delight and confidently able to aid us in our decision making, expertly describing the daily specials, and steering us towards some quite exquisite dishes from the ambitious, cleverly designed and easy to navigate menu. It depicts a whole host of tantalising seafood small plates, ceviche’s and mains, as well as singed meaty offerings from the Josper Grill and vegetarian dishes which could tempt even the most ardent carnivore.

Sally was in her element when Stacey handed her a separate drinks menu depicting a host of gin-based cocktails and selected a “Botanist Cup,” which is a long and sweet Bombay Sapphire gin, mixed with cucumber, elderflower vanilla, lemon and prosecco. Beautifully presented and expertly crafted, there are hints of all the flavours dancing on the tongue with each sip. Being the designated driver, I opted for a driver’s choice “Tropical Soda,” a drink so refreshing and exhilarating to taste it made me forget entirely about the lack of alcohol content. However, later on I could not resist a cheeky vino from the extensive yet obviously judiciously selected wine list, to wash my meal down, opting for a fruity refreshing Entre Deux Mers at the recommendation from Stacey.

We began with some incredibly detailed and clever starters. Myself plumping for Monkfish tail from the specials board, cooked bang on, crisp on the surface, soft inside on a bed of kelp and red peppers with a charcoal squid ink aioli for lubrication and added intensity. Most pleasing is the Feta mousse which Sally opted for. This was unquestionably the prettiest dish we have ever seen; exceptionally well presented with a vibrant pallet of colours. Incredibly tasty to boot, the light dreamy fresh feta mousse boasted contrasting textures and tangs from Beetroot and Horseradish, with some orange and cumin thrown in to the mix to create an inspired and dazzling array of flavours.

 

It was now Sally’s turn to discover the specials board for her main course. A smooth and buttery fillet of Brill worked brilliantly with shavings of lightly pickled crab shavings and a cornucopia of shitake mushrooms. Is was an extremely assured dish which I would have been quite jealous of had it not been for my robustly flavoursome main; Chalk Stream Trout fillet, cleverly paired with down to earth chunky and lightly crisped artichokes. It was topped with a single Tempura Oyster which I could happily devour a plateful of, and a horseradish spiced hispi broth adding complexity and intensity.

We shared sides of Hispi Cabbage and Salt Room Chips. The lightly pickled, slightly charred Hispi, smothered in creamy aioli and peppered with crunchy bacon bits was an absolute delight and deserves accolade in itself. The slightly sea-salted chips were light, fluffy and crisp and ideal for mopping up the leftovers.

As we dined we could not help but notice the Salt Rooms signature showstopper “Taste of the Pier” dessert being delivered to other tables. It was a colourful sharing platter of seaside-themed treats which we simply could not resist to finish us off. Simply described on the menu, in actuality it is a masterful and thoroughly entertaining dessert showing off the chef’s technique and vision. Two sticks of cloud-like candy floss, icing sugar coated pebbles of black chocolate truffle, Mr whippy style ice-cream with hints of salted caramel in a wafer thin cornet, sinful iced doughnut’s filled to the brim with intensely fruity jam and chunks of honeycomb encased in white chocolate. I’m not entirely sure how we managed to eat it all, but we did, despite Stacey offering to put whatever we could not manage into a doggy bag as she served us.

Well there you have it. I can now say I have been to the Salt Rooms when people ask, and I now realise why it seems to be THE restaurant that tops everyone’s list. Head Chef Dave Mothersill and his team turn out truly outstanding dishes made from fresh well-sourced ingredients. I fulfilled my ambition to give The Salt Rooms menu a serious and costly going over, though it is accessible to all, with a lunch and early evening menu set menu where you can enjoy three courses for just £20.00. The size and ideal location also make it the perfect place for functions and group bookings with a private dining room available year round. Having had a sneak peek at the festive menu, I am sure this will be booked up quickly for the Christmas period.

 

Tony Shattell