A seafront seafood haven in Brighton triggers a deliciously welcome trip down memory lane.
Brighton, on the first searing day of summer. And as we wander down the hill, dodging skateboards and electric scooters alike, there’s a merry spring in our step. In the distance, the Channel glitters beguilingly, while beneath the fug of chip fat, candy floss and fag smoke, is the bracing tang of salty sea air.
Sure, there are prettier resorts, and more salubrious streets, but despite the tourist tat and faded grandeur, I love the place. Anyway, it’s half-term, and my son Freddy’s first visit, and our only dilemma is whether we eat first, then hit the arcades. Or blast a few zombies before lunch.
Greed, as ever, wins out. And so we stroll down to the seafront, and The Salt Room. Here, in the most civilised of rooms, with the most civilised of staff, we slurp Maldon oysters, bracingly briny, and gaze out over the old iron bones of the old West Pier.
Starters show a kitchen of some talent. A snowy pile of pristinely fresh crab, lovingly picked, sits in a puddle of refined ajo blanco, all elegantly soft, almond-scented whisper. There are small cubes of sharp apple, and slivers of radish, adding fresh bite and acidity to a truly subtle dish. Seabass crudo is equally assured, the slivers of sweet fish wearing charred peach, avocado and a decent jalapeño kick. Both are far more than mere pretty plates.
Things get a little less refined, but no less joyous, with the ‘surfboard’, which is not, thank god, served on some Rip Curl longboard, rather a large white plate of char-grilled, garlic-butter-drenched generosity; plump scallops, fat prawns to be undressed and devoured; curls of deep-fried squid, a surfeit of mussels. The langoustines may be a little woolly, but this is a feast to sate Neptune. Brighton is always a fine place to eat, and The Salt Room is up there with the best.
After lunch, we wander down to the Palace Pier. It’s hardly changed since my youth. We blast those zombies, waste two-pence pieces on the cash cascade, eat hot, sugary doughnuts and, miracle of miracles, actually win a toy on the grabber machine. ‘I like Brighton,’ says Freddy as we trudge back to the station. Me too, my boy, me too.
About £40 a head. The Salt Room, 106 King’s Road, Brighton; saltroom-restaurant.co.uk.
DRINKS: Olly’s Wimbledon winners
With tennis fortnight upon us, I’m picking medal-winning splendour. Wine competitions see groups of bottles battling it out for coveted gongs as they’re tasted by experts, so a winner’s character really stands out. Christophe Delalonde, wine judge and master sommelier at London’s Dorchester, once told me that a victorious wine should give ‘value, personality and must be quaffable and delicious’. A golden formula.
WINE OF THE WEEK CÔTES DU RHÔNE PLAN DE DIEU 2019, (14%), £8, Asda. Great Value winner at the International Wine Challenge 2021 – a champ for your barbie.
SOAVE (11%), £4.25, Morrisons. Award-winning lemony white for under a fiver? That really is a grand slam. Kick back and quaff!
SPECIALLY SELECTED CRÉMANT DU JURA 2018 (11.5%), £8.49, Aldi. Terrific value for such rich refreshment, effervescence and all-round entertainment.
FINEST TINGLEUP RIESLING 2020 (12.5%), £9, Tesco. Gorgeous, lean and precise, this Aussie white is a winning serve.
VIÑALBA MALBEC-TOURIGA NACIONAL RESERVE 2019 (14.5%), £9.99, Majestic. Powerful, muscular and sleek, this red is top-form liquid magnificence.