I quite like it when things are not as they appear at first glance. I’ve often read in wonder about those innocuous doors that look like they house nothing more than a closet, only for some lucky person to open them and be led down a labyrinthine corridor to a spectacular bar. Many of us will be familiar with the beautiful jewellers Pressleys on East Street, however what you may not know is that since August 1st there has been a sensational restaurant, 1909, above the jewellers and accessible via a bell. So on a warm September Friday evening we rang the bell with a sense of eager anticipation and were greeted by Head Chef Jake whose formidable experience includes one of my personal favourite restaurants – Plateau. He enthusiastically ushered us upstairs to what can only be described as a culinary Narnia.
The restaurant itself is really quite beautiful and very in keeping with the minimalist and sleek style of the jewellers. The open plan kitchen/bar area is swathed in marble and encircled by wooden floorboards and tables for those not wanting to be so close to the action. We seated ourselves at the beautiful marble counter tops which allowed us the perfect view of the food preparation and serving. Taking its name from the year that Pressleys opened, Jake explained that although 1909 may seem like a very different concept to us, other countries already amalgamate retail and cuisine to great success.
Underpinning the ethos of the restaurant is a passionate belief that everything is locally sourced, organic and the very best quality that money can buy and he states proudly that all the wines are low intervention meaning additives and sulphites are kept to a minimum. The intoxicatingly lovely smells that were mere inches from us meant that we were all rather eager to sample some of the small plates that are changed on a weekly basis and range in price from £2 to £8. We started with The Morbier and Ham Croquette (£2) which was quite simply one of the nicest and most brilliantly unctuous things I have ever eaten. Sensing that this must be a favourite with diners Jake told us that one table ordered a croquette with every single small plate. Jake was keen to emphasise though that even if someone wished to come in and eat a couple of croquettes and drink a glass of wine they would be just as welcome as a table ordering a feast of plates. Next was the Marinated Squid, Dill and Caper (£6). The squid had been left in its uncooked, juicy state while the capers and tomato provided an exceptional level of freshness. Feeling thirsty and desperate to try one of the wines, Jake gave insightful and knowledgeable comments for every one of the small but well-chosen list which helped me choose a Grenache called ‘Amanda’ (£6.75). It had the appearance of a rosé and was light, elegant and incredibly delicate.
Next was the Salted Pork, PX and Gem Lettuce (£7) and the Nasu Aubergine, Raw Honey and Parsley (£5). The salted pork gave off the most delectable smell and its strong smokiness was perfectly partnered by the crunchy and light gem lettuce. The Nasu aubergine was cooked wonderfully and I can’t remember a time whereby I have had honey served in a savoury dish with such success. Following this was Fried Potato, Zhoug and Lardo (£6). The zhoug which is a spicy but fresh paste of chillies, coriander and lime added an excellent dimension to the lardo, a cured fat salumi, and both worked well with the earthy taste of potato.
The following Wild Mallard and White Polenta (£7) was show-stoppingly fabulous. The mallard being presented spherically with a rich meaty jus and creamy lavoursome polenta. I’m often a cheeseor- dessert person, but as the quality and freshness of everything had been so exceptional we went for both. The Robiola (£4) and the Tête de Moine (£4), one soft cheese one hard were of the highest quality and the Apple Caramel (£5) was accompanied with a fantastic story whereby the recipe had been missing for hundreds of years and only recently found: all I can say is that I’m glad it was. 1909 is one of the most accomplished and exciting restaurants that I have frequented and Jake’s frankly staggering knowledge of food and drink make it an unforgettable dining experience. You don’t need a crystal ball to know that it will be a remarkable success.
1909 Brighton is at 26-27 East St, Brighton BN1 1HL