If you are yet to visit Chard at Café Rust, the resident kitchen which takes over the much-loved dining site after dark, then let it be known that you have been missing out. When we were invited to try this little nugget of a place on Preston Road, we were thrilled. It had been a mere month since my first visit – a birthday treat from my mum – and I was still salivating over the memory of the food there.
The menu changes monthly, so I knew there’d be ample opportunity to try one of chef Benny Sullivan’s (formerly of Semolina) new culinary concoctions. And I couldn’t wait. We arrive at 7pm, and are welcomed with open arms by the front of house team, comprising Mary Ann (Benny’s sister) and her partner Ciaran Thomas (who also helps backstage in the kitchen). The setting is as beautiful as ever, periwinkle linens and old gin bottles repurposed as candles adorning each table, along with fairy lights and chalkboards decorating the walls. Astoundingly, the entire space is turned around in three hours each day, as the three-strong team come in after the closure of Cafe Rust to set up. However, the trio more than make it their own, the evening offering a brand new identity to the 20-cover site of Chard.
We choose a seat by the back door (reasoning we’ll be better able to smell Benny’s divine cooking this way) and peruse the menu. My dining partner for this evening is vegetarian, which is easily catered for at Chard; one in four options is meat-free, though vegans may be advised to notify the kitchen of their dietary requirements at time of booking. The select menu is a god-send for indecisive folk like us: where 20 minutes can easily be spent um-ing and aah-ing over the choices, Chard almost makes the decision for you. And with a menu like this, there’s really no going wrong.
I opt for the tuna tartare, with citrus salsa and cucumber (£7) to start – a wonderfully colourful dish presented beautifully in a neat stack (pictured above). My dining partner went for the asparagus mimosa with capers and béarnaise (£6.50), which was equally delicious, the asparagus fresh in the peak of spring. We pair these with cocktails throughout the night, making our way slowly through the menu – which also consisted of an elderflower fizz (£7.50) which came topped with iridescent edible silver to impressive effect.
Moving on to the mains, I’m spoiled for choice: there’s pork belly, pan roasted gurnard and lamb chops on the menu, each paired with carefully seasoned vegetables. I opt for the pork belly, served with rhubarb ketchup and saltbaked celeriac (£15.50), while the sole veggie option goes to my friend – a delightfully creamy Chillies Farm gnudi with buttered pinenut, pepperonata and spinach(£12.50) which offered a textural paradise.
By the time pudding rolls around (or rather, with our full bellies, we roll around to pudding), we’re a few cocktails down and feeling well and truly satisfied with our evening – but the best was yet to come. We’re first served a small complimentary homemade sorbet as a fresh palate cleanser, before being brought our orders of bourbon chocolate sorbet (the spirit, not the biscuit) served with candied pecans (£6), and baked apple frangipane, served with stem ginger ice cream (£6). The sorbet consistency of the chocolate prevents the pudding from being too rich – actually, the result is light and refreshing – while the pecans add a crunch.
Our departure is bittersweet: we’re both incredibly impressed at the food and conviviality, however it’s exactly this which makes us reluctant to leave. Mary Ann is even so kind as to personally walk us out, leaving us with the feeling we’ve spent a few hours with friends. As a reflex, we’re almost tempted to drop them a text to let them know when we’ve arrived safely home.
As for whether it’s the best restaurant in Brighton? The jury’s out. However, with my bill giving plenty of change from £100 both times I’ve visited, I concur you’d struggle to find food this good for such a reasonable price. Take a trip out to Chard and make it your new favourite spot – we know it’s already ours.
Chard at Café Rust is open Tues – Fri each week, dishing up delectable dining from 6-10pm. Chard at Your Table offer catering on Sat – Sun, and will be appearing at various pop ups over the summer.
Chard will continue to be housed at Café Rust until August this year, at which point they are rumoured to be opening their own site in town. As for where, we’re not sure – but we’ll be keeping a beady eye.