On a cold damp winter afternoon, what’s better than a warm, cosy pub? A welcoming and homely local with an accommodating kitchen run by a chef whose ultimate goal is that you enjoy your food. Step into the Dover Castle. Shrug off that heavy coat, grab yourself something to warm the insides, find a menu, and start tempting your taste buds. After a dreich Sunday hike up the lion’s share of Southover Street, you’re likely to be out of breath and definitely ready to get stuck into a restorative, and a full stack of delicious-sounding roasts ticks all the boxes you could want. Available roasts include beef, lamb, chicken, pork belly or a veggie option, all for £15 or less. Alternatively, a panfried halibut is offered. A couple of sides and kids’ options, as well as a comprehensive dessert selection, complete the enticing menu.
Once your order is placed with the friendly staff, the hard work all done, you can relax properly into the subdued, twinkling fug as the sun fades gently from the sky. The star accolade for a cosy winter pub is ‘Christmas card perfect’ and with warm candlelight, festive sparkles, frosted (steamed) windows, comfy chairs, and that front room feel, the Dover could have reindeer round the back.
Stepping up at last from the street you are greeted by warmth and bustle, wooden floors and varnished bar, brass taps and enticing bottles. There’s a dining-ish area busy with a selection of satisfied customers, groups, families,
and couples-with-dogs. Opposite, bounded by a magic carpet, is an intimate area of armchairs, settles and small tables for those wanting less of an audience, or somewhere quieter to read a book from the “Smallest Bookshop in Brighton”, or a board game. There’s more space beyond the bar extending into a brief conservatory and outside (to the reindeer…), but it’s cold. We settle into seats, sup, and soak it all up. Smiling front of house is just the thing to wake you from reverie, wielding laden plates of gorgeous looking food.
A first glance at the full servings confirms the walk here was going to have been a good idea, and the walk home significantly slower. The beef lies in pink folds, hiding a spread of veg, lapping golden domes of perfect potato, turbulent red cabbage with a stuffing island, a truffle and celeriac mash all overshadowed by a towering trefoil Yorkie. The pork belly is equally tantalising with that tricky combo of slow cooked tender meat, and crunchy crackling. A side of proper cheesy cauliflower or local pigs in blankets with Sardinia pancetta will be sure to fill any stray holes on your plate. The potatoes crack open to the fork, steaming and soft inside crisp chewy shells. That should be all you need to know, but in the spirit of enquiry… the other veg was
beautifully cooked, full of flavour; the meat just as tasty and tender as a glance had promised – the crackling especially hit with a burst of extra flavour. The stuffing is packed with herbs, and the delicate truffle in the celeriac mash gives a pleasing surprise when it sneaks into your fork. The Yorkshire is bountiful from gravied bottom to crown. Talking of gravy, it is rich and silky and plentiful. All in all, when Annie appears smiling and asks if the food is alright, all mouths are full. In no short order (it seems, though actually a fairly continuous slog) full mouths become full stomachs. If a restorative was required, welcome back to full power.
The Dover’s power as a pick-me-up extends beyond the weekend with a Monday burger night before settling in to Jason’s real passion of Italian for the rest of the week. A past experience of fine dining restaurants and a skill with flavours, demonstrated by his roast, promises much from the week-time menu. A choice of traditional favourites, or infamous specials like “Lasagne Alla Nonna” are sure to bring a cosy Christmas feel to any dark Wednesday night. Just be careful when you leave. It’s easy to stay a while, dusk become dark, fogged windows actually frosted. Your centre of balance has likely shifted a bit south too, so easy on that hill…
The Dover Castle is at 43 Southover St, Brighton BN2 9UE