There are certain things that as a Brighton local I just ‘do’ without even thinking. If I get asked for directions to West Street on the weekend, I’ll give a slightly knowing look to whomever I’m with and think to myself ‘they’re probably tourists’. When it comes to The Argus headlines I treat them with a sort of dumbfounded bemusement; however the thought of them disappearing leaves me achingly sad. I’m also aware that in the past when I’ve been a bit sozzled and wondering where to go at the end of an evening I have felt my feet guide me – with no resistance I may add – to The Fishbowl.
Many a happy night has been spent knocking back rum and coke and attempting some sort of dancing, while those around me glance over and ponder as to whether I’m being ironic. However, it has been a long time since I put the pub in the category of a good place to eat. Hearing that they had undergone a dramatic transformation, re-named themselves as East Street Tap and were launching a predominantly New York inspired menu, I was more than a little intrigued so I set off on a windy Wednesday evening to check it out.
Short of knocking down the whole building (which thankfully they haven’t done yet as I really like it) the place could not look more different. Whereas the main downstairs bar was slightly generic and starting to look a little tired, it is now illuminated with a lovely red glow that bursts through the wire-fenced ceiling. Tall wooden tables and chairs occupy the main bar, and the whole place emanates a more sophisticated and foodie vibe. Somewhat atypically when places undergo big changes, East Street Tap hasn’t tried to alienate its loyal clientele – I particularly liked the comedic and quintessentially Brighton touch of the tip jar titled ‘The Donald Trump Hitman Fund’.
For a Wednesday the pub was buzzing, so we practically galloped upstairs towards one of the inviting tables by the window and started getting excited about the menu. Filled with mouthwatering dishes that come under headings such as East Street tapas and Small Plates, New York Classics and Hot Bowls, I’m pretty certain that I started salivating. We chose East Street sliders (£9.50), harissa spiced lamb with steamed cous cous (£6), skinny fries (£3), and veggie hash browns (£5.50). The East Street sliders (which were mini versions of the BBQ pulled pork and slaw, beef brisket and NY burgers) arrived looking juicy and fresh. I always think it’s is a very good sign when the meat is tumbling out of the bun as it was here. The burger was herby, well cooked and juicy. The brisket was plentiful and had a lovely smoky taste, while the pulled pork was beautifully seasoned and spiced and left that gorgeous sticky remnant on the corners of the bun.
Next I dived (with gusto) into the harissa lamb and cous cous. The lamb was succulent and coated in a dark brown, wondrous tasting sauce that was the perfect accompaniment to the deep, spicy harissa flavour. The proportion of harissa lamb to cous cous was bang on, but that didn’t stop me dipping crunchy well-salted fries repeatedly into the sauce. I think a few times I even opted for a harissa lamb, cous cous, skinny fry combo that inevitably tasted gluttonous and great. The big surprise of the day for me however was how much my companion and I enjoyed the veggie hash – considering we are both ardent meat lovers this is no mean feat. While veggie hash doesn’t sound too exciting, the inclusion of Monterey Jack cheese, herbs, onions and the all-important perfectly poached egg elevated this hot bowl to a new realm. The amalgamation of skillfully cooked potatoes, melted cheese and egg yolk meant that even though I was smug and full from all the other lovely dishes I still managed to consume an unhealthy amount. I washed this all down with a very mellow and easy-drinking Rioja (£4.60).
One of the reasons I was so impressed with East Street Tap is the same as one of the reasons that Brighton continually delights me, and that was its ability to seamlessly evolve. The makeover of the pub makes it a more pleasurable place to spend time, the atmosphere is vastly improved but most importantly, for me and my tummy, the food was reasonably priced and incredibly tasty. I think in the future I’ll be eating a hell of a lot before I start with the embarrassing dancing.
East Street Tap is at 74 East Street, Brighton, BN1 1HQ