It’s a long-established part of the dining experience, ignoring how those dishes adorning our tables have been precisely seared and fried by culinary artists. The anonymity of a kitchen’s team is usually overlooked, so much so that the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’ seems appropriate. The relationship between front and back of house is only apparent to those in the thick of any given service and diners rarely spare a thought to the brigade manning the engine room of a restaurant. However the Flank kitchen rarely suffers this glib disregard, as it nestles inside The Royal Sovereign on Preston Street.
Fighting through typically rubbish autumnal drizzle, a colleague and I venture into the pub. The name ‘Flank’; for this kitchen alerts us that we’ll be fighting meat sweats at some point soon. We’re greeted by head chef Tom Griffiths, who cut his teeth in some of the best public and private eateries in Brighton. Serving up our first dish to taste, we’re waited on by Tom himself. This personal touch allows for each component to be described in detail, so we know exactly how our food is put together. Beginning with a whole barbecued quail, we share this dish and enjoy the tender and moist preparation of the game. Served up with crunchy crushed almonds, the contrast of these textures is accentuated by a soft mayonnaise. From our first dish it’s clear to see the kitchen has honed the meaning of seasonal, the colours echoing the falling leaves littering the street outside.
We’re treated to what’s listed on the menu as ‘Pickles & cured (various vegetables)’ which to me sounds quite exciting. Normally more into my greens, I’m pleasantly surprised by the arrival of baby carrots looking as succulent as I’ve ever seen them. At just £2 it’s a fantastic starting plate to warm up to the main event. The vegetables are pickled for a whole two months and served on a small bed of thyme to really bring out the flavour. On the side is a dark green dip that Tom explains to be nettle and pickle juice. Being ever so slightly concerned that I might not like the nettle element, I tentatively try just a drop. To my surprise, it tastes fantastic.
With our appetites truly whet, we move towards the meatier options. Remaining on the small plates for now, we sample the slow cooked house-made herb sausage with roasted apple (£6.50). Created from scratch, the sausage is constructed from three areas of the pig: trotter, cheek and collar. As the former two have a higher fat content, the lean collar meat lends itself to spreading flavour through the meat whilst spicing up the texture of the sausage as a whole. Matched with a clear bacon consommé, which wholly added to the pork flavours, Tom drizzles a rich and frankly beautiful crab apple and cinnamon sauce atop the whole plate. This dish is another nod to the season, the flavours complementing our stay in such a cosy and warm setting. We taste black pudding dumplings, pan stock and peach jam (£6) next. The only times I’ve really tried black pudding it’s been fairly dry, my slightly unqualified palate assumed this was how it was meant to be, so imagine my face when tucking into these deliciously moist dumplings. The peach turns out to be fermented, giving the whole dish a kick and almost fiery piquancy. My colleague is equally as impressed at the textures present in the dish.
We continue to the mains, already with slightly bulging waistlines. Tom presents us with his personal favourite, the 72-hour cooked beef short rib (Dexter cattle) finished on the kamado with Flank ketchup (£15). Slightly baffled by the wording on the menu, we inquisitively tuck in. The three-day cooked meat is maintained in a water bath at exactly 54 degrees centigrade. Then the beef is finished off on a ceramic barbecue, slowly braised for 20 minutes, cooking off the outside and leaving the inside perfectly pink. The result is unbelievable. Sous-vide makes for the most tender meat imaginable and it quite literally melts in our mouths. Unexpectedly, the dish has granola with it. The crunch perks up the dish allowing for a range of textures and a slight break from the heavy meat. Flank ketchup, it turns out, is quite special, created from stock, mustard and bone marrow. There’s nothing going to waste at Flank!
We round off our feast with slow braised ox cheeks, tonkatsu cue sauce, pan fried black kale and roasted peanuts (£12). The tonkatsu is created with dates, plums and a sprinkling of dry roasted peanuts. It’s a shame that I’m not a huge fan of these ingredients, but I have to say in this context it wasn’t hard to get through them! The ox cheeks themselves are a dream and the kale is a winner for me as well as it verges on caramelised. The rich, tender meat is a fabulous end to our meal.