Every pub needs a gimmick now. Once it was enough to employ brassy barmaids, meat raffles and questionable bands to get the punters to flood in. Now more sophisticated measures are used to lure custom. So hostelries often offer expensive overpowered cocktails or began romantically calling themselves ‘gastro-pubs.’
But glamorous food and drink can equate to glamorous prices. What I want is a great pub, with great food, and no pretence to anything else. No gimmicks, snooty staff or grandiose notions. So where will my somewhat lethargic quest for a smart unpretentious boozer, with amazing food at realistic prices, end?
Tucked away in a once unloved corner of the North Laine, Fountain Head is free of the hordes crowding the herding routes between station and seafront. So for Thursday lunchtime, we settled down to sample the delights afforded by the new regime in the Fountain Head’s kitchen. My companion (we’ll call him Dwayne) and I opted for a pint of tasty Laine’s Best each, only to quell our midday thirst. This traditional bitter, stocked by most Drink In Brighton pubs, is brewed mere yards away. With malty overtones, it didn’t suffer from the acrid quality I normally associate with ale. In fact it had a pleasant almost nutty finish. Emboldened by my enjoyment of something I generally avoid, I opted to try the soup of the day (£4.95) – parsnip no less.
Normally parsnips are the scourge of my veg box, popping up uninvited every winter. Logic dictated if someone can make a dish welcome to my palette out of these, they’re deploying some impressive skills. The soup completely proved my point. Served with homemade focaccia, it transcended the usual bitter woody sticks of disappointment I’d suffered on Sundays. It was hearty, thick and appetising, and made me reassess my parsnip phobia. It’s incredible what balanced seasoning and a little attention can produce.
Dwayne selected chorizo scotch egg, pickles and house coleslaw (£4.95). This was spectacular. A soft cooked egg lovingly encased in pork and chorizo, concealed in a light crispy coating. Beautifully arranged to the side were a super-fresh rocket salad and a generous helping of the pub’s own refreshing coleslaw. This was swiftly followed by Dwayne’s choice of rump steak, pan fried new potatoes, chimichuri and rocket (£12.95). This was cooked to perfection, the chef fully grasping the concept of medium rare, something many still can’t. The beef was juicy and succulent, almost melting in the mouth. Nestling next to this, the potatoes were pure joy, light with a whisper of crunch in the skin. Keeping it green, the rocket salad saw its sweet, slightly peppery, flavour brought out by a lush vinaigrette dressing.
I selected beer battered halloumi and hand cut chips, with rocket and house relish (£9.95). While halloumi is undoubtedly the food of champions, many kitchens excel at reducing it to a salty rubbery failure. Not here, the texture was strong and meaty, with the cheese’s distinctive flavour flooding through. The chips were pretty great, and to add to my joy I too had a portion of the rocket salad.
As you’d expect from a Brighton eatery, there’s a range of gluten-free and vegetarian options for fussier diners. Chef Lorena works with a team of four, producing a beautifully cooked menu that’s big on detail. Every day they’re creating dishes with good quality meat bought from a locally sourcing family butchers on London Road, also finding time to bake some of their bread and make all of their pickles and relishes as well.
Aside from the food, the beauty of The Fountain Head is it’s suitability for almost everything. If you’re relaxing after work, having an informal meeting or drowning your sorrows, it’s a friendly and inviting space. The surroundings are cosy, yet vibrant, the staff approachable and the food is terrific.
Fountain Head is at 101-102 North Road, Brighton BN1 1YE