I’ve been ill recently. This in itself isn’t unusual as it’s that time of year when every second person is complaining of a ‘bug’. What is strange, however, is that I lost my appetite. I’ve got the sort of constitution and levels of greed that would have ensured when The Titanic was sinking that I would have been in the dining room relishing the emptiness and ordering extra portions. Anyway, my recent lack of sustenance meant that as I approached Seven Stars and its famed Little Blue Smokehouse, the sounds coming from my tummy resembled the steady drumbeat of the Um Bongo advert.
Centrally located on Ship Street, Seven Stars masters the ‘eclectic cool’ look with ease. Modern stools and sparse wooden tables are complemented perfectly by the ornate wall features and kitsch tiled floor painting. The room is dominated by a large cage – which cleverly doesn’t seem to take up too much space, but seems very private and separate once you are actually inside. We opted to sit on a table right near the bar in the midst of what was turning into a busy Tuesday evening. Drinks-wise, I narrowed in with hawk-like precision on the gin-themed menu, with all the drinks coming under the heading of ‘Gintinis’. Desiring something refreshing I went for the Appletini (£7) – apple-infused gin with lemon, apple juice and sugar, garnished with a Haribo Tangfastic. Yes, really. My dining companion went for a limited edition cocktail, The Kreme De La Kremlin (£7) – their take on a White Russian. My Appletini was sweet, refreshing with the added bonus of tasting like real apples rather than some artificial nonsense; while my companion’s Kreme De La Kremlin was silky, sweet and comfortingly boozy.
While the drinks were great, they were not the reason for my excitement and my embarrassingly loud tummy. That could only be attributed to the rumours I had heard about the food. Speaking to Martin – who is the brains behind the Little Blue Smokehouse – his passion, enthusiasm and genuine love of meat smacks you round the face like the fish in a Monty Python sketch. Having started smoking meats solely for his lucky friends, Martin decided to start a street diner a couple of years ago, resulting in him winning Brighton’s Best Street Food Award in 2014. He is very keen on locally sourced produce, and explained that ‘where humanly possible’ everything is from Sussex. Martin talking about the sourcing and cooking of the meats had the same sort of effect on me that would be produced by putting a crap music obsessive in the queue for the X Factor auditions. Needless to say I was positively salivating at the thought of what was to come.
We decided to pace ourselves and just share a starter. The Smoked Pig’s Head Fritters with Piccalilli (£4.95) were an obvious choice. The smoky, strong taste of pork was unbelievable and worked perfectly with the syrupy, tangy and unctuous piccalilli. With three fritters, the sizing was perfect and whetted the appetite perfectly for the mains. Again deciding to share our food to get maximum levels of culinary pleasure we chose the Fried Chicken Buffalo Sandwich (£6.95), which contained buttermilk fried chicken, buffalo sauce, bacon, blue cheese, leaves and garlic mayo, all encased in a brioche roll along with Seasoned Fries (£2). For our other main course we opted for the Smoked and Beer Braised Ox Cheek (£12.95), which came with ham hock greens, mash and pan juices. The ox cheek fell apart the moment a fork even threatened to touch it, and the ham hock greens added a lovely buttery crunch to the dish. I don’t know what pan produces the sort of juices that acted like a small moat to the mash, but I will be investing in one immediately.
The burger, as delightful as the chicken, had remained juicy; the bacon was crisp and the blue cheese the perfect accompaniment. I was surprised yet impressed with how flavoursome the buffalo sauce was, and it provided a real undercurrent of heat to the dish. The fries were beautifully cooked and seasoned to perfection. Surveying the empty plates, and listening for the first time all day to a rumble-less tummy, even a fool could see why The Little Blue Smokehouse won its award, and it would surely only be a fool that didn’t visit Seven Stars as soon as they got a chance.
Seven Stars, 27 Ship Street, Brighton, BN1 1AD