When I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo earlier this year, one of the main things that stuck with me is their style of eating. Rarely ordering just one main dish to enjoy, dining out in an ‘izakaya’ – Japanese establishment that also serves food to accompany the drink – meant choosing a selection of dishes, which would be then shared and relished by the entire table.
For me, this brought a much more social element to eating out than we are perhaps used to in England. We may go out to dinner in order to feign socialising but how often do we really look up from stuffing our face long enough to provoke engaging conversation?
When I visited The Cyclist previously this month, I was surprised at how their menu set-up took me back to my culinary experience back in Japan. However, this restaurant, planted firmly in Brighton Station where the Transport Police once resided, couldn’t have looked more different. The Cyclist has been thoughtfully decked out; from a separate bar area both inside and out, complete with a steam engine table and astro-turf tyred seats, to a (dare I say it) trendy seating section for those who want more of a formal affair, filled with comfy sofas and modern decor.
We took our seats outside as this meal fell on one of the more sweltering days of the past weeks. For me, it was refreshing to sit ‘outside’ and not be surrounded by smokers – I say ‘outside’ as it still remains under the station’s main roof hence the lack of smoke. Relaxed and with a welcoming breeze, we ordered our first drinks of the night; fresh cocktails, invented especially that week by the bar manager. While I went for a ‘Blackalicious’ – rum, lime and blackberries, my colleague chose The Lemony Sip-it – vodka, lemon and mint. While slightly more pricey than most at £7 each, these concoctions were well worth it. Each with a real depth of flavour and seemingly effortless balance between all ingredients, which must take a real skill to get right.
So, back to my earlier point about my trip to Tokyo. The menu in The Cyclist is made up of small plates, designed to share and increase your choice of what to eat. With most dishes coming in around £6/£7, you could find yourself grabbing a quick bite before catching a train or settling down to savour the selection in front of you. This is, of course, what we did. Like in Japan, I was able to converse with my colleague about what we were both tasting; our excitement for the Tomato Terrine (gooey breaded mozzarella balls served with layers of heirloom tomatoes and basil puree), delight at the melt-in-your-mouth Sticky Pork Shoulder and Wasabi Peas, and surprise at the Fish and Chips (a seemingly basic dish made exceptional by the smoked haddock, fluffy and light chips and chunky tartare sauce). The great thing about choosing these small plates is they don’t take long to prepare so you can order as and when the mood takes you.
The desserts have more of a traditional approach – one to each guest unless you’re feeling particularly gannet-esque. While the homemade Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait was a true treat, the star of the whole night was the Sea-buckthorn ice cream that accompanied the less impressive almond tart. Made by Caroline’s dairy in Chichester, The Cyclist is the only lace in Brighton to stock it and believe me, it is well worth trying. Like many places in Brighton, The Cyclist boasts fresh ingredients, locally sourced ale, beer, meat and produce.
What sets them apart however, is the personality injected into their food and drinks – recipes created on site by dedicated, passionate staff – and its ability to bring people together with fine affordable food in a comforting pub/restaurant setting for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Next time you head out for a spot of something to eat, remember that hidden inside Brighton Station is a stylish cave of culinary wonders.
By Holly Cozens