Kindling, Brighton: restaurant review
Does a regular diner reach the same conclusions about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Critic Chloe Scott-Moncrieff and olive reader Katie Turner-Samuels compare notes on this ethically minded south coast restaurant
Having successfully run popular vegetarian restaurant Food for Friends for 15 years before selling in 2018, Jane and Ramin Mostowfi are back in Brighton, teaming up with chefs Holly Taylor, Toby Geneen and Jake Ayliffe to create Kindling, a modern British (this time omnivorous) outfit with an ethos of ‘being kind’ to the planet.
High ceiling spotlights give the restaurant a good sense of space, with whitewashed and tiled walls adorned with hanging plants, and marble-topped tables. The menu breaks down into set lunch, à la carte, a daily changing sharing menu for two, and the family-style ‘Kindling Feast’. There’s a strong emphasis on high-welfare meats, sustainable fish and local fruit and veg: a gunsmith based across the road hunts venison (here served with chard stems, fermented apple and kale) and pheasant for the kitchen; the chefs recently spent two months foraging the county for elderberries (which appear in a partridge terrine); a labrador belonging to one of the team sniffs out Sussex truffles; and front-of-house’s Phillip (formerly of St John Restaurant) provides apples and quinces from his parents’ orchard in Kent.
The chefs also make the most of an open fire, creating the likes of ember-baked leek with smoked plaice roe and buckwheat; and grilled bass with chard and green elderberry caper dressing. A creative wine list features a Japanese orange wine and a Sussex Ditchling white, with plenty by the glass; and cocktails include a deliciously potent white negroni.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Chloe Scott-Moncrieff was food editor at Metro for seven years, and co-founded the Young British Foodie Awards. Follow her @chloescottmoncrieff
The punter restaurant reviewer
Katie Turner-Samuels lives in Brighton and eats out regularly. Widely travelled, she particularly loves cuisines from Japan, Italy and Peru.
Our pro's Kindling, Brighton restaurant review…
*I wasn’t recognised.
Meandering the Lanes, we slip into Kindling like otters to water. Peeling off our coats, it’s a comforting escape from the biting sea breeze.
It’s not long before the menu arrives. On the back, the Kindling story is described as: “Super seasonal, creating minimal waste and supporting local suppliers.” While Britain is fixated with provenance and hyper-local ingredients, it’s no good if the kitchen then savages the goods. Here, this isn’t the case, thanks to the chefs who chop and sizzle on an open stove in the centre of the room.
Warm interiors – rattan chairs, cascading plants and a pretty-in-pink marble bar – already contribute to a sense of bonhomie, but if it hadn’t, the cultured butter that arrives with honey oat soda bread would lift spirits. Churned with live yogurt, it’s a beguiling treat with a mild lactic-acid kick. Small cakes of panisse (chickpea flour) with tomato and fennel ketchup is a winning combination, the aniseed singing with the sweet tomato. Cauliflower croquettes – light, crispy, soft inside – whet the appetite.
Grilled chicory is a handsome affair, with a cloud of silken goat’s curd and charcoal shards. Salty explosions of sunflower seeds balance the rich curd, bitter leaves and kiss of sweet caramelised shallot. Gamey Saddlescombe lamb burger is a bruiser, with a heat-tingling coffee sriracha. Fleshy grilled bass on a bed of tangy elderberry with mustard-tinged remoulade is luscious.
We’re stuffed so share pudding. Rhubarb cubes sit with a brandy snap and an improbably smooth quenelle of sorbet, made from egg white, lemon and icing sugar. It all works, the snap adding a soupçon of crunch to this otherwise slip-down-the-gullet dish.
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THE BOTTOM LINE
A restaurant needs three ingredients: adept cooking, warm service and reasonable prices. This place ticks the lot. It also has the coveted fourth – soul.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £50.40
Our punter's Kindling, Brighton restaurant review…
The staff at Kindling are genuinely friendly, attentive and knowledgeable about the menu and dietary options. They have an innovative selection of wine, as far reaching as Japan, and the sommelier spent considerable time finding one to suit our palates. Throughout our meal all the staff responded eagerly, consistently asking for feedback.
We started with the beetroot tartare which was presented beautifully, but sadly tasted watery and vinegary. Next we had the whole mallard with sides of roasted roots and fries. With a menu this sophisticated, I would have preferred another potato-based choice but this was the only option. We were disappointed to find the mallard lukewarm, and we spoke to our waitress who whisked it away, saying they’d cook an entirely new one. Despite our protestations, another one was on standby, and brought within minutes. As a result however, the duck was now a little overcooked, losing its pinkness, plus the accompanying sauce was bitter, as was the rainbow chard. The sides of carrots and jerusalem artichokes were pleasantly sweet and well-seasoned. The fries, nicely salty, definitely didn’t complement the duck.
Afterwards, as an apology for the main, we were given a sample of the pink crab apple sorbet and sloe gin which was a wonderful palate cleanser, sweet, fresh and tangy. For dessert, we chose the Wigmore cheese and the walnut brown butter cake. Expecting the usual cheese board, we were surprised to receive an inventive and most luscious wheel of melted cheese with the accompaniments blended throughout. It was a triumph and, in comparison, the cake wasn’t as memorable, but still perfectly enjoyable with a strong nutty flavour and an undertone of coffee.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Kindling has promise, but needs more time to get its balance of flavours right. With their exceptional knowledge and enthusiasm, it’s likely they will manage it.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £106
Kindling Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating: 8
If foraged fruit and veg, artisanal produce and a real zeal for preventing waste is what you’re looking for in a menu, then Kindling must be the place for you. Not only does every dish showcase the fabulous local larder, but they also make the very most of every last scrap of them. To make it last longer and taste sweeter, the beetroot in the tartare is stored in sand. The bonus extra ingredient is the tops that sprout up. Equally inventive, served alongside the locally shot mallard (like most game, a more sustainable meat option), sit roasted cauliflower leaves which all too often are discarded. The subtle onion flavour on the fries comes from the ash powder from the onion skins burned over the open fire. Even when it comes to the indulgence of the walnut brown butter cake for dessert, the chefs have found a tasty use for the coffee chaff, the dried skin which comes off in the roasting process. It’s hard to find a dish that doesn’t follow the zero waste, maximum flavour approach. Preserving and pickling help extend the seasons for such delights as elderberry capers, celery, plums and greengages. Aside from the food, newly opened Kindling has plans to up its environmental and social game too, moving over to 100% green energy for example and also forging ties with local charities and community groups.
Photographs by Jo Hunt