Bill's Brighton review: a 'normal' night out... in a good way
The timing of this review could have been better.
With the imposition of a restaurant curfew and rumours flying that we could be plunged into a second lockdown at any moment, the prospect of meals out - which was so temptingly waved under our noses with the Eat Out to Help Out scheme - could be snatched away once again.
But if this pandemic has taught us anything, it is to grab every opportunity while you can.
Admittedly, I am making the stakes sound much higher than a steak and chips, but it was this mentality that brought us to Bill's in Brighton to sample their autumn menu.
The spacious converted bus depot in North Road lent itself well to social distancing - unlike many smaller eateries in The Lanes - while still feeling busy, and there was no shortage of hand sanitiser on each table. Ours smelled suspiciously like tequila.
We did not have to resort to necking a sneaky squirt, thankfully, as the wine was swiftly brought out by our attentive waitress: a refreshing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc called Valley of Spies (£7.95 a glass, £31.75 per bottle) which tided us over until the starters arrived.
New additions to the menu for autumn included the tuna tacos (£7.95) and vegan truffled buffalo 'wings' (£6.75) so we had to give these a try.
The deconstructed tacos did look appealing, with slivers of lightly-seared tuna reclining on royal blue tortilla crescents. While the spicy seasoning on the firm-fleshed fish was a delicious surprise, I was almost tempted to splash some of the Mexican santiser on there for a bit of half-authentic lubrication. It needed more guacamole and sour cream for my liking, perhaps a drizzle of hot sauce, and a lot less lettuce.
The truffalos, by contrast, were drenched in a spicy marinade that was sweeter than expected, with a vegan blue cheese dipping sauce for good measure - and I could have polished off twice what we were served. Despite not being sure where the truffles came into the equation, this dish got my seal of approval.
Anyone familiar with Bill's has probably had one of their brunches - so it was no surprise to see a slice of sourdough, a couple of perfectly poached eggs and paprika hollandaise sharing a plate with the spiced crab and courgette cakes (£13.50). The runny yolks made for a great pairing with the soft, salty-sweetness of the cakes, but the toast was an unneccessary, albeit tasty, addition.
The slow cooked, boneless beef rib (£17.95) was a touch on the cool side when it was served. But this was more than made up for by the meltingly soft meat, braised in a thick red wine gravy and sat on a cushion of creamy chive mash. A nice finishing touch was the flecks of red cabbage, bringing a welcome tang to cut through the richness; the sourdough would have worked better with this dish.
We opted against desserts, which included strawberry and basil Eton mess (£6.50) and gooseberry, apple and elderflower crumble (£6.50) and instead reached for the cocktail menu and a similarly hedgerow-inspired set of drinks that did not deliver much more than 'floral'.
Overall, the food was enjoyable, and the staff were friendly. But in the spirit of this weird year, the biggest compliment I could pay was that it felt normal, and not the 'new' kind: good company in welcoming surroundings among people, eating, drinking and laughing.
Hopefully this can continue, despite the recent changes.