Review - Isaac At - A ringside seat for the creation of new flawless experimental menus

Marvellous meaty monkfish
Marvellous meaty monkfish

In terms of the hottest seats in town the lofty perch at the pass of Isaac At could come to rival the boats at sea witnessing Fatboy Slim’s fairly well-attended Big Beach Boutique party, and the cafes in the arches looking on as the mods and rockers had a disagreement over preferred modes of motorcycle transport.

The enviable position at one of Brighton’s most critically-lauded restaurants is set to become even more sought-after with the launch of a new £20 ‘test kitchen’ experience - a third of the cost of their full tasting experience.

Mackerel, beetroot and horseradish. Image by Gill Copeland

Mackerel, beetroot and horseradish. Image by Gill Copeland

This regular event will showcase the talents of their new team members, fortnightly, on a Thursday at 7pm, with a single sitting at the pass for two guests.

The test-kitchen experience, the first in the city, is an impressive up-close and personal encounter in a superb spot to watch young tyros doing their very impressive thing.

You’re close enough to see the burns on the chef’s arms, and can almost feel the heat as puddings are, surprisingly delicately, blow-torched.

The format gives them the freedom to let rip and conjure up some inventive new plates of food.

Pork and wild damson. Image by Gill Copeland

Pork and wild damson. Image by Gill Copeland

Last week Jake Young, aged only 18, was only the second member of the Isaac At crew to mastermind a new unique test kitchen tasting menu. He began, wisely enough, with an established favourite, Isaac At’s treacle and stout loaf, with its perfect crisp crust and warm interior boosted with heritage grains and slathered, by us, with South Downs butter.

Since its inception in 2015 Isaac At has endeavoured to forage and source every ingredient from as close to the restaurant as possible.

Accordingly, Jake’s starter, salt-cured mackerel, screamed Sussex with every well-executed element, including petals of pickled beetroot and a perfect cloud-like quenelle of horseradish cream, which my erudite dining partner described as offering just a whisper of warmth.

For his meat dish Jake opted for Sussex via Asia (Sino-Sussex?), in the form of pork and wild damson.

Talented young chef Jake Young outside Isaac At. Image by Gill Copeland

Talented young chef Jake Young outside Isaac At. Image by Gill Copeland

An immaculate honey and soy glazed crispy pork belly slice was lightly festooned with coriander seeds, with a gorgeous little piquant pool of plum sauce, an accompanying shard of pork crackling, and plum salsa, had a crunch that could shatter cliffs from Saltdean to Shanghai.

Jake’s fish course was the best of the bunch and he explained he wanted to treat the chunky pan-seared monkfish like a meat dish.

The huge umami flavours of the chicken sauce and smoked mushroom puree, crispy chicken skin and brown butter all conspired to create a savoury powerhouse.

A superb original plate.

Isaac At in Gloucester Street, Brighton

Isaac At in Gloucester Street, Brighton

Last up was a maternal-inspired pudding, which saw Jake’s mum’s lemon meringue pie transformed into a more subtle affair by substituting the citrus with the coastal berry sea buckthorn.

The foraged curd and gel sat side-by-side with a milk sorbet, meringue, and shameless butter-crumb shortbread.

At every turn of the test kitchen experience our drinks choices were chaperoned by the devilishly well-turned out restaurant manager and sommelier Alex Preston.

Alex, a man who could teach Gareth Southgate and the little chap from TV’s Line of Duty a thing or two about how to carry off a waistcoat, is an encyclopedic and enthusiastic cheerleader for English wine, providing some stellar Sussex and Surrey splosh to perfectly complement the varying flavours of each course.

Liquid highlights included a punchy Sussex sparkling white wine (Albourne’s Estate’s multi vintage), an earthy, juicy cider (Silly Moo, from Trenchmore Farm in Cowfold), and a complex big-hitting Bacchus (2016 Litmus Orange) which played well with the flavourful fish dish.

Head chef George Thomas said: “The test kitchen is the perfect way to give our up and coming chefs the opportunity to showcase the ideas that they have been experimenting with each week and tell their own personal story through every dish they develop.

The Isaac At team outside the restaurant. Image by Gill Copeland

The Isaac At team outside the restaurant. Image by Gill Copeland

“Experimenting with new ingredients and cooking techniques is so important to us, as is our customer feedback, so this felt like the right thing to do and gives us the opportunity to offer a lower cost experience too, as it’s £20 per person,”

By Steve Holloway