Brighton’s fishing fleet is now mostly to be found on sepia prints depicting busy bygone beach tableaux, but the fish and seafood at the Salt Room is so good and so screamingly fresh, you’d be forgiven for thinking it had arrived that morning from the basket of a Victorian delivery urchin.
Unsurprisingly, much of the sea life hadn’t made too far a journey to Kings Road. The majority of their market fish is from Sussex or the south coast, and the shellfish from across the UK and Ireland.
The locale couldn’t be much better, combining genuine fine dining with a view of the Brighton briny.
Both inside and out, under the blue sky and the familiar red-bricks of the Hilton Brighton Metropole Hotel on the seasonally-spruced up Bombay Sapphire botanic garden terrace, or in the stylish smartly-lit interior with exposed brick and splashes of copper, it’s a great place to be.
We visited during the recent endless Mediterranean-style heatwave and soaked up a little bit of English summer-time madness.
Motorcyclists pulled wheelies on the road opposite, be-suited Prom night teenagers roamed the promenade, and there was an awful lot of recklessly scorched wobbly flesh on show.
But if the weather felt like 1976, the food at this most modern of British seafood restaurants definitely didn’t.
Even the homemade bread selection was exceptional, with outstanding fresh crusty sourdough which we gave a fair dunking in the caper mayonnaise, and applied more smoked mackerel and seaweed butter than entirely necessary.
Some pre-starter and post-bread salt cod fritters had a fabulous crispy covering and a herby fish filling that was hotter than the fiery ball in the sky.
They sat atop some satisfyingly salty seaweed and a swirl of rich whipped smoked cod’s roe, which had been fashionably-coloured grey with squid ink.
A beautifully-presented taster of grey mullet was a light and bright contrast to the fritters.
The ceviche dish had been lightly marinaded in lime and chilli, and freshened up with some tomato and an avocado mousse
Our two starters were very different beasts. A relatively simple cured salmon dish with cucumber, dill and a creme fraiche was a delicate little endeavour, while the South Coast fish soup was, unsurprisingly, a heftier proposition.
Unlike a more traditional fish soup this had a strong hit of tomato and a gentle heat provided by the addition of cumin and chilli.
A Provençal-style rouille gave the enticely terracotta-coloured soup some extra depth, and a neat trio of torched mackerel, slow-cooked octopus and sea veg took the place of the usual hotch-potch of seafood often found in fish soups.
After some well-crafted and wonderfully finessed plates it was time to dive into the gargantuan mound of seafood that made up the sharing Surf Board.
A coal-roasted crustacean creation of crab claws, langoustines, garlic butter-drizzled scallops sat alongside plump prawns, and tempura-style squid, strewn with samphire and all resting on top of a bed of cockles.
Wonderful stuff. We cracked, gorged and gouged our way through this heavenly stack of incredible shellfish, most of which had been perfectly cooked in the Josper charcoal oven adding a gentle smokiness to proceedings.
Much has been written the Salt Room’s Taste of the Pier pudding.
An imaginative platter which channels sweet seaside favourites through modern fine-dining style, but after the monumental surf board it would have needed the appetite of a greedy Brighton herring gull to take it on.
In its place we chose an especially good coconut panna cotta, which was all the more marvellous considering it was gluten and dairy-free, and a cracking little zesty and a creamy Amalfi lemon arctic roll, which was served with an little bottle of homemade lemonade and a straw, and resembled the ‘70s cheap dessert in the same way the Salt Room is like a pub seafood stall.
The acclaimed and award-winning restaurant has a justified lofty reputation in Brighton, and increasingly beyond.
And it will keep the plaudits as long as it continues to combine style, technique and peerless produce.