A restaurant trying too hard to be all things to all people
Experience has taught me that a restaurant attached to a tourist attraction isn’t usually going to set the culinary world alight. So when I heard The Belle Vue would be using ingredients “sourced from within sight of the tower” and the menu would be designed by MasterChef Professionals winner Steven Edwards (known locally for etch pop-up dining experiences), I thought my preconceptions may be wrong this time. I began to imagine fine food, served in a stylish setting, alongside a beautiful view of the sea and couldn’t wait to take up the offer to dine.
A cold welcome
It was a chilly Thursday evening at the start of October and the restaurant was sparsely populated when we arrived. Despite being quiet, it took a while before we were greeted and shown to a table and the cold welcome was matched by the temperature inside. With electric doors on three sides, the cold sea breeze filled the vast space of the canteen style restaurant and the grey tables and plastic chairs did little to warm the atmosphere.
The focal point of the restaurant is a circular-shaped bar, made from glimmering stainless steel, which has clearly had an extortionate amount spent on it and wouldn’t look out of place in lavish, hotel bar. However, here it felt lost, marooned in the room, with only the staff standing around it. Already confused by my surroundings the unusual choice of chart pop music playing in the background perplexed me further. Instead of dwelling on this, I focussed on choosing from the menu which offers everything from breakfast and bar snacks, to main courses and sandwiches. A daily specials board was also up for consideration too and although very tempting, for the purpose of the blog I felt duty-bound to try some of the hyper-local dishes on the menu.
Feeding us from The Sussex Larder
Being as close to the sea as it is possible to dine without getting your toes wet, the South Coast Cod & Chips -£12.50 felt a fitting choice for me, while Simon went for the £19.95 Etch Burger Experience (and no that’s not a typo – I did say £20). This signature burger earns its extravagant price tag and lives up to the locally-sourced claim; with the beef from Trenchmore Farm in Cowfold, the bun from the Flour Pot Bakery in Hove, the bacon for the jam from pork reared in Bolney and even the chips are made from Sussex grown potatoes. Topping it all off, the etch Burger is served with a large bottle of fine, Silly Moo Cider, also from Trenchmore and ticking all the boxes for me in the local and independent categories.
While our mains were cooking we were kindly given a starter tasting plate containing a ham croquette with pea puree, a cured and smoked mackerel salad, a pea risotto ball served on minted pea soup (they clearly seem to be fans of the humble pea) and two small cups of sweet potato and chilli soup. The creamy, piping hot soup was by far the highlight and upon reflection, it was exactly the calibre I’d expected to see.
My fish and chips were well presented in imitation newspaper and the fish itself moist and flakey. Although, despite being just metres from the source, it wasn’t the best I’ve tasted and I’m more of a Haddock fan.
Looking up at Simon I spotted a bewildered expression on his face. His burger had come served on a plastic tray, wrapped in black etch branded paper. Its accompanying fries overflowing from the cardboard carton sleeve, similar to a Big Mac. Then to confuse matters further the meal came with a fork and steak knife so sharp and high quality that McDreamy of Grey’s Anatomy could have performed surgery with it. Holding the burger in his hands, whilst eating the fries with a fork Simon tried to find a compromise, unsure what the etiquette here was.
The meat in the two patties was a high quality but felt lost in the mountain of bun and salad. Having now conceded to eating it with his hands in the way that felt most natural, the bacon jam and other contents dropped from the bun with every bite giving the large plastic tray a sudden purpose. The fries looked and tasted as if they were actually from Maccers, leaving the cider to be the clear highlight of the meal.
Evoking fond childhood memories
For the finale our waiter, who had been very attentive all evening, recommended The Belle Vue Knickerbocker Glory – £6.50, this was good. With beautifully sweet strawberries and whippy ice cream that actually tasted as though it was made from fresh cream and infused with vanilla pods; it took me back to fond childhood memories.
RATING: Must Go | Worth A Try | Give it a Miss
PRICE: £38.95pp (2 mains, 1 shared dessert)
SCORES ON THE DOORS: 5/5 from the FSA for food hygiene
The confusion with the burger really epitomised the overall confusion The Belle Vue created with us. As we finished eating and looked at other guests who’d arrived, it was a complete mix. Some business people from a conference at the Brighton centre, families and the odd couple. This mix of clientele seemed to emphasise this was a menu that was trying to be all things to all people but spreading itself so thin that it doesn’t deliver anything with any real panache. With regards to the food, from what I’d seen and heard of Steven Edwards – the etch dining experience is something pretty special and falls within the fine dining experience. Sadly, what we ate didn’t resemble his usual work. I can see The Belle Vue surviving on the passing trade of the i360 but I don’t expect it to be a regular haunt for Brighton locals.
Need to know
I really don’t want to end on a bad note though, so I will share a spot of good news. After two years of searching, Steven Edwards has just acquired the premises of the old Zamdarni restaurant on Church Road in Hove. So, although I won’t be dining at the i360 again I will look forward to tasting Edward’s food in a more formal dining environment in 2017.
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*Disclaimer: I was invited to The Belle Vue to review and my meal with complimentary, but as always, my opinion isn’t swayed by freebies and you are getting my honest opinion on the whole experience.