Semola: Trick or Treat?
As Simon and I weaved our way amongst the face painted party goers on Church Road on Halloween eve, we wondered whether Brighton’s latest Italian restaurant, would provide us with a culinary trick or treat. A review of the website prior to our visit had promised freshly made pasta with organic flour and Italian produce. I could quite happily relocate to Italy to live on pizza and pasta daily, so this sounded right up my street.
The Italian food scene is competitive in Brighton. There are institutions such as Donatello and Pinocchio that have been offering imitation 1980s style Italian food, since well, the 1980s. Authentic pizza is covered by Fatto a Mano and Franco Manca and all-round quality Italian dining doesn’t get better than Cin Cin and Edendum. With all this competition I was keen to see what Semola had to offer.
The cobalt blue walls and funky school style seating certainly gives the building a contemporary feel but I was a little confused by the concept. The menu advises ordering at the counter in a kind of fast food style, a bit like Nando’s, though we and the two other tables dining were all given table service. Perhaps the counter service is more for busier times?
Now before my next comment, I’ll caveat it and say I do like Halloween, I love fancy dress and I’m all for getting into the spirit of things, but when I looked at the menu and saw all the dishes had been given Halloween themed names for the night, alarm bells should have gone off.
Whilst our mains of Spooky Ravioli (£11.50) and Creepy Mussels (£11.50) were being prepared we shared a Pinsa Margherita. I’m not sure quite what Pinsa means. Google translate says ‘grip’ and Pinsa Margherita comes up as ‘daisy pinks’. Either way what arrived was a large Margherita pizza… of sorts.
McCain oven pizza?
Without the presence of a wood fire oven this was made under a grill and on biting into it I was reminded of those McCain pizza singles I had as a kid when I went to friend’s houses (my own mother would have thrown herself under a bus before allowing one into our house.) The cheese and tomato sauce was as hot as volcanic lava and the base was crisp like it was made of Jacob’s crackers. The only part that had any real flavour were the three basil leaves used as a garnish. It was certainly large enough though for just £5 and I could see some children on another table happily devouring it.
Intrigued by the filling of pumpkin and Amaretti biscuits, Simon had gone for the Spooky Ravioli. The generous portion of thin white parcels were coated in a butter and sage sauce and dusted with Grana Padano. Bar a slight orange hue from the filling it blended in with the white plate so didn’t offer much in the presentation stakes.
As we expected the filling was sweet. Certainly unique, at first it was quite pleasant but less than halfway through it became a bit too much. The pasta itself was cooked perfectly – slightly firm as it is always in Itlay, but the filling was just too sweet, too rich and with nothing else to give the taste buds a change, it went unfinished. A smaller starter size portion would have been the way to go with this dish.
Trick, not treat
I love seafood of any sorts, so ordering the ‘Creepy Mussels’, a mussel linguine in a homemade tomato sauce with onions and garlic was a no-brainer. One of the things I love about eating in Italy is the simplicity of the food. A sauce can be just a light coating of a couple of quality ingredients yet be bursting with flavour.
My linguine was laden with sauce, which was a surprise. The linguine itself was sort of clumped together in the middle and there were half a dozen or so mussels scattered around. The sauce sadly had nothing to it. I want to feel the energy the sun has poured into the tomatoes on a stunning Italian hillside in each mouthful when I eat a dish like this, but the only flavour I got was salt. Perhaps from the mussels, which themselves were a tad chewy.
The staff that served us were lovely; bubbly, attentive and fun, but I’m afraid the food turned out to be more trick than treat. With the Halloween clip art, funny named dishes and logo for 50% off for kids in the top corner of the menu, I get the feeling this is somewhere that will appeal to parents with young kids. What I wanted was something closer to the real Italian flavours I experienced during my trip to Rome and Naples back in May.
Rating: Must Go | Worth A Try | Give It A Miss
Price: £32.50 with two soft drinks
Its informal feel will make the adults and kids feel at ease and aside from the specials, dishes are reasonably priced. The flavours are easy-going on the palette, a bonus for kids that are a little fussier perhaps. Those on the table next to us certainly seemed to enjoy it. The menu changes almost daily, so a different selection of dishes on a different day may have been more favourable but based on what we ate this night I wouldn’t be tempted to give it a try again.
6 Church Rd, Hove BN3 2FL
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*Disclosure: I was invited to review Semola but this does not have any bearing on my review, which will always be an honest account of the whole experience.