Back in January we were lucky enough to be invited by Brighton Food Tours to attend their Really Independent Brighton Food tour. Being long time Brighton residents and food lovers we weren’t sure if there was anything new we could discover about the city’s vibrant food and drink scene. How wrong were we???
The walking tour started outside Brighton Unitary Church in the heart of the city’s buzzing North Laine area. It was a lovely sunny winter’s day with blue skies if not a little brisk. We were part of a group of 9 led by the effervescent Cat who is clearly very passionate about food, drink and Brighton in equal measure.
Watch out for hipsters
After introductions and a quick health and safety briefing (watch out for hipsters leaning on lampposts and other such Brighton-centric advice) we made the short walk to Bluebird Tea Co. This is a place we have walked past countless times, but admittedly know very little about. The owners Mike and Krisi, whist living in Canada, were inspired by the Canadians love of tea and decided to head back to blighty and set up a tea room of their own, feeling that despite our obvious love of a cuppa, this was something that the British don’t do so well. Proudly independent and with the motto “spreading happiness was cup at a time”, Bluebird Tea Co have taken “Tea Mixology” to a new level. The shelves are adorned with brightly coloured tins containing every blend of teas imaginable and more. This is a tea lover’s paradise and the staff certainly know what they’re talking about. As well as a talk about the history of the company and learning various things about tea (Rooibos is the only caffeine free tea for example) we got to taste and have a go at mixing the trendiest tea in town, Matcha. Being green tea fans and having wanted to try this “super tea” we were naturally delighted. We were not disappointed, bright green in colour with an aroma that can only be described as “healthy”, the cup of Matcha sampled , mixed the right way with a bamboo whisk, was a delight on the pallet. Crisp and refreshing, with a reassuring warmth and the general feeling that it is doing your body the world of good.
Plenty of samples
After more samples and the chance to peruse for a while 9 happy campers were heading off to the next stop, Brighton Sausage Co. Now here is a local store we thought we knew well having stopped in many a time for a warm sausage roll in many a splendid flavour or some fancy cheese for a weekend treat. Again we were greeted by knowledgeable staff and samples galore. Our host Paul kept it simple, they have one aim – to produce the best sausage you have ever tasted! They seem to be doing well having won awards for their sausages and sausage rolls. All ingredients are sourced from within the UK with a keen focus on animal welfare as well as aligning with our ethos of focussing on the quality and consistency of the product. In addition to this none of the sausages contain any artificial flavourings or colourings. As well as sausages and cheese, this store is an Aladdin’s Cave of great produce. With cured meats, olives, pasta, chutneys etc etc this is a really gem of Brighton’s North Laine and it’s independent food and shopping scene.
Plenty to taste at The Open Market
From here we walked the short distance to the newly renovated Brighton Open Market on London Road. Once a downtrodden area of town, London Road has been recently rejuvenated with the addition of student halls of residences followed by many trendy coffee shops, restaurants and bars. The new Open Market has certainly added to this vibe and is a hotbed for independent retailers from cafes to veg shops and egg stalls to florists and bakeries. This market has it all. Whilst appreciating the vibe of the market as a whole, we were here to visit two stall in particular;
Houmous – a Brighton institution
Firstly Smorls, a welcoming Houmous, falafel and salad bar. We were seated outside and greeted by the one of the owners. This is a family business owned by brother and sister and they are certainly very passionate about their products. All of the houmous, falafel and countless dips are handmade and sourced from organic ingredients, local where possible. The bread used is baked by an Israeli baker in neighbouring Portslade. The whole ethos of this business is local and independent focussed and the products certainly speak for themselves. We were treated to a light and crisp falafel, a rich beetroot tapenade and tzatziki the like of which I have only ever tasted before in Greece. The undoubted star of the show was the houmous. Made from fresh chick peas the three we had before us will make me never buy supermarket houmous again. With original, extra and thunder referring to the garlic levels in each, all three were a flavour explosion with each element standing out on it’s own as well as combining to create what is quite simply the nicest houmous we have ever tasted. The thunder variety was our favourite and we have already been back several times for more.
From the beautiful, rustic home made treats at Smorl’s it was onto the decadence of Rainbow. Housed in what must the smallest unit on the market, the first thing that hits you about this place is the beautiful smell. As soon as you walk in you are in chocolate heaven. Owned by a French trained, Scottish chocolatier, this stall has everything a chocolate could desire and more. The chocolates are made on site and are nothing short of perfection and are extremely reasonably priced. They have truffles, tiffin, marshmallow, butterscotch, white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate and so much more. And all from a shop you could definitely not swing a cat in. We were treated to a hot chocolate each which was perfect for the cold winter’s day and tasted like no other hot chocolate we had ever had. On top of this all ingredients are organic, locally sourced where possible, packaging used is all compostable and recyclable from Vegware and the chocolate factory is powered by 100% renewable energy. What a place.
Getting increasingly full and increasingly happy we were now en route to HiSbe, Brighton’s independent supermarket which no Brighton food tour would be complete without a visit to. HiSbe stands for How It Should Be and their ethos is unique and a shining example to all. They are dedicated to serving the community and putting he needs of the suppliers, customers and staff first rather than lining the pockets of shareholders. They care about where the food comes from and how it is cared for, nothing that can be eaten is thrown away, staff are paid above the living wage and local suppliers and producers are supported above others. When you make a purchase the till shows you where your money is going and they are trying to reduce packaging where possible with serve yourself pasta, oats, cereal, lentils seeds and many more. They are making good food affordable, supporting local business and also sell Optimist! A real success story, HiSbe are now close to opening a second store in Kemp Town. Please support these guys over the multi-nationals if you can.
With appetites whetted by the delights on show at HiSbe, Cat made everyone happy by announcing that we were going for burgers. The group were delighted and trying to guess where…… There was only one place we could go in Brighton for burgers, surely? We were right and in a few minutes we were perched outside the infamous Burger Brothers restaurant. Having previously won best burger restaurant in the UK, this place is now somewhat of a Brighton institution. Started by 2 uni mates with a passion for great food, Burger Brothers has gone from strength to strength. Honest tasty cuisine, using 100% British beef which is ground on site and perfectly seasoned. They experiment with flavour combinations and garnishes and use artisan rolls, baked by the same guy who does Smorl’s pitta bread. A must visit on the Brighton independent food scene.
The best fries you’ll ever taste!
What would come next….? Well of course, you can’t have the best burgers in town without then trying some fries! Befries is a Belgain doubled cooked chips joint on the otherwise less than salubrious surroundings of West Street, which is more known for late night kebabs and wkd blues than independent restaurants. Walking in you immediately get the feeling that you could be in Amsterdam or Brussels. Wooden interior and stainless steel cooking equipment is coupled with the amazing smell of potatoes being cooked. With everything being done in front of you, you can either choose to sit at the bench style tables or perch at the bar with conveniently drilled holes to rest your chip cones. The chips are amazing and perfectly seasoned, but the real treat is the array of amazing sauces and dips. All produced on site you can choose from satay mayo, sambal, garlic mayo, barbeque, curry ketchup and so man more. This is another independently owned business, started by two brothers with a passion for good food and remarkably considering the size and the opening hours of the place is staffed by only them and their sister. Their hard work is definitely paying off and hopefully what they have started will see the start of more independent businesses moving into the area. There was talk of getting a liquor licence so hopefully in the future you will be able to wash down your fries with beers from some of Sussex’s best independent breweries.
Not sure if we could take much more food, but definitely willing to try we followed Cat obligingly through the rabbit warren of Brighton’s South Lanes. This area is full of great food places, many and varied so we could have been going literally anywhere. We were delighted to eventually stop at Brighton institution, English’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar, which has been on the same site for 150 years and in the same family since 1945! Here we were treated to some beautiful British oysters, countless oyster facts, history of the restaurant and an amazing drop of Devon white wine.
The whole tour was a huge success helped not least by the enthusiasm and knowledge of Cat and the vendors. As well as stopping at the places listed, Cat took the trouble to point out several other places of interest, telling their story too and also dropping in some gems of Brighton food history.
Overall we would highly recommend this experience for foodies who are residents or guests and also keep an eye out for the upcoming Brighton Drinks Tour which may or may not feature something very close to home 😉