Brighton has led the way in green living since before anybody even started to care about the planet, let alone save it from impending climatic doom. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants like Food For Friends and Terre A Terre, plus zero-waste operations such as Silo (now decamped to Hackney) have famously led the vanguard when it comes to environmentally conscious eating. However, a new entrant to the city’s dining scene is looking to steal the solar-powered spotlight by putting “being kind” to nature at the centre of everything it does, and without any detriment to taste or flavour, as I discovered when I visited Kindling.
Owners Ramin and Jane Mostowfi had spent the last 15 years running Brighton’s trailblazing vegetarian restaurant Food for Friends before selling it to start Kindling. And even though it only opened at the end of 2019, they’ve already enlisted a team of staff with impressive foodie credentials: front of house manager Phillip Scott and head chef Toby Geneen both formerly worked at Fergus Henderson’s St.John Restaurant in London’s Smithfield. Situated in the city’s picturesque Lanes district, just a pebble’s throw from the beach and Brighton Pier, Kindling is a bright airy space furnished with plenty of natural materials such as leather and wood, and decorated in earthy hues that celebrate the restaurant’s healthy obsession with the elements of land, sea and air.
I chose the seven course tasting menu on my visit which, at £49 (plus £30 for the optional wine pairing) seems good value for a restaurant of this calibre. With a glass of Austrian “Space Invader” orange wine plonked in front of me, I sat back to enjoy the appetising smells from the wood-fired open grill and waited with a sense of eager expectation for the “rolling feast”, as my waiter Steve had described it, to begin.
First out are a couple of amuse bouche comprising pork brawn with an apple sauce of just-right sweetness and a plate of square-cut panisse with a romesco sauce and locally foraged bayleaf oil. They’re handed over the pass from the open-plan kitchen by extremely studious looking chefs with looks of severe concentration on their faces and it gives me confidence that some seriously good food is heading my way.
I’m not wrong. Next up, according to the printed menu, is a carrot and rose soup; instead, however, head chef Toby Geneen approaches my table with his head hung low and advises me in hushed tones that he has had to swap the planned dish out for a hisbi voluté with pumpkin seeds. The reason for this, he informs me, is that his carrots didn’t pass muster on final inspection this evening, but he delivers this news with such a forlorn look you’d think he was telling me that his first-born child has disgraced the family by committing some heinous crime.
This is absolute perfectionism and I worry that he’s about to commit hara-kiri in front of me with his Sabatier paring knife but instead, thankfully, he returns to the kitchen and sends out the substituted dish. The result of this obsession with quality is a perfect voluté, of course, but even better is what accompanies it – gorgeously chewy honey oat soda bread baked on the premises by chef Holly Taylor who also hand-churns the velvety home-cultured butter.
Small plates of ember baked leek with smoked plaice roe and buckwheat, along with grilled locally caught sea bass, roast cauliflower leaves and salsa verde are what follow, and they’re well paired with a crisp white Druida Branco from Dão in Portugal. What’s worth noting here is the colours of the food: because of their natural, non-processed state and lack of additives, the ingredients look exactly as nature intended and not in those artificially vibrant candy-coloured hues so beloved of Instagrammers. The flavours, by the same token, are less sweet and real, more grown-up somehow. Some of the dishes require a, dare I say it, more sophisticated palate to appreciate them.
Main course was braised venison from Ashdown Forest with celeriac, pickled pear and rhubarb, accompanied by a dark rich Ram Paddock red from Waipara in New Zealand.
The meat had been cooked for six hours in an elaborate process that meant it took longer to explain than to eat, but the result was mouthwatering. It came served with a delicate yet sticky treacle-like sauce that gave the dish the pleasant consistency of pulled pork, set off perfectly by the tartness of the rhubarb and pear.
A respite from eating came in the form of a pink glow sorbet made with rosé port and apples from the Kent garden belonging to the front of house manager Phillip’s parents.
The dessert of bergamot cake with dark chocolate sorbet and sesame tuile was too much for me and I conceded defeat over a glass of 2012 Côtes de Bergerac Blanc Moelleux which was the final, and extremely successful, pairing of the evening.
Complimenting chef Holly on her baking skills at the end of this fine meal, she revealed to me that not only the bread but the entire menu at Kindling is gluten free. It’s a fact they don’t push too hard as the moniker can put off diners who fear a compromise in taste is the price of healthier eating. Well, my seven course feast is testament to the fact the only thing missing from my dinner was that uncomfortable bloated feeling that often comes at the end of a large meal. It appears that eating at kindling is as kind to you and your body as it is to nature and the planet, and in this day in age that can’t be a bad thing, can it?
Address: 69 East Street, Brighton BN1 1HQ
Phone: 44 (0)1273 732 534
All imagery used in this article credit: Jo Hunt Photography