Terre à Terre in Brighton – bohemian like me
Terre à Terre in Brighton is possibly the finest vegetarian restaurant in Britain. It was opened in 1993 by Amanda Powley and Philip Taylor. Since then, their vision of fine dining has become legendary, a celebration of the ethical and sustainable, without meat or fish.
It’s been six years since I was there last, so a return was long overdue. I wondered how it might have changed. I’ve even had a go making recipes from their cookbook. Making those needs time and many remain beyond my culinary skills. You won’t find simple salads, nut cutlets or meat substitutes here.
The restaurant has a small frontage on the lanes behind the beach front near the Pier. As the building stretches a long way back, there’s plenty of room inside. It comfortably fits perhaps seventy or so diners in three linked rooms.
Décor is simple yet Californian-stylish; scarlet and purple walls, wooden tables and flooring, modern yet relaxed. It’s a popular place, so book in advance with a two-hour seating rule. As before, the place was full and lively, a bohemian experience. Service is uniformly excellent and particularly knowledgeable.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the menu has changed since my previous visit, though I recognised some perennial favourites mentioned below. It seems that there are more vegan dishes on offer now, but perhaps I’m just more aware of vegan food these days. Regardless, the food here is like nothing else, a delight for the eye as well as the palate.
The menus are full of dishes with playful names. On the previous visit, I started with Terre à Tapas; a selection of corn cakes, chilli tamarind tomatoes, ricotta stuffed deep-fried green olives, parmesan doughnuts and more besides. Better Batter was the main course, a self-styled homage to seaside kitsch. Deep-fried Halloumi triangles in chip shop batter with lemon pickle, a tartare sauce made with seaweed, and the pièce de résistance, minted mushy peas! The pudding was the alarmingly named Bumm, an Italian cheese tart with walnut biscotti. Because these were all still on the menu, I was mightily tempted to choose all of them again!
Instead, I opted for their set three-course winter menu. Photographs of each dish are included below along with their “official” descriptions. Neither do justice to just how good this food is. At Terre à Terre, expect the unexpected, whatever you order.
Meanwhile, the wine list is extensive, and all are organic or biodynamic. There’s also a variety of cocktails, beers, spirits and non-alcoholic drinks. Most are from natural wine specialist Vintage Roots.
Given the now expected riot of food flavours, I didn’t worry overmuch about wine pairing. I was delighted to find an Italian red wine made from the rare red grape called Rebo, IGT Benaco Bresciano Rebo Mille 1. This is from the Valtinèsi, on the west side of Lake Garda. Rebo is a crossing of Merlot and Teroldego originating in Trentino. Because it combines the softness of Merlot with the power and weight of Teroldego, it deserves to be better known.
With the wine ordered, it was time to choose the menu options. To start, the choice was KFC, standing for Korean Fried Cauliflower. It came sweet and sour with a little heat, leavened by a ball of onigiri rice. In particular, this is far-eastern fusion cookery at its best. The cauliflower came in what I assumed to be the lightest tempura batter, the jelly making a piquant accompaniment. Consequently, it’s a long way from the chicken shop!
The main courses chosen were Ding Dong Denkaku and Chai Fawkes. It’s not easy to choose between these main courses, so order both and share them.
Indeed, Ding Dong Denkaku has thrilling Japanese flavours exploding from a umami-rich base. Caramelised fleshy aubergine is the centrepiece, complemented by the crisp seaweed crackers and a zingy pesto.
Meanwhile, Chai Fawkes had an even more beautiful presentation, a bonfire of root logs containing the Chestnut rosti, which when broken into revealed oozing creamy camembert cheese. Accordingly, this contrast of textures and roasted flavours suggests this would be the perfect centrepiece for a Christmas Day feast.
As you can see from the photography, as well as being works of art, the portions are incredibly generous and surprisingly filling. I wasn’t sure I could manage the pudding, yet appetite returned as soon as I saw the Churrisimo, a twist on the Spanish doughnut sweet treat. The churros are ( I think), choux pastry. They were remarkably clean tasting and soft rather than crunchy, melting in the mouth. Dunking and dipping the churros in the salted caramel and chocolate sauces, I saved a vodka cherry for the final mouthful.
So is Terre à Terre still the best veggie restaurant in Britain? It’s as good as ever. Perhaps it’s just one of the best restaurants, full stop.
Have them cook you something that you’ll really love.
Terre à Terre
71 East Street
If you like vegetarian and vegan food, then read my piece on The Walled Gardens Supper Club too.