Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Riddle and Finn, Brighton.

In addition to being coeliac I have some other food allergies which make eating out a bit of a pain, and catering for me bit of a nightmare.  So the pleasure I take in writing this review might be a bit understated.  I have an anaphalactic reaction to most nightshade foods.  This family of foods includes potato, tomato, vegetable peppers (the fresh red, green and yellow ones), chilli, paprika and aubergine as well as more obscure ingredients such as nicotine, physallis and goji berries.  Anaphalaxis (in my case) is that one which makes your throat swell up and stops you breathing so an incident could be catastrophic (if this sounds like you or someone you know, there is a useful article on Foods Matter's site here).

I pitched up with a friend to Riddle and Finns in Meeting House Street in the Lanes in Brighton having spotted and admired their beach outpost earlier in the day.  One of my favourite deli clients used to have the shop next door but I don't recall ever noticing Riddle and Finns. I would definitely had been drawn in if I had, perhaps the cases of biscuits and brownies were stacked too high for me to see over.  

I never hold out any great expectations if I eat at a restaurant without pre-booking as I am well aware that my allergies make me a pain in the arse for the majority of chefs and establishments.  Riddle and Finn definitely buck the trend.  Advertising themselves as a champagne and oyster bar, the restaurant menu covers a comprehensive range of fish and seafood, with light bites such as whitebait and oysters, seafood platters and main courses.  There are 3 vegetarian main courses on this current menu and a couple of those looked to be gluten free (I didn't check this).  The decor and menu reminded me of Randall & Aubin at Brewer St in Soho, though I found it a lot easier to order and eat safely at Riddle and Finn.   

I owe a debt of gratitude to the best waiting staff you can possibly imagine - and complete shame on my part for not having got the dark haired guy's name who served us with such care and intelligence.  But across all the staff we encountered, no one in a restaurant has ever gone out of their way to make a meal more safe for me.  

We arrived on day one of a new menu so the staff were not completely familiar with all the ingredients but they did an amazing job.  No gluten free bread?  (my bad, i usually bring my own), but it's ok, we'll make you blinis with buckwheat flour.  They took a list of my allergies and reported back to the kitchen, bringing me back a clearly amended menu listing the available options for me.   

In the meantime, we had been served bread / blinis, mackerel pate, chilli mayo and horseradish (a nice touch for a cover charge of £1/head), along with a decent though slightly sweet (my bad choice) Rose from the wine list.  Alerted to the ingredients in the dips, I was more than happy with blinis and butter.

The room is white-tiled floor to ceiling with high marble slab tables.  We were sat on comfy bar stools at a table seating 8,  just wide enough to allow some privacy with your companion seated next to you.   Looking round at the other customers, most seemed to be opting for oysters or the large platters of fruit de mer, which looked delicious.  I was very tempted by the razor clams on the small bites menu, but am saving that for my next visit.

We watched unabashed as our neighbours opposite on the shared table devoured and slurped their way through huge and amazing looking wok-fried crabs with unreserved enjoyment.  Half a dozen of the sweetest (hence the bad wine choice), plump fresh oysters arrived, and disappeared almost as quickly.  It was only once we had eaten them I realised that I should have been taking pictures, hence the photo of the empty shells.

I ordered the pan-fried cod and my friend had the wild sea bass.  I had added a side salad, which turned out to be completely unnecessary in terms of volume.  Both mains were served perfectly cooked.  The cod was served with crispy kale on a bed of garden peas with smoked lardons in a cream sauce.  The cod was perfectly cooked with soft creamy flakes of fish, the peas were filling and the sauce well-seasoned balancing the salty bacon.

The wild sea bass was served with leeds fondue, confit tomatoes, grilled spring onions, rรถsti potatoes and herb oil.   I can only report the silence that accompanied this dish being eaten as the reference for the dish.  It disappeared pretty quickly.

Presentation was simple but pretty.  A matching palate between the 2 plates, which quite appealed to me.

We skipped dessert because we were plenty full but had a decent strong coffee before heading out.  The bill was £88 including service.  Venue photos were provided by Riddle and Finn's (because mine were awful!).

It was an absolute surprise to be welcomed into a busy restaurant and have the staff spend time understanding and helping me order.  I felt safe and confident which made the experience of eating at Riddle and Finn's so much more enjoyable.