Dinner at Drakes
Booked in for a Friday, I’d been looking forward to my evening at Drakes all week. Facing the sea on Marine Parade, this fine-dining restaurant has been winning awards since it opened in 2004. Tucked away underground, it’s the perfect place to retreat to after a busy week.
The Drakes experience is something to be savoured. To stretch out our evening, I met my friend Ella early for pre-dinner drinks in the upstairs bar. I ordered a Firecracker Cosmo – a beautiful balance of bimber classic London vodka, arbikie chilli vodka, cointreau, cranberry, lime and ginger. With a wonderful chilli warmth, it’s an ideal winter cocktail.
Ella chose something more summery – a Champagne Pina Colada. An indulgent spin on the classic, she loved the mix of Aluna coconut rum, plantation pineapple rum, pineapple, lime, coconut and champagne.
Seasonal amuse bouche
Moving downstairs to the boutique dining area, we entered an elegant, softly-lit room with contemporary décor, comfy seating and conversational artwork.
Elegant, welcoming and hidden from street-level, it immediately lures you to settle into for a while.
With this month’s five-course tasting menu and a la carte options to choose from, we mulled over seasonal dishes like pumpkin soup and rabbit saddle. As we browsed, we savoured an amuse bouche of duck rillettes with homemade bread.
Pigeon with cocoa
Deciding to go with a la carte, I started with the pigeon breast. Served rare, I loved the fresh accompaniments of plump blackberries and crisp endive with the unexpected bitter-sweet smear of chocolate sauce and cocoa nibs.
Succulent ox cheek
Ella chose the slow-braised ox cheek with potato galette, horseradish foam and red wine sauce. Sweet, sticky and succulent, I could tell by her face that she was delighted with her choice.
For her main, Ella chose the gurnard. A large bowl of rich bouillabaisse arrived, topped with two thick slabs of meaty white fish. Doused in the bouillabaisse were saffron fondant potatoes, homemade gnocchi, heritage carrots and thin discs of turnip-like kohlrabi.
Drakes have an enviable wine list, along with knowledgeable sommeliers to guide you through the options. Ella went with a Sussex rose from the Bluebell Vineyard near Uckfield. It was dry and full-bodied, with notes of cranberry.
Vegetarians rejoice! I may have just discovered the best veggie main in Brighton.
The celeriac, rocket and ricotta sformato I ordered was the standout star of my meal.
Somewhere between a quiche and a soufflé, my sformato was accompanied by a luxurious truffle sauce. Sweet roasted parsnips and savoury beetroot purée were ideal accompaniments, and it was all I could do to stop myself from licking the plate clean.
I sipped a glass of Sussex Bacchus from the Albourne Estate, just outside Brighton. Fresh and light, with apple aromas, it was a great choice with my main.
Taking a break before ordering our desserts, we were served a refreshing and zingy palate cleanser of passion fruit sorbet topped with gooey fresh seeds.
Dessert was another delight. I chose the deconstructed tiramisu, which arrived as a sculpted plate of rich, coffee-soaked sponge with a decadent chocolate ganache and thickly whipped cream, topped with a cocoa-dusted wafer that melted on my tongue like meringue.
To drink, our waiter made an excellent recommendation: a glass of Hungarian Tokaji Katinka dessert wine. Caramel-sweet with subtle spices, I enjoyed every sip.
Ella’s apple cider cinnamon crumble was another seasonal pleaser. Her crunchy crumble was served with a smooth crème anglaise that tasted like melted vanilla ice-cream. Yum.
Not a big fan of dessert wines, Ella went for another local favourite – Brighton Gin served with Fevertree tonic and a slice of orange. We were also offered coffee and petits fours but we were far too stuffed to fit in any more so, regretfully, we declined.
Put Drakes in the diary
An evening at Drakes is something to get excited about. It’s not every day that you get to dine somewhere like this and, in my opinion, its cosy setting makes it even better in the winter months.
My advice? Don’t wait for a special occasion, treat yourself while it’s cold and wet outside, and start early with a Firecracker Cosmo.