A Showcase of Vegetarian Flavours – Terre à Terre Brighton
A Kid In A Candy Shop
The prospect of reviewing the latest Terre à Terre menu is, to a vegetarian, like a being kid in a candy shop. Even for Brighton-based veggies, lucky enough to have a plethora of good quality vegetarian restaurants on the door step, Terre à Terre continues to hold a special place and is a perennial award winner. Disclaimer required here: it’s one of my favourite restaurants. It’s a special treat place for me, although I think that the more I go, the harder it is to impress. Would the new ‘Me Old China’ menu continue to rock my world?
Spoiler alert: I wasn’t disappointed.
Surprising Set Menus
Set menus are not usually my thing, and I was a little surprised to see that there was very little flexibility other than vegan options on the multi course menu. On closer inspection however, the carefully designed courses unfolded with the usual Terre à Terre flair and my usual anticipation – what was shiso amaranth? A kohlrabi umami bomb? I was starting to, well, salivate.
To keep my taste buds satisfied while we waited for the food, I sipped on a ‘Summer Soave’ from the Sussex Seasonal Cocktails list, a refreshing blend of pomegranate, Italian desert wine and prosecco. A crowd pleaser of a summer drink, and perfect on a humid June evening.
First up on the food side was the starter of Bangkok Broken Balls. These perfectly balanced nuggets were one of the highlights of the meal – a flavour explosion, the crispy refried rice soaking up a complex dressing of palm pineapple vinegar lemon oil alongside pistachio puree and smoked tomato mince. The huge flavours were balanced by a bed of crunchy lettuce leaves, an antidote to what could otherwise feel a little overwhelming for a first course. Cue a cacophony of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from my dinner partner and I.
The main arrived with a flourish – a two-tiered bamboo steamer hiding treats soon revealed, along with an artistically plated array of generously sized condiments. Our lovely waiter walked us through each item of treasure inside – despite his suggestion that we might like to navigate unaided, a Sherpa certainly came in handy, helping to transform the dreamy sounding menu to reality as well as give us licence to dive straight in – no need to wait on ceremony here, we were told.
At the sight of the marinated halloumi stuffed steamed rice bun on the top layer of the steamer I knew that it would be my first port of call – there’s something about the pillowy texture that I can never get enough of. This one didn’t disappoint. Light and fluffy dough encasing just enough halloumi, and not a squeaky piece of cheese in sight. Next up was a piece of griddled smoked tofu with satay sauce. I eat my fair share of tofu as a vegetarian, and in my experience it can go very wrong – often left as an insipid, flavourless addition to an otherwise perfectly good dish. This piece was a star in its own right, the smokiness permeating the entire slice with enough flavour to enamour my meat-loving dinner partner (hurrah!)
Lots of Variety
More treats awaited us on the bottom layer of the steamer, though it was the first few that really stole the show. My favourite on the bottom was the sticky gochujang baby aubergine; a lovely smooth texture and good amount of heat. I was looking forward to the mooli and kohlrabi umami bomb (I’m a sucker for umami flavours) but it tasted like how I imagine warm coleslaw might – perhaps the intention. I expected something crisper and much more savoury. The final piece was a pastry-looking morsel described as bean curd filled with smoked peppers, courgette, fennel lemon and glazed in mushroom jus. Its chewiness distracted from the lovely delicate flavour inside but by that time I was tucking well into the condiments and it worked perfectly dipped into the mild chilli sauce.
The puffed rice seaweed crackers provided ample parking space for the huge variety of condiments crammed onto our side plates, the pickled melon being a particular favourite. The Korean fried cauliflower with sweet and sour sesame could be a side dish in its own right (in fact it’s on the a la carte menu as a starter) and was another of my highlights – the contrast of sticky sauce and crispy fried coating working perfectly and leaving me wishing for more…
After a huge number of mini dishes I was worried I’d find it difficult to squeeze in a pudding but their diminutive size meant there was just enough space for our final course. The simply named ‘Rice Cream’ hides another whirlwind of I-can’t-quite-believe-it flavours and textures: warmly comforting cream coconut rice pudding with a hint of cinnamon, complemented by delicious star anise and tamarind molasses caramel pineapple, lime and green apple pieces and a cooling miso coconut yogurt ice sorbet. Just the right end to the most exciting dinner I’ve had in a long time.
The theatre of the food presentation and so much happening in the individual dishes is Terre à Terre at its best – a showcase of what their ingenious chefs can do with vegetarian flavours and textures.
It’s what continues to draw the crowds and why it’ll always hold a star place in my favourite vegetarian restaurants.