Tucked away in the North Laines, Issac At is an unassuming restaurant, which has been making waves since it opened in 2015. It’s owned by 24-year-old Isaac, who runs the kitchen with his team of young chefs. I’ve been hankering for an excuse to visit for a while, so I readily agreed to a review, taking my friend Adele along with me.
With big windows letting in lots of natural light, this small restaurant’s on-trend interior is informal and unfussy, with slate-grey walls and bare wooden tables. Food is prepared in an open kitchen, so you can see Issac and his team at work while you sip something from their all-English drinks menu, be it Ridgeview sparkling wine, Silly Moo cider, or Blackdown vodka finished with silver birch sap, tapped from a Sussex woodland.
A paper scroll on each table explains where your food and drink are sourced from – for our seven-course tasting menu this included local lamb, Arundel cucumber and foraged wild garlic.
Instead of the wine pairing flight, we shared a bottle of white. To help us choose, Alex (the restaurant manager and sommelier) suggested the Horsmandon white from Davenport vineyard. Dry, smooth and aromatic, it’s more akin to Sauvignon than Chardonnay.
With wine glasses filled and sparkling water on hand, the prelude to our seven courses started to arrive.
Kicking things off was an amuse bouche of chilled rhubarb juice and celery water, topped with a golden orb of rapeseed oil. Sipping it straight from the bowl, this refreshing, summery jus invigorated our taste buds, ready for the meal ahead.
While we awaited our starters, we tore at a treacle and stout loaf. With a thin, crisp crust, it was steamy inside and, scored into four, was easy to share. Tearing-off the wedges, we smothered our bread so thickly in local Ringmer butter that Alex had to bring us an extra pat.
Strawberry and seafood starters
Served direct from the kitchen by one of the chefs, our first starter was a pretty plate of strawberries with young salad leaves and Sussex Slipcote – a soft ewe’s milk cheese from High Weald Dairy near Haywards Heath. Dressed in oil and balsamic, our strawberries had been given an intriguing fizz with an infusion of CO2.
Our fish starter was a blend of shredded crabmeat with cucumber discs, smooth cucumber ketchup and grass-like strands of sea blight (similar to samphire but milder).
“We source all our seafood from Newhaven,” Andy explained. “Our crabs arrive alive and nipping, they’re that fresh!”
Lamb ragu and Trenchmore beef
Fast approaching the bottom of our wine bottle, Alex stepped in to quench our thirst. While Adele stuck to the Davenport, I tried a glass of Albourne Estate Cellar Selection white, which was fuller and more buttery.
Moving on to meats, a delicate portion of ground lamb ragu arrived, scattered with torn mint, crunchy toasted almonds, and snipped green beans from Littlehampton, which were vibrant in colour and had a lovely bite.
My favourite dish of the evening was the medium-rare Trenchmore beef from Cowfold. Perfectly seasoned and effortlessly tender, it was served with smooth-as-you-like mashed potato, and a glossy tomato and wild garlic sauce, finished with sea purslane – a coastal herb with a sea salt taste.
Issac’s cheese course is an optional extra (£9 supplement) on their tasting menu, so Adele and I decided to share a board between us. I was delighted to find my favourite Sussex cheese – Brighton Blue – on our wooden slab, along with a mild Sussex camembert and a creamy white ‘Golden Cross’ goat cheese.
Smearing our cheeses on mixed seed, charcoal and buttermilk crackers, we topped them with homemade shallot and apple chutney, which I’d love to get the recipe for!
Caramel, carrot, cardamom
Our gooseberry and elderflower sorbet was a perfect palate cleanser before we delved into dessert.
Caramel ice-cream with carrot and cardamom puree may sound like an unconventional combination but, for adventurous taste buds, it works. The ice-cream was light and slightly salted, while the spiced carrot gave a sweet-savoury undertone. Crunchy caramel crumb added texture, along with tiny Viennese-style biscuits and lily-pads of sorrel leaves that had an apple-like acidity.
Our banquet finished as it started: with rhubarb. An oven-fresh cake soaked in almond syrup, we tucked into gooey rhubarb sponge with a satisfyingly crispy top. To accompany our desserts, we chose the Sedlescombe Dessert wine. Produced and bottled near Hastings, its sweet honey and orange tones sealed our meal.
Sussex on a plate
No other Brighton restaurant I’ve been to has championed local produce quite like Issac’s. Thanks to the restaurant’s talented team, every drink and dish we were served felt like a carnival of local ingredients and suppliers, while their pared back approach meant that every ingredient had a chance to sing.
A true tribute to the region, our evening was the epitome of ‘Sussex on a plate’ – or seven plates, one cheese board, an amuse bouche and a loaf of bread to be exact.