UNAPOLOGETIC FLAVOURS AT FOURTH AND CHURCH
It actually feels like summer as we head off to sample small plates at Fourth & Church. The restaurant’s modest, tasteful wooden tables and glass shopfront is drenched in warm light. The lucky ones have already settled in to enjoy a bottle at sunset with their nearest and dearest. “That pug literally has a ruffle of its own flesh,” my own friend observes, as we position ourselves on tall industrial stools at an even taller natural wood table just inside, to watch hilarious Hove life go by.
It’s clear now the restaurant’s seemingly innocuous location wedged between an estate agent and a masseuse (on the corner of Fourth and Church streets, duh) lulls you into a false sense of security. A library wall of wine carefully segmented into regions is the only sign something wicked this way comes.Though we’d entered next to a simple deli counter of air-cured charcuterie, cheeses and artisan sandwiches we were about to experience something magical.
TO BOLDLY GO
“Let’s start you with a Sherry, ” says Sam Pryor, Fourth & Church’s head chef, authoritatively. And just like that we are off on our journey. First to hit the table are robust smoked Catalan almonds, big fat Gordal olives and Pintxos with anchovies, fat caperberries and more olives – Kalamata this time – and flat parsley. Against the backdrop of the sturdiest sherry, small explosions are starting to erupt in our senses. My salty palate, awakened only once a year and only by authentic Mediterranean fare, is on high alert.
NO SOFT OPENING
“I feel like you designed this for me,” I heard myself squawk as two Monsieur Martinez cocktails hit the table. Elegant but firm, these pretty-little-things are blended with gin and rhubarb bitters, and pack an aromatic punch, finishing too soon with a tiny, sweet maraschino cherry.
I want another, but quickly forget when we encounter crostinis with Chicken Liver Parfait and Duck Rillette, both dishes accessorised with Fourth & Church’s signature pickled fruits and preserves. Sherry-pickled grapes cut through the richness of the pate, preserved apricots hit a delicious, playful note against pomegranate and duck. This is no soft opening! Nduja Fritters are out of this world – bold, meaty and packing a chilli-kick that is bound to weed out any remaining beige-bistro goers. Preserved lemon aioli demands attention. It all feels naughty.
MATURE & ADVENTUROUS
Five more perfectly formed small plates, for mature adults who actually share, arrive and we explore them eagerly. Each is utterly unique and an adventure on its own. My friend is drawn to pink, fleshy Salmon Gravadlax with Bloody Mary and horseradish cream.
I can’t get over the sheer boldness of Butterbean Hummus laden with smoky aubergine and za’atar.
Just as ballsy, an assembly of raw and roast cauliflower with salted yolks and caper dressing is a rare regular to this mostly seasonal menu. Beef tartare is fresh and bouncy, Spicchio Del Valpolicella with ricotta and artichokes is as rich as the landscape near Lake Garda and is expertly paired with Langhe Bianco Dragon, a striking Piemonte blend.
NO GROUND CONTROL
I’m starting to feel a tiny bit heady, maybe from all the delicious wine, and my feet are a little floaty beneath the stool. We seem to be stepping into a new dimension. It starts with a classic gnocchi, that litmus test of skill, panfried to a satisfying squidgy bite, singing alongside broadbeans, smoked ricotta, pinenuts and peashoots.
Vegans would delight in sweet potato cakes with bok choi and pickled shiitake mushrooms, which suddenly snaps us away from our flirty foray on The Med. Blackbean, sesame and fried garlic are pungent, unapologetic, delightfully rude. Seared octopus and salsify are as polar opposite as Spock and Captain Kirk, yet a dream team in this enterprise.
Are we still in Hove? Each selection has a deeply affecting pairing with gorgeous new and old world wines.
We pause to enjoy a Blank Bottle Moment of Silence (South Africa 2017) feeling as though we are floating far above the universe.
DO NOT RESUSCITATE
“I can’t fit another bite,” I start to say, but curiously it comes out as “OK, pass that bread basket and homemade crispbreads to mop up the sauces, while I loosen this belt.” Pork belly and jersey potatoes are a crowd pleaser but I’m eyeing up a spider-like yoghurt marinated fried chicken dish with watermelon, cultured mouli and fresh raita. There’ll be no more attempts at small talk now.
Just when I think I’ve seen it all, here comes a braised lamb breast that indulges beyond compare. Imagine a Moroccan tagine had a love affair with a roast dinner and some marrow got involved. Still flabbergasted, I can’t remember the greens it came with. Then there was Sussex-sourced Elderberry port and Chocolate Marquise and apricot coulis. I have died of pleasure. Do not resuscitate. A cheeky taste of top shelf Courantin Liquor hailing from a far corner of then British Guiana comes next, summing up Fourth & Church.
OLD WORLD VALUES
Hospitable, honest and generous, the restaurant’s joint owners Sam and Paul (Morgan) have a boundless collective knowledge of quality ingredients, wines and liqueurs, coupled with an old fashioned approach to hospitality and hard work. They hire staff who share those same values. It shows. The result is a low-key, unassuming atmosphere and the kind of food and wine experience I ache for. Prepared with exceptional technical skill and loving detail, always valuing substance over style, each drink, each dish, is an exploration that transports you somewhere new.
ENVIABLE NEW WORLD EXPERIENCE
Fourth & Church is a like a brilliant road trip to The Levant, stopping at the most exotic, most overlooked places along the way. But like with any good trip, my advice is not to do too much or overplan. Immerse yourself, soak in the flavours. Fourth & Church is the place to linger and peruse these new worlds. There is so much more to see and it just keeps getting better. A mediocre chef once told me Fourth & Church wasn’t all that. I haven’t spoken to him since. I don’t have time for envious liars in my life.