Hunky Dory at new restaurant Kooks
Brighton Food Reviewer, Matt Ainscough, June 2015
Garnering plenty of attention since its launch earlier in May, new restaurant Kooks can be found in the bohemian North Laine area of Brighton, brainchild of renowned DJ / music producer and all round creative fellow Mr. Tim Healey and wife Rebecca. Sitting on the corner of Gardner Street and North Rd the Healey’s have claimed a prime location.
Somewhat reassuringly you’ll find them there as well, at the coalface, mixing it with the rest of their team and extending a warm welcome to all.
Through the doorway, a good sized bar greets you from the right with café style seating running opposite in single file. This continues back and through to a spacious and slightly more formal dining area at the rear.
The subtle divide of the layout has the fortuitous effect of allowing those who might pop in for drinks and a bite to eat to feel equally at home with those enjoying a full-blown meal.
Overall, the interior is light and refreshingly airy with some smart individual touches; black and white illustrative artwork emblazons the walls and there’s some choice lighting softly illuminating some of the tables.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, considering the ownership, there’s a truly eclectic stream of music simmering in the background, from The Cure to Caribou.
Kooks is billed as a Boho style bistro and this is a fair description, it’s an all day dining venue. Open in the mornings the menu begins with breakfast, covers lunch and ends with three-course dining options, the latter of which my dining pal and I are here to try on a busy Friday evening.
This is not the sort of menu where foams or edible earths lie lurking, nor does it follow the current minimalist trend for starkly listing ingredients (though that format does carry intrigue).
Moreover, it carries a broad appeal offering established favourites and welcome partnerships, but with some inventive touches.
The first of which were the twice-cooked pork cubes ordered prior to our starters from the Nibbles and Bites section. Bite sized morsels of fried pork, crisp and tender, sprinkled with toasted fennel seeds for an aromatic lift and a douse of lemon juice to enliven. Very moreish and a cold beer – they stock Camden lager, Darkstar and the ubiquitous Beavertown ales from London – proved a great match.
Of the five starters I opted for the chicken parfait and toasted brioche. The parfait hit the mark both on flavour and consistency. The brioche, made in house, was also excellent. Not as feather light as some yet satisfyingly rich and standing up well to its meaty counterpart. An unexpected pot of mango compoté was also well received. Concentrated flavours of sweet ripe tomato and tart mango; its piquancy cutting cleanly through the parfait.
My pal’s salmon and spiced beetroot salad served with mint and horseradish cream was generous and the pairing impressed. The softly spiced beetroot, delivering a scintilla of cumin and clove like flavour, was the highlight. It added an extra element and tempered the sharper horseradish dominant cream.
Some wine beckoned for the main courses and so for my spiced green lentil salad with mango and red onion I opted for a glass of Vinho Verde from Portugal. Vinho Verde, meaning ‘green wine’, is frequently over looked so good to see it on the wine list. They’re slightly lower in alcohol than a normal still wine and can offer up a slight spritz too.
Good examples are exceedingly refreshing and make for great summer drinking as well as an aperitif.
The lentils retained a light crunch and were subtly spiced with the vibrant flavour of mango and red onion a touch more dominant. The spinach and fresh herbs added texture and matched the lentils earthiness. A relatively gentle dish, more about freshness and aroma than spice but which proved a surmounting joy to eat through.
It had to be a red wine to pair with steak and on this occasion that red wine had to be a Malbec. The sirloin, ordered medium rare, was served as such. The meat well seasoned, accentuating the cuts flavour. Twice cooked chips lived up to their billing and the burnt leeks matched with the seared meat. Keeping with the Argentinian theme, a lively chimichurri sauce abundant with garlic, parsley and a vinegary tang brought all components together.
The food is fairly priced by the way; eating here won’t break the bank. The salad was a respectable £11 but I thought the steak priced at £15 was just great value. There’s also a mighty minced steak burger, which looked impressive, weighing in at £13, as well as chicken, fish and more vegetarian options.
For dessert, a slice of Pudim de leit – Brazilian crème caramel – plated on a caramel drizzled base was delicate, light and lusciously sweet without being cloying.
In contrast my friends Key lime pie cut some more vigour. Set over a malty biscuit base the fluffy light topping dealt out a pleasingly tart citrus punch with each spoonful.
Kooks is a great addition to the North Laines collection of eateries, it’s delivering honest, tasty food to your table with a genuine smile at fair prices.
In offering a sundry range of quality dining and drinking options to suit the time of day, they’ve created an original proposition that sets it apart from their contemporaries in the immediate area. Oh you pretty thing indeed.