Terre à Terre, restaurant Brighton

Writer and designer, Melissa Love, March 2011

If Brighton was a restaurant, it would be Terre a Terre. Stylish, vegetarian, a little bit tongue in cheek and endlessly inventive. In fact, it’s the only vegetarian restaurant I ever get excited about. It’s been a mainstay of the Brighton restaurant scene since 1992 and when I mentioned I was on the lookout for a companion to give the summer menu a good going over, I was fighting off propositions with a big stick. Lunch at Terre a Terre is the definition of a real treat.

If brighton was a restaurant, it would be Terre a Terre

Terre A Terre, Award Winning Vegetarian Restaurant in BrightonMy chosen companion carried the vote with his perceptive comment, “It’s the River Cafe of vegetarian food.” Like Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray with Italian food, Terre a Terre’s owners Amanda Powley and Phillip Taylor, who are still very much on the scene, set out to challenge received wisdom (lentils, beans and brown rice) about meat-free dining out. Like all good restaurant stories, the pair met by chance working at Brighton’s only other vegetarian restaurant, Food For Friends, and launched Terre a Terre with big ambitions and not very much money. “It was beg-borrow-steal and lots of friends pitching in with the painting and decorating,” marketing manager, Olivia Reid tells me.

“It’s the River Cafe of vegetarian food.”

Both business partners were in the kitchen from the very beginning, sending out creative, colourful plates of food which just happened to be vegetarian. Originally located in Pool Valley, the 30-cover restaurant was soon packing them in, and the rest, as they say, is history, with a move to the more spacious East Street location that Terre a Terre occupies today.

It’s hard to pigeonhole Terre a Terre, because it’s not a fine dining restaurant. There are no white cloths on the tables and on the day we lunched (an overcast Monday), the restaurant was buzzing with an eclectic mix of young families, business diners and groups of friends. Yet it’s the place I often head to for really special occasions, because the food is just so interesting. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. A few weeks before me, the Sunday Times’ AA Gill gave Terre a Terre a glowing review, a rare accolade to add to their hatful of other awards, which include regularly picking up Observer Food Awards for the UK’s best vegetarian restaurant.

Living the dream

Part of the reason the restaurant is so well-loved is the team’s willingness to live the dream. The patio at the back of the restaurant is full of vines, herbs and edible plants and they have recently set up a barter system where local allotment holders can swap fresh produce for meals. More significantly, there is nothing the restaurant team won’t do to give the customer what he or she wants, particularly when it comes to dietary restrictions. “It goes with the territory,” says Olivia. “We’re incredibly flexible because so many people choose vegetarian food due to health reasons and we respect that.” Gosh, no rolling of eyes when a demanding customer wants to go ‘off menu’ then.

And what a menu it is. Even the pickiest eater could find a long list of dishes to love here. For me, this is where the fun begins. Terre a Terre’s trademark ‘wacky names’ and sumptuous descriptions make it fun to choose but almost impossible to decide. How about Slap It On!, an earthy flatbread and tapenade dish or signature dish, Tomato Tea and Hot Parmesan Eclair? Or Better Batter & Lemony Yemeni Relish, which is described as ‘soft buttermilk-soaked halloumi dipped in chip shop batter, served with vodka-spiked preserved plum tomatoes, bright fresh pea mint hash with pickled quails egg, sea salad tartar and chubby chips, finished with lemony yemeni relish’. See, impossible.

You don’t have to choose after all

In the end, we placed ourselves in the very capable hands of the Terre a Terre team and plumped for the house tapas, ‘a selection of tapas lovelies served with our fabulous garlic focaccia.’ In fact, this turns out to be miniature versions of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, so you don’t have to choose after all.

It is, of course, marvellous; the attention to detail staggering; every mouthful a delight. Our hot chickpea pancakes come with homemade caponata and a zesty citrus dressing and the hoisin tofu with pickled ginger and wasabi is so richly flavoured that I am entirely forced to reconsider my position on the issue of tofu. A carafe of perfectly judged organic French Rose washes everything down nicely. This isn’t just great vegetarian food, it’s smart modern cooking at its best, with no caveats at all. I leave it up my lunch companion to give the final verdict. “Eating at Terre a Terre is like a beautiful painting, where the painter uses the whole palette instead of the same few trendy colours.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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