Restaurant review: Food for Friends in Brighton
PUBLISHED: 15:08 11 August 2014 | UPDATED: 15:56 06 November 2017
Brighton is a paradise for vegetarians. But Food for Friends, celebrating 33 years on the scene, pleases even the most devoted carnivores
Brighton has a reputation for being a haven for Guardian-reading, granola-crunching organic gardeners. In some ways it’s warranted. We elected the first Green MP, and our most famous musical export is The Levellers – purportedly named after the democratic Civil War movement.
It’s not easy being green, as some local councillors can attest. But it is easier to eat out as a vegetarian than in many other areas of Britain. Not for Brightonians the singular sadness of choosing between two menu options or being saddled with a meal that ticks all the ‘free from’ boxes, relinquishing all attempt at flavour in the process. A vegetarian café, the ever-popular Iydea in the Lanes, extended into large premises Hove last year and a pub, The Prince George on Trafalgar Street, offers an extensive meat-free menu as well as veggie beers and wines.
But one restaurant pre-dates all of the others and is a firm favourite amongst residents. Food for Friends was established in 1981 and continues to offer inspirational plant-based cuisine.
I began with a salad of figs and smoked ricotta salad, £6.50. This was a ménage of complex flavours, fiery pickled ginger crisps cutting across the rich umami of the ricotta. Seldom is vegetarian food hearty, but Carl’s ricotta, basil and dill dumplings satisfied carb cravings, and were complemented by a roasted red pepper and fennel purée.
Anyone’s who’s opened a menu in a provincial town will know that pasta is the go-to vegetarian option – usually accompanied by spinach and ricotta. So I decided to see how the experts do it. Open ravioli, perfectly al dente, was resplendent in a rich, sumptuous Brighton blue cheese and parsley cream sauce with roasted butternut squash, sautéed Romanesco cauliflower and wild garlic. A joyous plate of food. Continuing to nourish belly and soul both, Carl tucked into a steaming plate of colcannon potato cakes with kale, a poached egg and a beautifully-made tarragon beurre blanc. We finished our meal with a deconstructed banana trifle. Usually the word deconstructed on a menu makes me want to bite someone, but this was refreshingly unpretentious – just layers of crème fraiche, dulce de leche and banana puree, topped with crunchy biscuit and banana sorbet. Light and fun.
Carnivores often say a meat-free meal leaves them feeling unsatisfied, even hungry. They surely won’t find that here. We left with waistbands tight as drum skins, unable even to manage a nightcap in The Cricketers over the road.
In 33 years at the vanguard of vegetarian dining, Food for Friends has honed to practised perfection its combination of startlingly inventive menus and matey, unfussy service. Sometimes being green is easier than you think.