43-44 Marine Parade,
The ViewBrighton Review
Located on the lower ground floor of the much loved Drakes Hotel (whose celebrity guests have included such discerning individuals as Kylie and Gordon Ramsay), the Restaurant at Drakes offers hushed, intimate dining but the food has plenty of personality.
Dining on the lower ground floor albeit a well decorated one is never going to be the biggest draw so you need the food to be exceptional to make up for it and luckily for the Restaurant at Drakes, it is. The entire hotel is beautifully styled and the restaurant is no exception. After all, when the bedrooms are as luxurious as the ones at Drakes - replete with supersized, super comfy beds, high tech lighting to set the mood, power showers, freestanding baths so deep that the likes of Kylie would struggle to keep her head above the bubbles when standing up in them and original sash windows with soul soothing views out to sea - a restaurant has got to be pretty phenomenal to tempt you away from ordering room service.
However, the hotel restaurant is and it’s well worth making your way down the sweeping staircase, pausing to appreciate the framed artefacts that have been sourced from far flung destinations, past the much feted cocktail bar on the ground floor and down a further flight to eat in the Restaurant at Drakes. Comfy banquette seating passes the ‘sink into it and stuff yourself silly’ test admirably and the low lighting is suitably atmospheric whilst still being just bright enough for diners to appreciate the care taken over the presentation of each dish.
As Drakes attracts stylish guests on a city break by the sea, it shouldn’t really come as any surprise that most tables are taken up with couples enjoying a romantic night at the restaurant. However, groups of friends who live locally also stop by and as the majority of diners eating at the Restaurant at Drakes are passionate foodies, don’t be surprised to find yourself in a conversation with the next table about how you enjoyed your food and what you’d recommend when they’re trying to decide what to order.
Unlike some restaurants where a vibrant atmosphere makes up for mediocre food, at the Restaurant at Drakes, food is king with interesting combinations of ingredients taking centre stage at every course. Whilst you’re waiting for your starters to arrive it’s worth sharing a small bowl of olives as the quality of them (top notch) gives a taster of the calibre of the food to come. If you fancy a fairly traditional starter, try the smoked salmon and creme fraiche terrine (£8.50) that’s delightfully light and served with crisp melba toast. However, the rounds of wood pigeon breast (£9) stuffed with dates and arranged on a red cabbage puree really showcase Head Chef Andy McKenzie’s talent as it’s a complex dish that’s more rewarding both in presentation and the rich depth of flavour of the dish.
Moving onto mains, the rib eye of local Sussex steak (£24) is a popular choice and is accompanied by root vegetables that whilst tasty aren’t anything out of the ordinary which is where the tender oxtail and very garlicky mash potato come in – they fuse all of the flavours together and lend a robust depth to the dish. Although, as it’s a rib eye there is a fair amount of fat on the meat so if you prefer a leaner cut you’re probably better off ordering something else. In fact, the Restaurant at Drakes does British comfort food to perfection. The braised belly of English pork (£20) is served with a healthy layer of fat beneath the crackling and, although you probably won’t want to eat crackling with that much fat, it does serve its purpose in keeping the pork springy whereas lesser chefs may have been tempted to trim more of it and ended up with a dry piece of meat as a result. The attention to detail continues with the accompanying elements of the dish – creamy cauliflower puree, a dash of cinnamon sauce and golden roast langoustine.
Don’t get too carried away with the rest of the menu though as the desserts at the Restaurant at Drakes are jaw droppingly delicious especially the egg custard (£8) whose sweetness is balanced out with a flourish of fragrant Earl Grey ice cream and a small round of Garibaldi (surely everyone’s favourite childhood biscuit?) to add much needed crunch to the otherwise smooth and creamy dessert and is easily large enough for two to share. If you haven’t a sweet tooth, this is probably one of the only restaurants in Brighton to offer more savoury alternatives than just cheese to round off a meal although there is still a cheese theme – choose from port and stilton toast (£8.50) and Welsh Rarebit with oysters (£11.50). That said, the selection of French and British cheeses (£9) that you can pick out for yourself from a gigantic cheese board after an explanation as to each of the cheese’s merits is hard to resist especially as it’s again a generous enough portion for two to share and served with fresh sultana and walnut rye bread.
If you’ve still room the next morning, make sure that you roll out of bed to enjoy a full English breakfast (£12.50) that includes perfectly runny eggs, crispy bacon, black pudding and plenty of hot buttered wholemeal toast plus an entire buffet table of cereals, yoghurt and fruit to graze from. If the Garibaldi and egg custard from the night before have got you craving childhood favourites however, opt for boiled eggs and soldiers instead.
The upstairs bar is famed for its cocktails so it’s worth heading upstairs after dinner to try a couple of them. However, for dinner it’s well worth sampling the reasonably priced wine list which has a really good bottle of Merlot as the house wine for just £15 (the house white is the same price) and plenty of good wines coming in at around the £20 mark including a heavy spicy Malbec. As you’d expect at a restaurant of this calibre, they also have plenty of bottles of Champagne on ice in case your night turns into a celebration.
The Last Word
The Restaurant at Drakes has blossomed ever since Head Chef Andy McKenzie first took hold of the reins and under his careful guidance it continues to flourish. Friendly service, captivating cuisine and attention to detail justify the prices and whilst it’s a fairly restrained dining experience, it’s also a memorable one for all the right reasons.
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