Food For Friends17-18 Prince Albert Street
Tel: +44 (0)1273 202310
Guide price: £25
Cuisine types: VEGETARIAN | CAFÉ
"Oh it's very hilly. But you'll be alright. Go to Food for Friends when you get there - great veggie food" That was the advice I was given, in 1992, from a friend of my mother's when she discovered I was moving to Brighton. As a young vegetarian student ("it's just a phase" dismissed my farming parents), Food for Friends sounded like a mini paradise…
Of course, Food for Friends was more-than happily recognised by then as having its roots firmly in the soil of vegetarianism. Having opened in 1981 by Simon Hope, it was one of the first vegetarian restaurants in Brighton.
Simon's vision to provide vegetarians with an interesting and varied menu sourcing influences from all over the world whilst using the best produce (organic where possible), has set him in good stead for the past twenty years. Three books later, his forethought has truly made its mark on the world of vegetarian and vegan cookery.
Over the past year the restaurant has undergone substantial changes. The once counter service, the look-before-you-buy cafe style, has been replaced with elegant waitresses and restaurant table service. At first, I was miffed. As I'm sure were most of the regulars (we liked queuing!), but it seems to have paid off.
The menu now consists of more variety and a-lot more thought; where once the old favourites (quiche, stir-fry, veggie lasagna) stood alone, now they nestle on the menu next to Sage Snorkers with Celeriac Mash & Food for Friends Caramelised Red Onion Gravy (£8.25), Curry Power (£7.95) and Thai Yam Yai Salad (£9.95).
We were shown to our table. They're still stripped and waxed old pine and the walls, which have had a lick of paint, are charming New England colours reassuring us that our eating environment is earthy and therefore…healthy. During the dark hours the lights still twinkle and flatter.
Another great addition to the menu is the tapas selection, Share Plates, which offers - Mini Samosas with Onion Salad, Mango Chutney & Cucumber Tzatziki, Japanese Tempura with Ginger Shoyu Dipping Sauce and Olives and Feta with Deep Fried Lavash Bread. Three items will set you back a mere £4.95, four - £6.95 and five £8.95, bargain.
As is the delicious Antipasto plate for two - a huge chunky board with yummy Mediterranean delights like olives, houmous, pitta, braised artichokes, marinated peppers, caper berries and feta. At £9.95 it's a fabulous post-work treat to share with a pal alongside a healthy dollop of gossip.
After much deliberation we plumped for the Triptych (£6.95) to share for starters, my partner Marc choose a Wild Mushroom Risotto (£7.95) as his main and I, the Chestnut & Stout Clanger with Braised Juniper Red Cabbage (£8.25). The lovely waitress also offered us a small portion of a dish that came a close second in our choices. The Choco Mole Poblano with Vanilla Tamales (£8.95) (a bean and veggie casserole with four different chillies, forming a 'fiery feast that is not for the faint hearted!') was the one that almost got away.
The Triptych, a fusion of Japanese tempura, bulghur wheat croquettes, pumpkin filo parcels, Moroccan dip and tzatziki, was mouthwateringly delicious. The tempura came with ginger shoyu dipping sauce which was an excellent mixture of hot biting ginger and sweet tangy sesame seeds. Very moreish. The Patatokephtali (feta, potato & dill croquettes rolled in bulghur wheat), is like a contradiction in terms but it works. Comforting potato rolled into teasing morsels accompanied with the delicate flavours of dill tzatziki with crunchy cucumber, like winter, summer, Britain and Greece rolled into one.
The Poblano was delicious and not nearly as fiery as it warned to be, basically a chilli bean casserole but with extra delicate flavours. I couldn't quite detect the chocolate though…
After a nice little interlude the mains arrived. My Clanger looked slightly disappointing, the pastry was pale and insipid looking and when I tapped it with my fork it didn't budge an inch. I expected a hot pot with a pastry that had been bubbled over in a hot oven, that crumbled with a poke and melted in your mouth. But this pastry sat stubborn, it wasn't playing ball.
The hot pot's contents was moist and flavoursome though; big soft fresh chestnuts, sweet juicy shallots, chewy barley and a beer sauce with plenty of rosemary. The accompanying red cabbage infused in juniper berries had a very strong pungent flavour.
Marc's Wild Mushroom Risotto was very good indeed: the Arborio was al dente, creamy and gooey; the porcini generous; the stock must have contained plenty of wine to produce the sweetness, and with plenty of stringy parmesan within and large shavings on top it was a great dish.
With our full bellies we choose to share a pudding. The Apple Flan with Calvados Cream and Berry Coulis won the vote. It came sprinkled with powdered sugar, red berries and a sprig of mint and was absolutely delicious (I got the flaky pastry in the end).
Guide Price: £25
This is a famous wholefood vegetarian restaurant run by Simon Hope It has been in existence for ages, long before I came to Brighton in 1985 so it was probably one of the first pure vegetarian restaurants in Brighton.
The restaurant is based on a no messing but friendly counter service where you pick up trays and take them to any free table you can find. The emphasis here is on the food, cooked to their very own recipes, with house wines and fruit juices available at the end of the serving counter.
This visit to Food For Friends is far from typical. We had booked in for the Christmas diner and were made to feel very welcome by their friendly staff who had pre-laid all the similarly pre-booked tables with complementary Christmas Crackers, novelty French ticklers and party poppers.
Going through my selection from their set seasonal menu - I started with a variety of beautifully stewed mushrooms; delicate pearls of flavour, mismatched, to my taste, with a bed of ribboned iceberg lettuce, turned limp and soggy by the heat of the mushrooms.
All five of us shared the experience of one of the best nut roasts I have ever had, firm, moist and drenched in rich gravy, the roast was a brilliant combination which I swear included copious amounts of chestnuts. This was served with such a variety of vegetables that I would have easily have convinced that the vegetarians amongst us had died and gone to veggie heaven and dragged us omnivores along for the treat. We had roast garlic potatoes, crispy shelled and meltingly light at their centres; creamed suede, hot, sweet and excellently done; brussel sprouts served in pureed chestnuts and a ratatouille that used the flavours of olive oil, tomatoes and aubergines, which counter-balanced the rest perfectly.
To my shame, I was the only one at our table to finish the desert. Not that there was anything wrong with it. We had already crammed so much food into the evening that we had already reached our belt buckle limits.
The desert we chose was a delicious chocolate trifle, with chocolate mouse poured and set around a chocolate sponge, topped with fresh whipped cream and summer berries.
But then, it was the season to indulge.., tra la la la la
Food for Friends has a long standing reputation as a place to gather with good mates in informal and airy surroundings. It is a place where the vegetarian rules supreme. Virtually everything is made of old pine. Green foliage languishes above the heads of the relaxed and casually dressed diners.
Whether you desire a snack or a full course meal the prices are very reasonable and the taste is generally savoury and wholesome. It is in essence a good venue to create a pleasant evening. Something that will be remembered in a golden hazy glow in which it will not be possible to quite recall what you consumed.
However, our visit was not off the cusp or impromptu, it was orchestrated. Infact it was a Christmas celebration. Our usually laid back and homely Foodies, (as it is fondly known by its admirers), had pulled out every last stop. This night we embarked upon a symphony of alternative Christmas fayre.
The stilton and broccoli soup (served warm), smooth and velvety, slipped effortlessly down my throat.
The chestnut roast was moist, succulent and possessed a richness that eludes many other recipes. A ratatouille accompaniment was piquant and contrasted nicely, the sprouts served with chestnuts lost their severe bitterness, and the potatoes were golden and crisp outside and perfectly fluffy beneath. The creamed swede was an inspiration, sweet and buttery - I couldn't resist constantly dipping into it
I left some of the delectable vegetables uneaten, to secure room for desert. A mistake. I chose chocolate moose which was a little disappointing after the intensity of the previous course. It had the constancy of rubbery jelly (quite disconcerting!), the alternative may well have been splendid, but I'm not a huge fan of fruit salad when dining out and neither it seems, were my fellow revellers!
The staff were attentive and warm, the starter and main course a dream and easily made up for the slightly disappointing desert.
Environment and ambience 8 out of 10.
Food and drink quality 9 out of 10.
Service and hygiene quality 9 out of 10.
Nov 2003Guide price £25