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TOM PARKER BOWLES - THE DAILY MAIL January 2014

TOM PARKER BOWLES - THE DAILY MAIL January 2014

'I want a glass of water,’ says the man to no one in particular. He’s just walked through the door. 

‘I haven’t eaten breakfast, you know, and I had a stroke a year back, and I want a glass of water.’

He sits down at the nearest table, and awaits his H2O. The waitress is nonplussed.

She smiles and asks him if he’d like a menu too. 

‘I want a glass of water,’ he repeats rudely. ‘Now.’ 

And starts to mutter to himself, darkly. Within a few seconds, the water appears and he gulps it down in one. 

He then scratches his stubble, glares around the room and stalks out. 

We’ve all stopped eating for a moment, engrossed by this sudden micro-drama. The waitress shrugs. And we all get back to our lunch.

You get the feeling that the staff at Riddle and Finns, a small seafood restaurant tucked away in Brighton’s Lanes, could deal with any situation, from walk-in water demanders to full-scale nuclear assault.

There’s a levelheaded confidence here, as well as natural, unforced charm, that you only wish could be spread across the entire service industry. 

Walking in, it feels like you’re a guest at some top-secret feast, rather than mere punter in search of sustenance. 

The room itself has the usual yellowing prints of horny-handed fisherman from days long past, hauling in nets and grimacing through their thick white beards. 

As well as snapshots of fed-up looking donkeys.

The tables are marble-topped, the stools wicker-backed and the walls lined with tiles. So far, so shellfish bar. But it’s the tiny details that give the place heart.

Like the wax-splattered candelabras that sit on every table, the candles lit, although it’s just past noon. 

And the creamy mackerel pâté that arrives with the basket of good, chewy bread. It comes as part of the £1 cover charge, a small fee that usually irks me. Here, though, it feels like a thoughtful bonus. 

The menu strides confidently across the globe – clam chowder and ceviche from the Americas; bouillabaisse, linguine and risotto from European shores. And a whole Singapore chilli crab too. 

There’s very little on the menu that I don’t want to eat. But before I get too deeply involved, I order half a dozen Lock Ryan oysters. 

They’re firm, and fulsome and sweetly briny, exactly as a well-brought-up native should be. 

Sea bream ceviche (‘ceviche of the day’, a wonderful idea) arrives, nestled in a lettuce leaf, sitting on a grey slate.

FOOD UNWRAPPED - CHANNEL 4

TATLER - RESTAURANT GUIDE 2014


Tatler_scan.jpg

JAY RAYNER - THE OBSERVER July 2006

Imagine you are Neanderthal man (or woman). You are walking along a prehistoric beach, wondering whether to invent the wheel and thinking about what to kill for lunch in the meantime, when you spy a small, knobbly rock lying in the surf. Being an inquisitive Neanderthal, you start beating the rock against a stone until - hurrah! - it breaks open to reveal... a lump of snot. Which you decide to eat. And so humanity discovers the joys of the oyster.

It sounds simple enough put like that, doesn't it, but I am still baffled as to how we made such an unlikely gastronomic leap. The usual explanation is that we watched the animal world and, seeing what they liked to gorge on, followed suit. This doesn't do it for me. There's a whole bunch of crap my cat likes to eat, but I'm not putting any of it in my mouth. Mind you, the oyster makes sense compared with some of the things we ingest. Who decided that intestines would make terrific sausage skins, and that kidneys, the organs that filter bodily fluids, would make a great pie? Just how hungry was the first person who boiled a turnip, and what possessed anybody to risk a severed finger to get at the sweet meat which lies beneath the lobster's armour?

Nevertheless, I regard oysters as one of life's great pleasures - a concentration of everything that is invigorating about the best of seafood. So I was always bound to love Riddle & Finns, a new fish restaurant which opened three months ago in Brighton's Lanes. Inside there are red-tiled floors and white-tiled walls and, instead of tables, high marble bars surrounded by bar stalls.

In the window is a wet fish display, from which you can buy home supplies (much as at the Fishworks chain). The kitchen is at the front, with big picture windows on to the street so you can watch the chefs toil. It is solid and utilitarian, rather than pretty. It means business.

While you study the menu, chirpy waitresses bring baskets of dangerous bread. Dangerous not just because of its freshness but because of the bowls of garlicky mayonnaise, smoked mackerel pate and spiky horseradish that come with it. Yes, they charge for it without telling you, but it's hard to begrudge £1.50 for this. Purists will, I know, regard some of the menu as fussy. You can have your oysters - rocks only at this time of year - unadorned, but they also offer them with more than half a dozen toppings. A few of these sound contrived: does an oyster really need to be paired with mango, lime leaves and black mustard seeds?

Probably not, but others made sense. From the hot list, the smoked salmon and sea urchin butter brought out the oyster's hidden richness. From the cold list, both pickled cucumber with smoked bacon and pickled ginger with spring onion and soy sauce (the latter, sensibly, on the side) worked because of the acidity of the main topping. It's the same principle which makes sherry vinegar such a natural accompaniment.

Elsewhere the menu offers bulging fruits de mer with whole crab for £40 for two (£50 for lobster instead), which seems a fair price. Not cheap, but fair; in these days of stock depletion, seafood should never be cheap. There's fish pie, whole crab salads and a changing catch of the day. Smaller dishes are more intricate. Chewy, sweet whelks, which so rarely get the attention they deserve, turn up sliced and sauteed in a warm salad of chilli and spring onions. A generous serving of eight langoustine for just under £9 comes in a creamy white wine, shallot and thyme sauce. I also liked dense monkfish cheeks served scampi style in a crisp breadcrumb shell with a coarse tartar. Chips are of the crisp, thin kind. There's a short wine list starting at £12.95, plus what they claim is the longest list of champagnes in town.

This Riddle & Finns, set up by the people behind a well-regarded brasserie down on Brighton's beach called Due South, is intended to be the first in a chain along the south coast. I can see how that would work. For all the twiddly bits - the pickled ginger, the sea urchin butter - it understands the virtues of simplicity. Ingredients come first. Appetite rules. Neanderthal man would love it.

jay.rayner@observer.co.uk

TOM PARKER BOWLES - THE DAILY MAIL January 2014

'I want a glass of water,’ says the man to no one in particular. He’s just walked through the door. 

‘I haven’t eaten breakfast, you know, and I had a stroke a year back, and I want a glass of water.’

He sits down at the nearest table, and awaits his H2O. The waitress is nonplussed.

She smiles and asks him if he’d like a menu too. 

‘I want a glass of water,’ he repeats rudely. ‘Now.’ 

And starts to mutter to himself, darkly. Within a few seconds, the water appears and he gulps it down in one. 

He then scratches his stubble, glares around the room and stalks out. 

We’ve all stopped eating for a moment, engrossed by this sudden micro-drama. The waitress shrugs. And we all get back to our lunch.

You get the feeling that the staff at Riddle and Finns, a small seafood restaurant tucked away in Brighton’s Lanes, could deal with any situation, from walk-in water demanders to full-scale nuclear assault.

There’s a levelheaded confidence here, as well as natural, unforced charm, that you only wish could be spread across the entire service industry. 

Walking in, it feels like you’re a guest at some top-secret feast, rather than mere punter in search of sustenance. 

The room itself has the usual yellowing prints of horny-handed fisherman from days long past, hauling in nets and grimacing through their thick white beards. 

As well as snapshots of fed-up looking donkeys.

The tables are marble-topped, the stools wicker-backed and the walls lined with tiles. So far, so shellfish bar. But it’s the tiny details that give the place heart.

Like the wax-splattered candelabras that sit on every table, the candles lit, although it’s just past noon. 

And the creamy mackerel pâté that arrives with the basket of good, chewy bread. It comes as part of the £1 cover charge, a small fee that usually irks me. Here, though, it feels like a thoughtful bonus. 

The menu strides confidently across the globe – clam chowder and ceviche from the Americas; bouillabaisse, linguine and risotto from European shores. And a whole Singapore chilli crab too. 

There’s very little on the menu that I don’t want to eat. But before I get too deeply involved, I order half a dozen Lock Ryan oysters. 

They’re firm, and fulsome and sweetly briny, exactly as a well-brought-up native should be. 

Sea bream ceviche (‘ceviche of the day’, a wonderful idea) arrives, nestled in a lettuce leaf, sitting on a grey slate.

ANNA PICKARD - THE GUARDIAN September 2006

The white tiled walls and wipe-clean tables - not to mention the open kitchen and slabs of fresh fish on the frontage - suggest your friendly neighbourhood pie and mash shop. But the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling point out that this is, instead, your friendly neighbourhood champagne and oyster bar.

And very friendly it is too. When we were there, the place was buzzing with busy chatter and giggly little birthday celebrations (they don't take reservations here, so just turn up and take your chance). As for the service, it was prompt, attentive and incredibly kind, particularly in the face of two oyster-virgins who were eager to taste - if slightly scared to swallow - the famed aphrodisiac.

There are currently eight different preparations of oyster served at Riddle & Finns, both hot and cold, and our plate of mixed oysters allowed us to sample all of them. Incidentally, both wine and champagne are available by the glass or bottle, but if you're going to start with the oysters, I'd advise at least a glass of the bubbly stuff.

The preparations range from the simplicity of a plain little guy with just a dash of lemon and tabasco (I had to build up to that one, I admit - but it was worth it in the end), to the complex mix of flavours in the wasabi and soy or pickled cucumber and smoked bacon toppings. My companion, meanwhile, confirmed that the subtle flavours of his "plain and simple" white chowder had warmed him up for the main course.

There's a strong emphasis on the sourcing and freshness of ingredients at Riddle & Finns - just like at the owners' sister restaurant on the beach, the ever-popular Due South - and you can taste it too. But it is still worth checking out the specials board, advertising the best of the day's catch.

Moonfish was the star attraction the day we ate: a fish native to the waters off New Zealand. This fact initially confused me (which day, exactly, was this the catch of, I asked), but it turned out that it had been netted off the south coast of England: our waiter was even able to show me a camera phone picture of the hapless fish lying on the fishmonger's slab that morning: an informative, if slightly over-familiar gesture. They hadn't named him, luckily.

The "crab fruits de mer" platter being devoured at the next table looked delicious, but I honestly didn't think we could have done it justice - and what with its costing £40 and constituting a veritable fish mountain, there was a lot of justice to be done.

A mouth that tastes of fish for the rest of the evening can hardly be an aphrodisiac in anyone's mind - apart from, possibly, a cat's - so it was a relief to find a good selection of crisp, cleansing desserts on offer. And after a sharp lemon tart between us, we wandered down for a walk by the sea. Feeling that we were probably, by that stage, composed of about 75% marine life, it seemed churlish not to at least pop down and say hello ...

· Riddle & Finns, 12b Meeting House Lane riddleandfinns.co.uk; 01273 323 008
Rock Oysters £1.90 each/ £10 for 6. Native (in season) £2.30 /£12 for 6. Starters from £5.50. Main from from £10. Platters (to share): £40 crab, £50 oyster