Saturday, October 25, 2008

Vacation! Terre à Terre

Terre à Terre
71 East Street
Brigthton, Sussex

Vegetarians rarely get the chance to indulge in haute cuisine - what with the questioning of cooking practices/processes and scouring ingredient lists with a fine tooth comb, so I had been looking forward to visiting this posh vegetarian restaurant in The Lanes of Brighton.

Classically-trained chefs Amanda Powley and Philip Taylor opened Terre à Terra 19 years ago as a means to push the boundaries of traditional cooking while adhering to their own meat-free ethic. Their diligence has paid off; the restaurant is one of the most successful in the United Kingdom, continually retaining prestigious AA Two Rosettes and Michelin stars.

The restaurant prides itself on quality, locally-sourced ingredients and has an impressive organic and biodynamic (the ideal of ecological self-sufficiency) wine selection. I was unfamiliar with most of the wines so our helpful server brought over a sampling for us to try. After some hemming and hawing I decided upon the 2007Zuccardi Torrontes, a delicately sweet organic dessert wine from Argentina.

Everything on the menu sounded exquisite - so much so that and it was almost too difficult to decide on a single dish, but since we were only in Brighton for one night I couldn't possibly try them all. I did, however, do the next best thing: I opted for the tapas sampler platter (£19/$38), which offered a few bites each from a selection of their starters and entrees.

The Terre à Tapas Platter

The first item I tried on the platter was the "Musto Gusto," fresh-made focaccia bread topped with feta, kalamata olive tapinade, sun-dried tomatoes and cippolini onions. It was fantastic and an excellent start to the platter.

Next up I sampled the "Big Tom," tiny ratatouille and ebony oil served with warm tomato consommé, thyme-tomato jelly and aubergine hashe. It certainly sounds fancy enough, but honestly it tasted very similar to my own home-made tomato sauce, only saltier, most likely the result of over-salting the soaking water for the aubergines.

Over salting seemed to be a theme on the platter, at least where the aubergines were concerned. Every item that included aubergine was choking with salt; the aubergine caviar and aubergine custard inedible as a result. Two bites was all I could manage before moving on.

The "Better Batter & Lemony Yemini Relish" was slightly better in execution, even if the buttermilk-soaked, chip-shop battered halloumi looked an unappetizing lump of dough topped with tired pineapple. I found the lemon relish bitterly sour, and the sea salad had a fishy taste from what I assume must have been flakes of nori. Only the brightness of the mint pea hash rescued this fried goat cheese selection from the rubbish heap.

Topped with shredded raw vegetables and tossed with umboshi plum white miso and rice wine dressing, the smoked soba noodle dish was definitely my favorite on the plate. The balance between the raw, crunchy veggies, the soft noodles and creamy smoked tofu was outstanding, although I could have done without the pomegranate bead garnish; the sharp zesty bursts felt like party crashers in this ginger-infused selection.

Rounding out the tapas platter were a few seemingly ala carte items: vodka tomatoes (nice, but easily made at home), wasabi cashews, garlicky hard-boiled quails eggs and a simple salad of rocket, shaved emmenthal and toasted sunflower seeds, which tasted slightly burnt.

Steve was a little overwhelmed by the menu, which, with it's many strange-sounding ingredients and odd pairings, was outside his comfort zone. He settled for the "Drunken Dunkerton & Onion Hoopla," which consisted of a twice-baked Cheddar soufflé with noisette butter potato dauphinoise, sauce soubise, finished with dry Dunkertons cider and cream. It came with a side of "fancy" onion rings, which we both thought tasted as though they'd been in the oil for about 30 seconds too long. Crispy is an understatement.

The Drunken Dunkerton & Onion Hoopla

Although I found the food on the night we visited to be somewhat hit-or-miss, I really enjoyed being able to relax in the knowledge that everything on the menu was "safe" for a vegetarian to eat without worry, and for that alone, Terre à Terre is certainly worth a visit.

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