Terre a Terre, Brighton


71, East St, Brighton

Scores out of 5: Veggie friendly : 5/5; Vegan friendly : 5/5; Value for money: 2.5/5, Quality of cooking : 3.85/5; Ambience : 4/5; Service: 5/5 ;Atmosphere: 3.5/5

Its 09:57 a.m. on Good Friday and I  rush past a series of unexpected Tube closures to get to London Bridge on time for the connecting train. The boyfriend (R) and I are planning to visit friends in Brighton and I am not at my best; I am a bit grumpy from having a late night and my hung-over head feels quite sore. 

After much puffing and panting, we get on board the 10:54. An hour later we arrive in drizzly, overcast Brighton. Hot-footing it across the town centre, we reach Terre a Terre (TaT). Our friends D&N and L&P are there already, seated at a huge table by the window. The entire scramble to get to TaT for 12 o'clock is because when I called to reserve a table, the only one they had available was at 12.00; the next seating would have been at 15:45 (a bit late for lunch !!). 

We exchange pleasantries and I inform our waiter that we've double-counted one of the couples. He cheerfully moves us to a smaller table further inside TaT; it's much bigger inside than I had originally suspected, with a wooden bar area separating the fore-store area from the main dining area behind the bar. The restaurant seems a bit empty and I wonder why they were so particular about getting us in at noon. Later, in about 15 minutes time, I notice that the restaurant has become  packed to the gills super-quickly!

We take a bit of time ordering. Like me, the others are a wee bit intimidated by the diverse (and seemingly overcomplicated and rather steeply-priced) menu. We are all foodies, but there isn't a single dish on the menu that doesn't list at least 2 ingredients we've never heard about. We don't really know what we are ordering, to be honest. Later, on my way back from the rest room, when I catch our friendly waiter's ear, I ask him if there have been any customer comments or suggestions re: the descriptions on the menu. Very charmingly and honestly, he admits that most people don't have a clue what they are ordering (phew, that makes me feel slightly more normal !!) and would prefer a menu that's more straightforward. Hmmmm.... the person-in-charge obviously hasn't listened to the customer feedback. 

While we make up our minds about the things we don't know about, D orders 2 plates of breads for the table. 

First up is something called Lavash Tanoor (vegan). It consists of "deep fried lavash tanoor bread crisps, sprinkled with spice dust and fresh coriander, and served with aubergine zhuganoush". When the plate arrives, this turns out to be deep-fried tortilla-style crisps (made from bread) and a smoked and grilled aubergine dip (similar to babaganoush). Its delicious !!!

The second bread plate is a selection of "freshly-baked, own-made and artisan breads served with Sicilian extra virgin olive oil and aged organic balsamic or butter" (and yes it said balsamic not balsamic vinegar !!!). At least we understand the description on that one. The dish is o.k.; just mediocre  bread and equally medicre olive oil; certainly nothing to write home about despite the flouncy title. 

I'm beginning to dislike this place, despite the fantastic waitress. "Why do they have to be so pretentious? What are they trying to prove?", I muse. 

We're a happy table. R, D and P went to Uni together over 20 years ago and have stayed in touch. Each has a nerdy , super-sporty side to them and it doesn't take L, N and me  long to pick on the boys, who good-humouredly return the banter. The boys then feel obliged to poke fun at N's love of handbags - "I can't help it ; I looooooove them", she says; my obsession with watching commercial shopping channels & feeling vaguely superior because I haven't bought any crap (although I do buy really useless kitchen gadgets in the store later)  and L's vociferously-defended passion for matching handbags and shoes. It's a very jolly bunch. 

Our starters arrive. Given the generous portions of breads, we order only two starters for the table. 

First to arrive is Arapas Mojos, wordily described as "Corn cake frits stacked and rolled in chemoula with carib and tamarillo salsa, splashed with lime oregano mojo finished with coriander chilli spiked avocado and chilli chelli". What the hell does that mean? Is a frit the same as a fritter - possibly not !!! And what the &%^$$ are chemoula, chelli and carib. Is this strange description meant to make food selection easier????

The dish arrives. It's a bit under-seasoned for my liking, but receives a good reception from the others. I still don't really know what I'm eating. 

Next up is the Tikka Kachumber. To my mind, that's Hindi and should roughly equate to  chargrilled-cheese perhaps with onion, tomato and cucumber salad. Nope, that's certainly not what the description says. It's "Tandoori spiked halloumi kebab served with yogurt cumin salt cooler and a soused pink onion, cucumber tomato chilli, coriander and toasted mustard seed limey dressing.". It's well-prepared, clean-tasting and fresh. I like it and so do the others. P particularly enjoys the bright-pink tandoori marinade that the halloumi cheese has been coated in. 

We then order 6 mains. 

N has a chana chaat described as a "Chaat spiced poori layered with black salt smashed potato and chana peas, heaped with mint, coriander and coconut limey served with hot mustard muffin, tamarind jelly and a Kerela soup sas". My Indian sensibilities are somewhat offended by this poncy description of what should be a simple uncomplicated piece of Indian street food. The dish looks pretty complicated when it arrives and tastes decent but not out-of the-ordinary. I wonder what makes a clearly talented chef feel the need to go to these extraordinary lengths when he or she could just as easily use the key flavours and create a wonderful, unfussy yet tasty dish. And what in heaven's name is "limey"???

I have the Better Batter and Lemony Yemeni Relish. It could have been described as a vegetarian fish and chips. Nope, the menu wordily pronounces it as  "Soft buttermilk soaked halloumi dipped in chip shop batter, served with vodka-spiked preserved plum tomatoes, bright fresh pea mint hash with pickled quails egg, sea salad tartar and skinny frites, finished with lemony Yemeni relish". The basic battered halloumi and chips is perfectly cooked. I love it. 
The skinny frites turn out to be thick-cut chunky chips; how strange is that? D loves the hash (which turns out to be not-so-mushy peas) and tastes like his mum's home-cooking , which is certainly high praise. The tiny half of pickled quails egg  is cold and tastes like a normal hard-boiled egg gone a bit sour and the sea salad tartar turns our to be capers in some weird, weird sauce, which is absolutely revolting. 
Why couldn't they have stopped at the battered halloumi and chips with the lemon dressing? Why tinker with something that's already good? 

P&R both have the Kalamata Coka , helpfully described as "Griddled thyme onion potato flat bread, loaded with rocket pesto, topped with minted grilled feta, served with cucumber, tomato and onion salad, Kalamata crush and pungent tzatziki with heaps of oregano and flat leaf". Of all the descriptions on the menu, that's the only one I can understand even remotely, but could someone teach this menu-designer how to write the rest in English please?
P enjoys his main thoroughly. He seems genuinely pleased and I feel happy. I'd hate to invite friends to a vegetarian restaurant and have them leaving feeling intimidated, confused and not really wanting to try veggie food again.

L has ordered something called "Pippin Squeak". Its "crispy fried bubble and squeak rosti crammed with British brassica, topped with baked Cox's Pippins and Sussex cheddar rarebit, finished with spring onion bulb hash". 
L has grown up on a farm, but even she doesn't really know what brassica is. We later find that it's a salad leaf. 
L doesn't seem to be best-impressed with her main. 

Finally D has the Smoked Sakuri Soba which are "chilled Tamari Soba noodles, piled with crisp raw vegetable spaghetti, bean shoots and mizuna leaves, surrounded by umboshi plum white miso and rice wine dressing served with toasted smoked tofy, spice satay, doused with toasted sesame oil, red ginger and pomegranate beads". 
This dish provides us with much entertainment, as D enviously points out to the waitress that his dish is about a third of the size of everyone else's. P&R cringe in true-Brit-stiff-upper-lip mode when D good-humouredly tries to cajole the waitress into serving him a bigger portion. 
The manager arrives and very, very politely and warmly takes the dish away. By the time the rest of us have almost finished our mains, the dish arrives, garnished with a few more pomegranate seeds and a few cashews to make the plate look fuller. D, the math genius, is tricked into believing that the dish is somewhat bigger and now that he's placated, he tucks into his meal. Because the salad has been piled in a thin-ish tower, it looks like a lot more when the tower tumbles onto the plate. The food itself, is fresh, well-flavoured and really quite nice. 

Everybody's had their fill. The plates are wiped clean except for the stray, weird concoctions that remain untouched on the corner of each plate (the sea salad tartar or the Kerela sas, for example). What the hell is a sas anyway ???

For pudding, P and I order the 'Ladies of Seville' to share - it's a "wonderfully warm chocolate and hazelnut torte with bitter chocolate sauce, served with seville candy orange salad and caramel salt icecream". The torte is beautifully presented but not particularly exquisite taste-wise. 

We have also ordered 'A'rite Treacle' - " complete comfort treacle and crumb tart with poached ginger pear pickle and vanilla cheesecake icecream".
This is P's recommendation and L has kindly ordered it, so I can try it. I've never eaten treacle tart before. It's an absolute triumph as far as I am concerned. Absolutely, perfectly perfect. Yummy yummy yummy. YUMMMMMY.
It could do without the ginger pickle and a simple vanilla ice-cream would have sufficed on the side. So we just ignore the ice-cream and the pickle is untouched. 

Finally the bill arrives. For drinks (mainly soft drinks, except for a beer and a glass of wine), 2 breads, 2 starters, 6 mains and 2 desserts, we pay £180. That's about £30 a head, when half the table didn't have a starter or a pudding and we were mainly drinking fruit juice. Not prohibitively expensive like some celebrity joint but still relatively pricey for credit-crunched Britain, though the food was good and the service was excellent.

I've had a good time and the company was wonderful. I'm glad we went somewhere vegetarian, but I can't help thinking that the others round the table would have preferred not to pay so much for "vegetarian food". I think this menu could have been provided for two-thirds of the price if the kitchen had not wasted its time and effort on some of the unnecessary flavour combinations. 

I feel a bit let-down by the snooty, inaccesible menu. It's fine for the menu to showcase the provenance of TaT's food, but this menu smacks of pretentiousness - do I really need to know the first name of every snail that crawled on a lettuce leaf I've been served?
One shouldn't come out of a restaurant that one reccommends, worrying if one's friends feel like they've been forced to pay for something they would not normally expect to spend. 

So why is this place so crowded???? I can't really figure that one out !

As we walk out, I hear one of the diners who's waiting to be seated say "I just can't afford to eat here on a regular basis". I don't mind hearing that kind of comment, if this is the kind of special, hallowed place where one would save up to have a meal at. 

Although TaT is good, it's not somewhere I would save up for, or have as an aspirational venue. The service is very, very good, the ideas are great and most of the execution is competent. It still needs someone to streamline and simplify the food and focus the place on what it's good at. 
TaT is currently not  a restaurant at the top of my list unless of course I win the lottery. I can find equally good, nice food elsewhere. 

Oh and I apologise that this review has gone on-and-on just like TaT's menu, but hopefully this review is slightly more intelligible 

71, East St, Brighton


  1. 'I can find equally good elsewhere...'

    Go on then... where!!! Where's good for veggies in Britain?

    You know, people get out of restaurants what they want, and if you're intimidated or put off, why not try a little more down market? ...why not run with the menu, see it as a bit of fun, and stop being so up oneself...

  2. Wow. I was expecting a great review for Terre A Terre from a self proclaimed 'fussy' veggie. What a disappointment. I hope it doesn't put people off going to judge for themselves.

    You say "One shouldn't come out of a restaurant that one reccommends, worrying if one's friends feel like they've been forced to pay for something they would not normally expect to spend."
    I'd say one really should not recommend a restaurant without having visited it. Seriously, how can you recommend it if you've never been there? You are in no position to recommend it until you have been, you can only comment on its reputation.

    I love the food at Terre A Terre and have been eating there since it was a tiny venue with a handful of tables. My only complaint is that there isn't enough choice for vegans and the dishes they do have tend to rotate round again and again when I'd like to try something new.

    I don't always understand the menu descriptions (but your waiter will talk you through them in plain language if you ask, as I've had to for some nervous friends) but I know whatever I order is going to be fantastic. I've brought many non veggies there - foodies and non-foodies and they've all loved it and raved about it. The menu, the combination of flavours and 'concoctions' is what makes it special and if you want to eat plainer food order the rosti, or eat elsewhere.

    It is expensive but in my view it is worth it. However in response to 'credit crunch Britain' (btw your overuse of this phrase in every review really grates) they do a 'Frugal Foodie' menu which costs £12.50. The portions are smaller than the a la carte ones but the three courses has filled me sufficiently on each visit.

  3. As a vegetarian who works in Brighton, I have had this venue recommended to me by a colleague but still not visited. I'm afraid that having read this review I am not at all eager to go there. If I don't know what the dishes include and I have to ask the staff, then they are not seeling it to me. Sounds like the chef is on a bit of an ego trip.


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