Isaac At has been on our radar for some time. Back in 2015, Rebecca and I were wandering through the North Laine having been to a number of Brighton Festival exhibitions (also having stopped off at various pubs in between). It was late afternoon, and as we came to the end of Gloucester Road, a restaurant caught our eye. At the time, a number of chefs were working in preparation for the evening service, one of which (George T) popped out to have a chat. He explained the idea of the restaurant and the story behind it. Since then, it had been on our list of places we wanted to go to. I am ashamed to say that it took an entire year before we did.
Isaac At offers locally-sourced contemporary English fine dining food. The open kitchen allows the diner to view the food preparation, and the chef’s introduction of each course makes for a theatrical food experience.
Visited: July 2016
Likes: The commitment to using local produce in a creative way to achieve delicious and interesting dishes. Accompanying this is the clever design of the entire dining experience.
Dislikes: There was nothing I disliked about Isaac At. The food, service, and presentation were all exceptionally good. As a diner there are two things to consider. Firstly, this is a small restaurant and they need to maximise the space they have. Therefore you may be sharing your table and/or be close to other diners (but it means you can easily earwig on other people’s conversations – it’s a good thing). Secondly, there’s no food choice per se, the experience is built around a single tasting menu. If there are lots of foods you just don’t like, then of course there’s a risk you might not like something. If you think either of these two things would be a problem, then perhaps you wouldn’t enjoy Isaac At.
Isaac At serve their tasting menu to all their customers at the same time. Therefore we were instructed to arrive between 7 and 7.20pm to ensure that we were settled and seated in time for service to begin. On arrival, we were warmly greeted and shown to our table. Reassuringly, they had remembered that I had an allergy to peanuts, having provided my dietary requirements in advance. Menus were provided neatly rolled up with the drinks list and the detail of how far away the produce came from (personally, I would also like to see who the producers are). The only choice to make is what you’d like to drink. The wines, beers, spirits and soft drinks were sourced locally too (except the Scotch!) which meant that the excellent English biodynamic wines of Sedlescombe were available, but unfortunately only by the bottle. To match with the food I contemplated ordering both a bottle of white and red, however we were was sensibly advised to order a wine flight instead.
The chefs take turn in introducing the dishes to the room before they are served to the guests. The open kitchen is at one end of the room and the food is prepared in full sight. For the few who’s view might be obscured, they have installed a TV screen and CCTV feed of the preparation area.
To begin we were given an amuse-bouche of beef and kolrabi on a rye bread croute. This first morsel was an intriguing introduction to the type of food that what was to follow. Balanced and flavoursome ingredient combinations that are artfully presented. This delivered a sense of excitement and anticipation for what was to come.
To stave off any hunger, a sharing board of bread was provided. The homemade butter was light, fluffy and pleasantly salty (we were told it is was 2% salt – demonstrating the staff’s attention to detail). The breads themselves were strongly flavoured by the chosen additions of treacle, stout and shallot.
The starter course of fizzy strawberries and cream cheese followed. This was a delightfully colourful and summery dish that was complimented by the sunshine that was still streaming into the restaurant through the large windows on this warm July evening. Served with a cool glass of Ridgeview’s Bloomsbury sparkling wine, it made an ideal companion to the fizzy strawberries. As one of the chefs was working the room talking to the guests, I asked how they make the strawberries fizz? Apparently they follow a process similar to carbonating drinks using a SodaStream (I think using a compressed gas cream whipper)*. The cream cheese was not too cheesey, and the puffed grains provided a pleasant textural contrast (think Honey Monster sugar puffs).
The subsequent fish course was a cured, warmed and blow-torched fillet of mackerel, with cucumber prepared three ways (compressed, pickled and pureed) with dill and foraged sea aster. Rebecca’s not a massive fan of cucumber, and therefore she found this dish a little daunting. It was the prettiest of the night, however, but possibly the least favourite of ours. Personally, I think the fish was over-processed for my liking (having been through three cooking processes). At this time of year, fresh locally caught mackerel are a wonderful humble ingredient that only require the minimal cooking in my opinion. However, I appreciate that to serve 30 plates simultaneously is going to be a challenge for a fish course given a small kitchen. To accompany the dish, we were served a glass of Horsmonden dry white from Davenport Vineyards. This Sussex organic wine made from the unusual grape varieties of Ortega and Bacchus was a delight, with a citrus sharpness similar to Sauvignon Blanc, but with a prominent elderflower note towards the end.
The meat course was a dish of beef short rib (or Jacob’s Ladder if you prefer) with parsnip, horseradish, sea purslane and samphire. The generous portion of beef which had been cooked for two days sous-vide at 65 degrees (not 64 degrees!), was soft, fibrous and a little gelatinous in texture and wonderfully rich in flavour. The parsnips, while not particularly seasonal (being at their sweetness after the frosts of winter) added a welcome bite to the dish. I would have liked the horseradish to have had a bit more zingy heat, as a personal preference. The foraged samphire and sea purslane added a nice sea air saltiness to the dish. With this we were served another Davenport wine. This Pinot Noir red was very pleasant with pleasing cherry notes similar to a Beaujolais.
A quick palette cleanser of gooseberry and elderflower sorbet followed. This immediately conjured up memories of my Mother’s homemade gooseberry and elderflower fool (which I must get the recipe for!) These two flavours work so well together.
Once the sun had set, the dessert of rhubarb crumble and lemon thyme custard was served. The custard was lightly aerated and the perfect foil to the sharp tangy rhubarb, and the crumble provided a sweet crunch. The lemon thyme added a further green flavour dimension which reminded me of the smell of English countryside summer hedgerows. To go with this dish we tried a glass of Blackdown elderberry port, and a glass of the Back Dog Hill sparkling wine. The port matched the dessert better (its not really a port wine, rather a fruit liquor) and had some taste similarities to cough medicine, but in a nice way. The sparkling wine was very good with green apple sharpness and a smooth creamy finish.
The rhubarb theme continued with the petit fours served with coffee. The rhubarb gel from the dessert was served on a light buttery fennel shortbread. The drizzle cake was well soaked in syrup.
To conclude, the entire dining experience at Isaac At was incredible. There is a sense of communal enjoyment, as everyone tucks into the same intriguing food. The dishes are wonderfully presented and deceptively simple, given the amount of traditional and modern cooking processes that have gone into their preparation (pickling, curing, compressing, sous-vides, blowtorches, compressed gas whippers, and no doubt more). The interaction and proximity to the chefs may draw comparisons to other restaurants where a table at the pass might be available (64 Degrees, The Set etc.), however at Isaac At this closeness to the process and team is at the centre of their ethos. In between preparing, cooking and plating up, the chefs find time to chat to diners about the food they are eating and the provenance of the ingredients used, without any pretence.
On a number of occasions I looked up to see noses pressed against the glass windows, with captivated eyes – even passers-by recognised that something special was going on inside!
*The secret to Isaac’s fizzy strawberries has since been published on the Isaac At blog.
Overall verdict and rating: 9/10
Cost of food: After their current refurbishment, from the opening night of Friday 9th September, Isaac At will offer a set menu in addition to a full tasting menu. The tasting menu, available on a Friday/Saturday night is £47 pp, plus drinks (glasses of wine from £7, bottles from £20) and the set menu, available Tuesday-Thursday evenings and Saturday lunchtime will be available for £35 pp. Tables can be booked here.
2 Gloucester Street,
You can read our interview with Isaac here.
We were lucky enough to be invited to Isaac At on a complimentary basis. The views and opinions in this article are all our own.Find Flavour Seeker on social media: