Señor Buddha has been on our list of must-tries for a long time. This tapas restaurant features fusion food with a Spanish and Asian influence, and is located in Preston Circus, Brighton.
East Asian cuisine has four main elements; hot, salty, sweet & sour, and the man behind Señor Buddha, Lee Shipley, aims for food that features all of these elements whilst remaining fresh, aromatic, colourful and bursting in flavour, yet very delicate.
Visited: December 2016
The Octopus dish with black rice was worth going back for
The reasonably priced wine list (the most expensive bottle is £25)
The seating overlooking the kitchen
The haphazard service given how few covers there are
We visited on a Friday night just before Christmas and sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen. We’d heard many good things about this restaurant and were keen to try. Our first impression was that the venue was surprisingly small, with approximately 15 covers. The menu was chalked onto a chalkboard high onto a wall with lots of tempting tapas dishes. We opted for the padron peppers (as a token vegetable dish), the mountain mutton stew, octopus on sticky black rice, the Iberico pork fillet, the volcano chicken and the scallops with Morcilla de Burgos (Spanish black pudding, of which we are big fans, you can read our morcilla recipe here). The seating was great as you could spy into the kitchen but also see all the dishes as they left the kitchen to get a view at other things you might want to order on another visit.
The biggest downfall to the evening were a series of misunderstandings between us and the waitress. Her heavy accent made two-way conversation a little difficult. We ordered the pork stew to be told they had run out (one thing I’ve never understood is why, when opting for a chalk-board menu restaurants don’t remove dishes as they become unavailable – surely that’s the point of using that method over printed menus?). We were surprised as this was the first sitting of two on a pre-Christmas Friday night so it seemed strange they’d run out of something so early. We opted then for the beef shin stew as a substitute and a bottle of the Matsu El Picaro to go with the food.
The first of our dishes to arrive was the padron peppers. Hot, bitter and slightly salty, they made a nice accompaniment to our Estrella beers as we watched the chefs at work.
Next to arrive was the octopus with black rice and saffron aioli. It was a really interesting dish and we felt excited at the rest of the dishes to come. The rice was sufficiently chewy and stodgy and the tender octopus had been cooked to perfection. At this point we prompted the waitress as she’d forgotten our wine and she apologetically brought it to us.
The volcano chicken thighs spiced with whisky and honey arrived next and were a little disappointing. You couldn’t taste the whisky, and were left with a spicy, but uninspiring, chicken thigh. It wasn’t a patch on the hot chicken wings with kimchi and blue cheese served at 64 degrees, which we adore. Around about this point another couple arrived who had booked but the restaurant was completely packed. The couple were squeezed onto the corner of the chef’s bar (which is where they had been previously putting finished dishes before they went out to the customers) and this made things all the more cramped for everyone.
We were then presented with two written orders from the kitchen and asked which one was ours as there had been a mix up. This was quite surprising given how few tables there were catering for and made us a little nervous. Next arrived our scallops on morcilla and whilst everything was cooked just so, the dish, maybe unsurprisingly, tasted simply of scallops and morcilla. I felt it needed an extra element to make it interesting and memorable. The sesame scallops at Indian Summer, for example, is a dish I find hard to forget.
Next ensued some confusion, we were bought another scallops dish, which we hadn’t ordered. It turned out when we’d asked for the beef shin stew she had thought we’d ordered the ‘Tonkatsu’. We went through the order again and we thought we were back on the same page and would be receiving everything we’d asked for.
Next arrived the pork fillet with kimchi and Korean barbeque sauce. We’d been talked into ordering two of these dishes owing to their size but in hindsight I don’t think we needed two, they were fairly unremarkable and I’d like to have tried something else on the menu instead.
As this was the last of our dishes we asked again about the stew, it turns out they’d run out of beef shin stew too but nobody had told us. The waitress insisted that she already informed us that they had run out, and at this point the accumulation of small blunders and miscommunications was beginning to grate.
We left feeling satisfied, if a little irritated. The forgotten wine, the confusion over our order, running out of dishes and the unpredictable booking system overall gave the impression that they weren’t really on top of it all. Having said that, the food was interesting and some of the dishes worth going back for. The chef’s table was a great experience to see the food being prepared and – given the size of the kitchen – they’re serving some pretty interesting dishes at reasonable prices.
We intend to return and try some different dishes but perhaps on a weeknight when the level of customers might be lower and make for a more seamless experience, and if only to finally get to try the long-awaited stew!
Overall verdict: 7/10
Cost of food: Tapas dishes range from £4-£8 and a bottle of wine is priced between £19 and £25. Our meal for two of six tapas dishes, a beer each and a bottle of wine cost approximately £70.
9 Preston Rd
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