Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Riddle me this

Just a couple of weeks after enjoying a boozy, seafood blowout overlooking an Essex Estuary, the Ewing was particularly delighted for the chance to enjoy a second one in quick succession - this time at Riddle and Finns in Brighton’s famed Laines.

Inside features the obligatory high-topped marble tables, cool white tiles that bought to mind Soho's Randall and Aubin and Rex and Mariano (RIP, although its successor, Zelman Meats, is also very good).

Beware that if you are in a pair you have to sit adjacent to each other, like old people in garden centre cafes, and you may also have to share your table. Probably not an issue, but even the Ewing was frustrated by the woman opposite us, and her insistence on loudly instructing her builder on the kitchen extension down the phone.

Good sourdough came with homemade mackerel pare, taramasalata, aioli and... horseradish. Clearly I had zoned out when the waitress announced this nugget of info, so it made a surprise sinus-clearer when I loaded it up on a crust of bread.

We started with half a dozen oysters - rocks, as they hadn't had their first natives of the season - a mixture of Rossmore, Carlingford and their oyster of the day, which I felt sure I wouldn't forget, then promptly did.

You can add sauces and toppings, for an extra fifty pence per bivalve, from a comprehensive list including Killpatrick - barbeque sauce and bacon lardons; Porthilly - deep fried & served with pickled vegetables and citrus mayo; and the classic Rockefeller. And while I do, sacrilege, like a cooked oyster, we ate these au naturel (don't worry, we both remained fully-clothed), although I did anoint mine with a liberal splash of red wine vinegar with finely chopped shallots.

The Ewing took advantage of the excellent value set lunch menu, two courses for £14.95, picking the mussels as her starter, with a spare spoon for me. Having eaten plenty of mussels in my life - many of the best looking out at the flat, windy beaches of de Panne on winter trips to the Belgium coast - these were, with no sense of hyperbole, some of the nicest. (oh they were so plump, silky and delicious - TE).

Big and plump and sweet, but not like the tasteless green lip behemoths, with a velvety sauce that we both clashed spoons over. I also enjoyed the late addition of baby spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes, not quite as strange as it seems.

At nearly twenty quid (it's simply listed on the menu as 'Riddle and Finns fish pie') I hoped my choice of main would be worth it. But when a bubbling dish full of chunks of smoked fish and salmon, topped with a burnished carapace of cheesy mash and crowned with a king prawn and a scallop, appeared (I asked for it to be served without the pesky half a boiled egg) I knew I had made a good decision.

A slightly less successful one was to serve the whole thing on a round of slate. Not only did it make the thought of turning the molten hot pie out a rather unappealing one, but it made it nigh on impossible to cut my veg without the shiver inducing screech of metal on rock. I'm not normally overly fussy about my choice of crockery, but this time I was firmly on the side of We Want Plates.

My unadvertised veg meant we also ordered a side of samphire; entirely superfluous, but very good. Especially when the brackish fronds were dragged through the accompanying dish of ethereal hollandaise sauce. A pairing to rival the more familiar asparagus, with the sea vegetables' season conveniently running on right behind.

The Ewing's main was a kinda re-hash of her starter, but with with the addition of squid and clams and served with pasta, and was no worse for that. A generous portion, well seasoned, with well-cooked pasta and a cold glass of vino blanco - you couldn't want for much more.

Dessert - a chocolate ganache creation with a base of tonka bean shortbread and layer of raspberry and lychee bavarois, decorated with a melange of flowers, mint and berries - looked the part, but failed to deliver. The shortbread was soft and the ganache a little chewy instead of melty. The unadvertised chocolate truffle-type things, rolled in coconut and embedded in a swirl of lemon flavoured cream, were pretty good, though.

After several glasses of prosecco and a very nice white Bordeaux, double espressos were in order, taken while chatting with the - super lovely - staff about the influx of Wycombians to the town that weekend.

The total bill just nudged a ton. Yes, a fair bit of cash to drop for lunch, but well worth it for fine quality fish and seafood served in lovely surroundings. You could, of course, get out for far less and far quicker than we did while still having a thoroughly lovely time, but probably not quite as much fun.

We emerged into the daylight to be greeted by a bright and breezy early autumn afternoon, The perfect weather for a slightly pissed (well, the non- designated driver), walk along the shingle, both buoyed by another wonderful seafood lunch and already planning our hat trick. In fact, the only thing I wouldn't want to repeat was the unplanned dunking in the North Sea. Eating all that fish hasn't metamorphosed me into a mermaid quite yet.

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