Embers, Brighton – Wood-fired restaurant concept is a winner and is burning with style and quality

Amid the flame-swallowing lady, the buzz of a new venue, and the sweet smoky smells of burning wood, emerged the much-anticipated Embers in Meeting House Lane.
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Fortunately for all concerned the fire-gobbling took place outside the new venue, but night two of last weekend’s gently gently launch wasn’t short of atmosphere.

It’s on the site of the original Chilli Pickle restaurant, and looks every inch a smart contemporary space with a good-sized menu of interesting wood-fired dishes.

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It’s not surprising considering the track record of the two Brighton chefs behind Embers: chefs, Dave Marrow and Isaac Bartlett-Copeland, who have done their thang in some of the best joints in Brighton and Sussex, including Terre à Terre and Isaac

Pork Tomahawk at EmbersPork Tomahawk at Embers
Pork Tomahawk at Embers

At.

Embers, which is intended to be the sister restaurant of the acclaimed Isaac At, was first muted last October when energy costs began to spiral and the two chefs wondered if they could set up a restaurant where they cooked over carbon-neutral wood, instead of gas and electric.

The resulting open-kitchen restaurant is lively and not short of a dancing flame or two to gaze at.

The all-important kiln-dried ash and birch wood hasn’t clocked up too many miles in transport, after making the short journey from a lumber yard in Hassocks.

Charred broccoli at EmbersCharred broccoli at Embers
Charred broccoli at Embers
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But obviously it takes more than good intentions and sound energy-sourcing to excite and fire up the tastebuds.

Accordingly the initial roster of smoke and fire-friendly dishes is diverse and looks great. The plates we sampled had been cleverly assembled and clearly well thought out.

We shared four small plates and one centrepiece dish all, of which had a brush with a blaze in one form or another.

Predictably the red meat dishes were superb and the Wagyu Denver Steak was a small (plated) wonder.

Wagyu Denver Steak at Embers.Wagyu Denver Steak at Embers.
Wagyu Denver Steak at Embers.
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Served with roscoff onion and a sublte coffee Hollandaise sauce, it had the most incredible almost crunchy bark.

A glance at the open-kitchen revealed that all sorts of rubs, dusts and spices were being applied to the meats to create the kind of chemical reaction that amateurs would kill for on their steak suppers.

A centrepiece of aged pork tomahawk induced a similar level of awe, although this time the main talking point was the juiciness of the fat slices of pork. Perhaps a fruity marinade or injection had been involved along with brilliant technique.

The non-carnivorous dishes were also well-executed, broccoli always benefits from some time on a grill to bring out the nuttiness of the veg, and this instance the spears were enlivened with sweetcorn and jalapeno cream, tomato and garlic mole, and hazelnut.

Scorched sea bream at Embers.Scorched sea bream at Embers.
Scorched sea bream at Embers.
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A ‘scorched’ fillet of sea bream, served with a North African chermoula dip and some uninspiring heritage grains, had a ideal contribution from the flaming grill and not too charred.

The creamy ‘bonfire’ potato, was a pleasant change in texture, an elite mashed spud dish which I spotted being finished in a wok and topped with black garlic and an onion crumble.

There’s also a bit of fire and smoke in the cocktail list. Pre-opening they promised inventive cocktails and there are definitely a few fun drinks that will end up in a great many phone photo galleries. The Smoking Sazerac which combines flavours of cognac,

whiskey and bitters, is served with a bubble of smoke aromas, and the Cadillac Jo’ Margarita, a mix of Mezcal, Grand Mariner, not only has a flaming garnish in the form of a burning cinnamon stick, there’s also plenty of heat from the Ancho Reyes Mexican chilli liqueur and a homemade chilli sauce courtesy of its creator, mixologist Lyndon Roper (who you can see in action in the above video).

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Conversely, Ember’s wines are oak-free, which given the abundance of smoky flavours elsewhere seems like a sensible policy, and the Chenin Blanc we tried was a good all-round pairing with the robust wood-fired dishes.

We finished with a shared (if not particularly evenly shared, I’m partial to a pudding or two) chilled chocolate fondant. Mostly because I was so shocked to see one appearing from the fire and smoke of the kitchen. It was a rich, cocoa bomb of a pud which combined well with caramel and burnt-butter ice cream, but if you fancied one flame-grilled creation there’s the options of spit-roasted pineapple with molasses and buttermilk panna cotta, or cheese on toast with truffle.

Creamy 'bonfire' potato at EmbersCreamy 'bonfire' potato at Embers
Creamy 'bonfire' potato at Embers

A few days later I’m reflecting on the quality of the dishes and slightly greedily pining for the enticing-sounding plates that we didn’t chose, or the third meaty plate that my dining partner put the kibosh on (those glazed lamb ribs will just have to wait).

So, the largely gas and leccy-free kitchen is a reality and under the stewardship of two fine chefs who I’m sure will create many more marvellous, inventive dishes which are brought to life by burning Sussex wood.

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