Expect the Unexpected at The Set, Brighton
The brainchild of chefs Semone Bonner and Dan Kenny, formerly of The Ginger Pig and The Gingerman respectively, The Set isn’t an overly contentious restaurant, that would be too obvious. What it is, is clever. A restaurant that makes you think, but without forcing you to.
by Polly Humphris
Not knowing what to expect is the point. Brighton, as laid back as it seems, is quite a demanding mistress when it comes to food and The Set answers the city’s ever-growing need for something different. Walking in, it’s the interior that strikes you first. A textured blend of wood, brick, concrete-topped tables, resin and stone, it’s a small restaurant, and the design is inspired – it makes you feel welcome and excited without one affected element of ‘cool’, which is very refreshing for Brighton.
Being seated to Groove Armada’s ‘But I Feel Good’, it makes you feel just that. Intimate, but casual, you can sit at a neat, square table for two; a bigger round one; or sit at the pass – something that isn’t for everyone, but that I love (not least because you can be nosy). Sitting at the pass – being nosy – the first things I notice are the scribbled notes and half-recipes written on the white tiles behind.
“We don’t have recipes, we make them all up and one dish per week changes according to what’s in season,” Bonner tells me. “We use local suppliers and we have a forager too, so we brainstorm ideas at the beginning of each week and then go for it. It’s lovely to be in the position where we’re absolutely making our own food, so if we don’t like it, we take it off the menu.”
The menu in question in a four-course set menu and diners simply choose menu one, two or three. Each course is a simple list of three or four ingredients, so you never really know what to expect, and there’s a wine flight paired with each menu. Eating at The Set is about wanting to be surprised and handing over your trust to the chefs and to the excellent staff who serve you.
My first course of alliums, burnt apple and Tunworth cheese was a sweet and soft concoction with the just the right amount of bitterness to swerve your palette in a different direction, but the winner for me was the rabbit with lettuce rarebit, crispy mash, carrot and gravy. Crispy mash is a revelation in itself – it popped like a posh potato croquette in my mouth oozing hot, smooth mash that screamed comfort at my taste buds, and the tender rabbit was as soft as butter. The ‘Caesar salad’ cold snack served to us before any of the real eating began deserves high praise too. A bite size slab of anchovy and parmesan panacotta topped with a tiny, crispy lettuce leaf, it tastes just like Caesar salad and looks nothing like it: clever, simple, and just a smidge Willy Wonka.
The only dish that didn’t hit the nail on the head for me was the spiced pumpkin dessert, perhaps because I’d carved the proverbial out of at least six of them a couple of nights before, but more likely because I just don’t like soft-textured deserts served with ice cream; plus Bonner and Dan are both trained pastry chefs, so I was expecting something with a bit more bite.
Subverting the analogy of the unruffled swan’s legs kicking madly underwater, The Set runs a very professional, tight ship and serves refined food, but all of the excitement happens out in the open and the kitchen is incredibly calm. The idea is that the menu will be entirely new every eight weeks and as that changes, so I expect will the music, the ambience and your entire experience – a really arresting addition to Brighton’s burgeoning food scene.
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