etch: Date Night Review

etch. has been on our list of restaurants to try for a while. If you don’t already know, etch. is Masterchef Champion (2013) Steven Edward’s restaurant in Hove. A couple of good friends rave reviewed it as somewhere to – “definitely experience”. One of them back in early 2017.

Late to the game…

But in our defence, have you ever tried to book this restaurant? It’s hard! I’ve never known a Brighton / Hove restaurant to have a waiting list. We booked early in March and even then I had to opt for a week night instead of the weekend. It certainly adds to the excitement and expectation.

We arrived late. It’s a nightmare to park around this end of Hove. We usually leave a few minutes early to allow for parking. But the girls were in school holiday mode, out of their usual bedtime routine and very excited to see Grandma. If you’re a parent, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I left the house clutching my makeup bag and hoping I had the right bank card on me. We got to Hove at 7.30pm, there was no-where to park, so to avoid looking like a no-show, I jumped out by the restaurant and grabbed our table; the other half spent some time finding a space.

The Restaurant 

The restaurant feels very grown-up: dark blue walls, brass touches, dark grey ceiling, leather chairs, booths, original pillars, art deco-esque lights, modern artwork, a serious open kitchen and a table heavy with awards. There’s no overly starched linen, silver plate covers, shiny shoes or awkward quiet here. It’s much more cool. A chilled soundtrack featuring the likes of Moby. Is it like anywhere I’ve been before? Perhaps the Hove version of a Firmdale: luxe in a chilled way. What I’m trying to say badly is that I liked it a lot, it felt glam, but not intimidating.

The staff

The staff are attentive but not over the top. I love this. I had to wait quite a long time whilst the other half drove around, which had the potential to be très awks. They struck the balance of making me feel super comfortable bringing water, offering drinks and then after some time had passed asking whether or not I wanted to start my snacks (at this point I felt quite regal – it’s so nice to be offered snacks when you’re usually the one offering snacks in a bid to prevent hanger). The husband arrived shortly after this, much to my relief, so we could start together.

The menu

We’d opted for the 7 course menu: £65 / head. etch. isn’t a cheap night out but it isn’t obscene for an extensive tasting menu. I’d had a chat the day before with the restaurant about The Husband’s dietary requirements. They state from the outset that they don’t offer a fully vegan or dairy-free menu. We knew this before booking. Not eating dairy is for comfort rather than survival (too much gives him stomach ache and eczema), so he was totally cool with the suggested “lower dairy” options. He really appreciated the call and the care taken.

Sussex Born & Fed review etch. Hove restaurant

The menu doesn’t give very much away, it’s very minimal in it’s famed two-word descriptions. However, each dish and all of the component parts are eloquently described by the waiters as they arrive at the table.

snacks

Dinner at etch. kicked off with snacks:  a mushroom doughnut and a savoury biscuit topped with cream cheese, onion seeds and grated Twineham Grange “parmesan”. I’m pretty embarrassed to say that I absentmindedly scooped the last little bit of cream cheese off the plate with my finger. I think a diner on a different table might have seen. What can I say, I was hungry, feeling relaxed and it was yummy.

Sussex Born & Fed review etch. Hove restaurant

bread

I’ve seen these gloriously shiny brown bioche buns all over etch.’s Instagram. The buns are infused with marmite and served with seaweed butter. Just as good in the flesh and so delicious. As a general rule of thumb I try not to eat too much bread. But this was extraordinary. I wasn’t going to let great bread go to waste. I ate the lot, no regrets.

jersey royal * wild garlic

The next course was wild garlic soup with a loaded jersey royal potato skin and lots of lovely fancy toppings. This was one of my favourite courses. I’m sad to say I didn’t manage to take a photo before diving in. The soup’s aerated for creaminess and it was indeed very creamy. There were little pieces of new potato at the bottom and loaded new potato skins on the side. Dreamy.

hake * jeruselum artichoke

Sussex Born & Fed review etch. Hove restaurant

I love how simple the menu sounds. In reality there are lots of elements, beautifully presented. This dish was a perfectly cooked piece of hake (I think they said water bath and then roasted) with a piece of roasted Jerusalem artichoke, artichoke purée, parsley oil, a hake cake (tell me you didn’t smile when you read hake cake) and preserved lemon gel. The little dots of gel had such a gloriously distinct flavour, perfectly complimenting everything else on the dish. I love fish, I could have eaten 3 or 4 of these. I’d love the recipe for that gel. It was gorgeous.

guinea hen * onion 

Guinea hen (fowl, to you and me, they’ve changed the name to sound prettier) terrine came out next. Again delicious. I think this may have been the other half’s favourite course of the evening. Moist, subtle and gamey with delicious filled onion petals.

As an anecdote, we always laugh about guinea (or hen) because our eldest for some bizarre reason has always called them sheep goblins – I have literally no idea why. And we wondered how it would look on the menu:

sheep goblin * onion. 

No, I’m not sure either.

hen egg * asparagus 

Sussex Born & Fed review etch. Hove restaurant

This was one of the dishes I was most excited about when I’d looked through the menu during the long wait. Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables. Asparagus with a dippy egg is quite frankly “dish of champions” in my book. Add in brioche soldiers. Oh my. The egg yolk is cooked at about 65 degrees for an hour to create the perfect jammy texture. I ended up mopping the last remnants of egg yolk from the other half’s plate too. I absolutely adored this dish.

lamb * broccoli 

Gorgeous lamb from Camilla and Roly at Saddlescomb. Always great to see a commitment to local suppliers. The lamb was cooked to perfection and served with a sweetbread bon bon. Broccoli is an all-round great veg. A very pleasant dish. I just couldn’t get through all of the bon bon, which was really quite rich.

caraibe * tea

Sussex Born & Fed review etch. Hove restaurant

There’s only one word for this pudding. Erotic. A dark chocolate pudding with a kitkat base and a smattering of sea salt served with earl grey tea ice cream on a chocolate crumb. The ice cream was out of this world good. But that chocolate pudding… speechless… [Insert Homer Simpson Face]

rhubarb * sorel

Sussex Born & Fed review etch. Hove restaurant

A super pretty end to a fabulous tasting menu. I’m not usually keen on rhubarb so I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the final course; I’m also not a fan of herby puddings either, especially herby ice-cream or sorbet. So, out of everything this was the course I was least excited about.

But actually I loved the rhubarb elements; and really loved the sorrel. I’ve had sorrel before but I’m not sure I’ve taken the time to really taste it. It wasn’t challenging or too savoury tasting, it wasn’t obtrusive but clean and surprising and incredibly delicious. The waitress likened it to a fresh, crunchy apple and that’s exactly what it tasted like. If there’s one thing I’ll take away from the meal, it will be a newfound appreciation of this humble herb.

The custard tart was delightful but I couldn’t eat it all. I was defeated. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy this course – to the contrary it was delicious and the prettiest of all the courses – I was just stuffed.

coffee * chocolates

Sussex Born & Fed review etch. Hove restaurant

As big coffee fans, all meals, regardless of the time they finish and whether we’re out or at home, end with coffee. At etch they came served in double insulated glasses (we have these at home – I love them) and with a plinth of dark chocolates. Two skull shaped, two oval. All works of art in their own right. But I simply couldn’t eat another thing.

We took the chocolates home in a doggy bag and enjoyed them on Friday night with coffee after dinner at home. The skulls were negroni and the ovals cherry flavoured. They were sublime. A delicious reminder of the previous night. I’d go back on the strength of the chocolate pudding and these truffles tbh.

Soda flight 

The soda flight is a made up of a different soft drink which has been carefully designed to enhance the flavours of each course. You’ll see on the menu that each drink has been given a quirky name. The soda flight costs £25 / head.

Sussex Born & Fed review etch. Hove restaurant

A long time ago I sat with my mum and sister at a chef’s table in a kitchen at a very smart hotel in the New Forest. We had a tasting menu with the wine pairing in addition to cocktails and champagne (back in the day when I liked a booze) I was sozzled by the end of the meal and offered to take the sommelier home. Not in a sexy way – I was a newly married lady, thank you very much – but because of his impeccable taste in wine. He introduced us to decent Riesling and British sparkling wine, which was a bit of an eyeopener to me back in 2011.

I’ve been teetotal for over a year now and it can be a bit of a bummer to go out to a nice restaurant and be offered water, juice or lemonade. Or worse still, J20. The soda flight at etch. by contrast is exquisite. Lovely complex, grown-up tasting concoctions to compliment the food. There were some really unusual drinks in the mix. They all tasted great. I loved the quirky names too. The reformed sober me would never offer to take the barman home but we very much enjoyed his creations and he’d always be welcome round ours. You can feel like a bit of a bore when you’re a non drinker (or DES or pregnant), so hats off to etch. for their perfect soda flight, which was just as compelling as the food.

The verdict 

etch. really is a must experience for anyone who enjoys fine dining. There wasn’t a single dish on the menu that I was indifferent or meh about. Every dish was visually stunning, every description was perfect, every mouthful a pleasure. I wish I’d had room to squeeze in the chocolates with coffee but I just couldn’t. We really appreciated all of the little touches: offering to pop the chocolates in a bag to take home; folding our napkins and placing them on the back of the chair when we went to the bathroom; checking in with me about the awkward parking situation; taking time to talk to us about the other half’s dietary requirements before we came to dine; chatting to us as we moved through the menu.

The staff are incredible. Slick, knowledgable, warm; the perfect balance of attentive and unassuming. We had such a relaxed evening and felt thoroughly spoilt. Just perfect. A masterclass in hospitality.

Yes, it was expensive and it’s not something we’d be able to book in every week but for those special occasions or blow out treats, etch. is perfect. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be back.