It’s raining when we meet Angela, our VIB (very independent Brighton) food-tour guide, under a marquee outside New Road’s Unitarian Church. This isn’t just drizzle though, it’s a proper June Glastonbury/Wimbledon downpour. We’re here to shove our snouts into a pick-and-mix of Brighton’s most interesting independent foodie vendors. There’s no itinerary, presumably to give the tour an air of discovery. We splash off in a northerly direction, wondering what’ll be the first course on our perambulatory mezze plate…
There’s pouring inside as well as out as we duck down Gardner Street to Bluebird Tea. This is their flagship, but they now have a three-store empire, with one in Bristol and another in Tunbridge Wells. Here, we sniff blends of matcha: a vibrant, leafy-coloured powder made from ground green-tea leaves, spliced together by the resident mixologists. One smells of freshly cut grass; another of Refreshers — remember those chewy, fruity, yellow sweets?
Up the road at the Brighton Sausage Company we’re introduced to the merits of Welsh chorizo. The store’s owner, Paul, gifts us a charcuterie board to share, where the meats are superb but the star is the rich, Stilton-like Spanish cheese Picos Blue. “We’ve only found two things that didn’t work in a sausage: pineapple and spinach,” he tells us. Pineapple indeed.
After wading, umbrellas aloft, up London Road, we shelter in the Open Market. Here Christian, the proprietor of Smorl’s Humous, gives us the lowdown on his brand. “We make anti-supermarket humous,” he says. “Long-hand humous, instead of short hand. Everyone has their garlic threshold, so we produce a range of increasingly garlicky dips.” We try all three, with some pitta and falafels. Nobody’s gonna kiss us for a few days, but it’s worth it.
Just around the corner, opposite the exit to the Level, it’s hot chocolate time in Rainbow Organic Chocolate. This hidden treasure is run by a lady called Suzanne, who trained as a chocolatier in France. It’s by far the best hot chocolate we’ve ever tasted. Moreish is an understatement. It’s like it’s been laced with crack. When we emerge, on a silky cocoa buzz, so has the sun.
After a mooch around Hisbe (great for the tourist; bit weird if it’s where you usually buy your bog roll), it’s off to local institution Burger Brothers, where co-founder Pip gives us a quarter of a burger each to snaffle. “We do taste other people’s burgers. It’s our job. It’s a tough life, but it has to be done,” he beams smugly, before giving us a briefing on how me maintains the structural integrity of his buns.
Then it’s on to English’s for oyster tasting. We try three varieties: Carlingford, Lindesfarne and West Mersea, each garnished with red wine vinegar, chopped shallot and green Tabasco. “People are very welcome to breeze in and just have oysters,” we’re told. “I think we’re the only place in Brighton that does three different types.”
Finally, dessert takes us to Boho Gelato, near Pool Valley Coach Station. A huge queue snakes out the door, past the adjacent kebab shop and up towards East Street, but eventually we get our teeth into three flavours: strawberry, basil and black pepper; carrot cake; and lemon and poppy seed. Strawberry gets the gold. “It’s been the busiest week ever for us,” says owner Seb, who discovered his passion for ice cream in Sicily. Now he’s a gelato “mixologist” (that word again, sorry). “We’ve had queues out the door every day.” Good for them, their passion for the produce really shines through. We’ve met Seb before and he’s always happy to dish out samples and chat about the inspirations behind them.
As the group dissolves — each floating off to ruminate, cogitate and digest — we wonder how the past three hours evaporated so quickly. The samples on offer were enough to stave off the hunger pangs, without leaving us too stuffed for dinner. And we all got a small discount (ten per cent) in most places too. Local foodies will already be familiar with most of the destinations on this tour, but we’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking to sprinkle some unusual seasoning on their day trip.
Dates: Fridays & Saturdays from April – October (see the booking page for booking info).
Times: 11.00am—2.00pm approx (roughly 3 hours).
Price: £35, including all food and drink tastings, plus a discount card for participating establishments. Advance booking essential.
Words and photos by Gary Rose (@thewineninjas).