You say Pas-care, I say Pas-car. You say Pasc-aray; I say Past-caring… let’s call the whole thing off.
We’ve heard (and used) more versions of this restaurant’s name than there are misspellings of “North Laine”. So let’s settle this before moving on. It’s “Pasc-ear”, apparently. And no, it’s not Italian for fish, it’s the Latin verb “to nourish”. Phew… now we can all order that taxi with confidence…
Would the James Bond films have endured if Cary Grant had taken the part instead of Connery? Would Ferris Bueller have had cult status if Tom Cruise had landed the lead? How would Pascere’s menu have looked if Tom Griffiths (of nose-to-tail pop-up, Flank) had taken the role of head chef, as planned?
Probably pretty different, but it’s hard to imagine anyone getting off to a stronger start than Johnny Stanford, who was brought in to replace Griffiths when things went ladle-shaped. The Guardian’s Marina O’Laughlin has already lauded his “underlying understanding of what people want to eat, as opposed to what the chef wants to inflict on us” in an 8/10 review.
Our Pascere experience opens with a strong support act. A duo of breads: saison-beer-and-onion; and stout-and-treacle. Black salt butter on the side, capped with muscovado sugar. The soft lick of muscovado with the onion bread is so good that time slows down. We’re sat upstairs, with a great view of chef Johnny and crew in the kitchen on one side; a not-so-great view of Nando’s out the window opposite.
The beef cheek tortellini with mushroom pureé and beef consommé is so tender it disintegrates in the mouth like a snowman hit by a wrecking ball. It has to be eaten quickly though, as we’re being attacked by an air conditioning unit that feels like a Siberian anticyclone. The only regret is that there’s no beer-and-onion bread left to mop up the consommé with.
Also to start, a multi-layered baby squid dish with parsley cream and mushroom noodles. The ink leaves a pretty black residue on the plate, like a monochrome Jackson Pollock. It’s sidekicked with a white Côtes du Rhône that smells like Preston Park’s wild-flower garden. The wine list is epic, so we’re glad waitress Rosie is able to help us out (she tells us she’s just finishing her WSET Level 2 diploma in wine).
Chicken breast with baby carrots and hay mayonnaise has us glancing smugly across the road at Nando’s. But it’s not the chicken here that impresses most: it’s the carrot. It’s the least carroty-looking but most carroty-tasting carrot we’ve eaten. It’s been barbecue-burnt on the outside and tastes like the earth. It’s a turbo-charged carrot; a carrot cubed (mathematically of course, rather than spatially).
We have a trout-doubter among us, so we order the confit trout with elderberry meringue partly as a test. But this trout not only passes with distinction, it gets its picture taken holding a scroll and wearing a mortar board. Surely the sign of a good chef is to convert people to food they didn’t think they liked.
We tell chef Johnny we’re enjoying the dishes’ delicacy. “I hate heaviness in food,” he explains. “It does taste wonderful, but you leave feeling… [a pregnant pause substitutes the words heavy and bloated].”
“I grew up cooking French food,” he continues. “But it’s so rich. You can extract much more flavour when you reduce the fat content.” He expands on this philosophy with reference to our favourite carrot. “I just cook things that taste nice. How do I make carrots taste nice? Why can’t a carrot be fine dining? And I hate throwing things away. Cauliflower leaves? [as served with the trout] Why can’t they be used?”
It’s a similar attitude to one of our other favourite Brighton chefs, Silo’s Doug McMaster. And it’s a philosophy we appreciate…
Almost as much as we appreciate the desserts. Buttermilk sponge with honeycomb and milk ice cream is a multi-textured treat and a highlight of the night.
Over in the red corner, strawberry and white chocolate cheesecake evokes pick-and-mix memories. It looks like a plumped-up strawberry bootlace; a shiny lipstick-red pipe injected with creamy cheesecake. Not as sickly sweet as it could have been.
So it now appears auspicious that the original choice of chef split with the owners due to “artistic differences”. Stanford is a talented frontman and (just to squeeze a drop more juice from this rock ‘n’ roll metaphor) while Pascere could have been an overly ambitious concept album; it’s turned out to be an inspiring debut.
Pascere is at 8 Duke Street, Brighton BN1 1AH