Chef Mark Wadsworth deals with the elements at this seafront Brighton restaurant, where everything, from fish to flesh, is cooked over a wood fire. Andy Lynes reports.
When Due South was first opened on Brighton's beachfront in 2004 by restaurateur Rob Shenton (owner of Brighton seafood restaurant Riddle & Finns) it garnered what was then a rare national review for the city from The Guardian critic Matthew Fort. A few years later, chef Michael Bremner established his reputation there (when Due South became one of the first members of the Sustainable Restaurant Association) and then went on to launch 64 Degrees.
In 2011, the restaurant closed and was briefly known as Arch 139 before being rebranded as Riddle & Finns on the Beach. However, the Due South name was revived this spring when Riddle & Finns relocated to the nearby, newly restored Shelter Hall building, and Due South is now run as a separate business by Shenton with former Riddle & Finns head chef Mark Wadsworth (who has previously worked at the Ginger Pig in Hove and the Crabtree in Lower Beeding) leading the kitchen team.
Although there are echoes of the restaurant's past on Wadsworth's menu, which features plenty of local, seasonal produce, including seafood from Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales, the new Due South has established a point of difference by cooking everything over fire.
"There's no gas, there's no electric. We're burning coal and three different types of wood. The menu starts with the ingredient. So, for example, I start with monkfish and say, how can I cook this? How can I make it so it's going to be different? We cook it over elder, which is a really fragrant wood, and it has changed the way the fish tastes. We're trying to expand people's minds a little bit in terms of some of the ingredients on the menu and the way it's cooked."
There's no gas, there's no electric. We're burning coal and three different types of wood
Wadsworth has five chefs in the kitchen, but says he needs another five to complete the team. Nevertheless, the restaurant is open all day, seven days a week, with space for about 50 diners inside and a further 50 on the no-reservations terrace. Although Wadsworth writes the à la carte menu and chalkboard specials, such as native lobster cooked over embers with miso and lime butter (£23 for a half or £45 for a whole), the selection of wood-fired breads (£5-£6) remains a best seller.
"It's a sourdough base that we prove for 24 hours with a minimal amount of yeast. It's cooked à la minute and topped with good-quality ingredients, like an amazing local lardo from Mangalitsa pork, shiitake mushrooms from a lovely little farm in Sussex or some amazing Ortiz anchovies. Just really simple."
Wadsworth also serves the breads as part of four-course (£45) or six-course (£75) feasting menus, where the former features a sharing main course of sweet miso chilli skate wing, a striking, crimson-hued creation that's become another of the restaurant's signatures.
"We marinate the fish in white miso, chillies and beetroot powder to give it a little bit of colour, as well as ginger, soy sauce, garlic, sake, mirin and rice wine, and leave it overnight. The fish is slowly cooked for about half an hour, really high up over the fire. We serve it simply with charred lime, glazed with butter and apple cider vinegar from a local farm."
Due South has plenty to appeal to foodies and off-duty chefs, with Brat-like items such as whole wood-fired turbot with charred lemon (£55-£70) and wood-fired cheesecake with grilled strawberries (£7.50) as well as creative ‘bites', such as chargrilled scallops (£5), served with a reduction of bay leaf, white wine, garlic, cream and buttermilk split with chive oil and finished with dried, shaved scallop roe. And that's set to continue when the restaurant's Himalayan salt-aging chamber is complete, where Wadsworth will age whole sides of wagyu from Riverside Wagyu in Pulborough.
But given its tourist-friendly location, Wadsworth is aware of the need to appeal to a broad audience and he also includes dry-aged ribeye steak with caramelised shallot (£25) and the perennially popular whole Dover sole accompanied by smoked butter, confit garlic and charred lemon (£29.50) on the menu.
"We're getting a fantastic response from people who remember the original Due South from 18 years ago," says Wadsworth. "The food is very different now, but we still like to think it's the same quality with the same responsible sourcing as it was back then."
139 Kings Road Arches, Brighton BN1 2FN
From the menu
- Barbecue squid, chorizo mayonnaise, nigella seeds £9.50
- Wild sea bass sashimi, wasabi crème fraîche £9.50
- Steak tartare, pickles, smoked mayo, confit egg, brioche £10
- Lamb rump, salsa verde, miso soy, Hispi cabbage, brunoise, goats' curd £21
- Monkfish tail, spinach, spring onion, gem lettuce £26
- Coal-roasted kohlrabi, pearl barley risotto, parsley butter, fennel tops £13
- Chocolate marquise, sea buckthorn, honeycomb tuille, fennel pollen £7.50
- Alsop and Walker cheese board, chutney, quince jelly, celery, pickled walnuts £10
Food photography: Xavier Buendia
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