One Paston Place is a cut above anyplace else I’ve eaten in Brighton (and most other cities, for that matter). It manages to strike a perfect balance between elegance and relaxation. You get pampered (if you scamper to the loo during the meal, you’ll find your napkin tidily folded for you upon your return), but you never feel as if people are hovering over you analyzing your every move. The restaurant is serene and candlelit, with classical music playing (very) softly in the background, but you don’t feel embarrassed to giggle, joke with the sommelier or steal morsels from your dining companion’s plate. And while the menu is sophisticated and surprising, it’s rooted in classic French and Italian cooking. This means that, in lieu of outlandishly ornate, self-consciously unusual dishes with ingredients you’ve never heard of described in a way you can’t possibly understand, you get food which is fresh, pure and expertly prepared, but which feels boisterous and down-to-earth at heart.
I’ve written about One Paston Place before, and at the time I regretted that I couldn’t go into more detail about what I had eaten there (I think the champagne cocktail I had at the start of my birthday meal clouded my mind a bit). So when Jeremy and I went back for our fifth wedding anniversary at the start of January, I vowed to pay attention to what was going on so I could give a bite-by-bite review of our dining experience - and that’s just what I’m going to do.
When we were there for my birthday, it was at the height of summer. The sun was still shining when we showed up at the restaurant, and it filled the airy room with light and warmth, making all the pristine wine glasses glitter. This time around, it was a dark winter’s evening, and the restaurant was cozily lit with glass oil lamps on every table, the reflection of the flames bouncing around off the mirrors which covered the walls. It was just the type of place you wanted to be on a cold, wet January night.
After we were seated (at the same table as last time, funnily enough), we got our amuse-bouche: two big white spoons each, one featuring tuna carpaccio with a tomato gelee and creme fraiche, and one with smoked venison wrapped around poached pear and Roquefort cheese. The tuna was meltingly tender, and the tomato gelee had a super-concentrated tomato flavor and a hint of what may have been basil. The miniature venison roll was perfectly suited to the wintery night. The pear and Roquefort played off each other beautifully, and all that was missing was a tiny drop of red wine to wash it down (we hadn’t figured out what wine we were going to order at that point, so drinks were yet to come).
All of the starters sounded gorgeous, but I couldn’t resist the magret duck breast with ravioli. I was expecting a few morsels of duck and a taster-sized ravioli, but I actually got an entire seared duck breast and three (3) full-sized ravioli, one plain, one chestnut, and one chocolate (!), all filled with goat’s cheese and drizzled with a garlic foam. The duck breast was superb and reminded me again that duck has become one of my favorite meats. It was cooked to rosy perfection, with crispy caramelized skin coated in a sweetly figgy glaze. The ravioli were terrific, and the slight thickness of the dough around the edges was reassuring to me, as my own homemade ravioli also keep turning out a bit on the thick side.
Jeremy chose seared halibut on a lobster tortello in a Sauternes sauce for his starter. The halibut was lovely, but the tortello was incredible. The pasta was light and tender, and the filling was simply to die for: succulent pieces of lobster, zucchini that was stunningly zucchini-y, and herbed ricotta cheese (I believe). I have no idea how the chef managed to make such a delicate filling so utterly flavorful. You could taste each individual ingredient, and nothing overwhelmed anything else. It was perfectly balanced and simply magnificent.
For our main courses, Jeremy and I again gravitated towards the carnivorous end of the menu, forgoing some lovely sounding fish dishes in favor of, well, cows. Jeremy chose the beef; I can’t remember precisely what cut it was, but when it arrived, it was an enormous slab of rare, velvety meat, served with jus on a bed of crunchy carrots, asparagus and leeks, accompanied by souffléd potatoes (which Jeremy claimed were the best potatoes he’d ever had) and macerated figs. It was beef as it’s supposed to be, not like the tasteless steaks we keep winding up with from the supermarket.
I myself indulged in the veal noisette with foie gras praline and a potato ravioli filled with a quail’s egg (yes, veal and foie gras in one meal - if there’s a hell for those who indulge in terribly un-PC food, then I plan on getting there in style). The veal was so moist and tender it made me want to cry. There were thin slices of it, layered with sauteed mushrooms, served on a bed of super-sweet, spiced caramelized onions and drizzled with a rich veal jus. The creamy foie gras was breaded in a nutty coating and shallow fried, served atop wilted spinach which, again, embodied the essence of what spinach should taste like (I could have eaten a bowlful of that on its own). The potato ravioli was thick and tender, and the yolk of the quail egg broke when I cut into it, allowing the deep yellow yolk to blend with the sinfully rich, dark foie gras reduction served around the ravioli.
After practically licking our plates clean, we were served our pre-dessert of an apple sorbet. This was a lovely, bright blue-green color, it completely cleansed the palate, and it was refreshing in the extreme (which was a good thing, since by that point we had had so much wine and food that we were in danger of nodding off).
Then, of course, there was the real dessert. Like last time, Jeremy chose the cheese plate. Since Jeremy wasn’t at the table when it was served, we didn’t get the benefit of having all the cheeses explained to us, so we played a little guessing-game as Jeremy worked his way through the plate. There was something kind of like cheddar, which was a nice, cheesy cheese; there was a very, very creamy sheep’s milk cheese, which was fresh and slightly tangy; there was something super-smelly that tasted sort of like Brussels sprouts (in a good way - but it was definitely something for cheese-lovers only!); there was probably the best Roquefort I’ve ever had, which was very creamy, very salty, so strong that it almost stung your mouth when you ate it, and served with an all-encompassing truffle honey; and there was a somewhat harder cheese which was also slightly tangy, but which tasted mild after the Roquefort. Jeremy had a Valpolicella dessert wine to go with the cheeses, which he said particularly complemented the sheep’s milk cheese.
I went down the sweet route and ordered what turned out to be three desserts in one: a Grand Marnier soufflé, creamy kumquat ice cream on a piece of dark chocolate, and white chocolate and orange mousse served in a white chocolate cup and garnished with raspberries. It was all delicious, but the soufflé was sublime. I could feel the heat off of it when it was put in front of me. It had a crispy, paper-thin crust sprinkled with powdered sugar, which concealed the warm, eggy, orangey, airy soufflé underneath. It was so fabulous that I actually moaned as I ate it, and it was superbly complemented by a flowery Muscat which really brought out the orange flavor of the dessert.
We finished the evening off with espressi served with little buttery biscuits, tiny sparkly chocolate cups holding dollops of chocolate mousse, and flaky, chocolate-filled macaroons - and by the time I had had one of each, I was officially ready to explode from so much indulgence.
And that was our meal at One Paston Place. Such pleasure doesn’t exactly come cheap, particularly when you add in a half-bottle of Crozes-Hermitage, a full bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and some dessert wine - but it is worth every single penny, both from a culinary and from an experiential point of view. On the One Paston Place website, it says that chef Francesco Furriello believes each dish "should be designed to gently coax out the natural flavors of food and to delight the palate". This is, coincidentally, my own food philosophy, and it’s precisely what the dishes at One Paston Place do with aplomb. The fabulous food combined with the friendly atmosphere make for a dining experience that simply cannot be passed up. A restaurant like One Paston Place doesn’t just fill your belly, it fills your soul.