Today's opening of Alcôve cafe provides owners Sébastien and Mireille Dupire another chance to share the remarkable listed building, formerly known as The Medicine Chest, which they took over in September.
Alcôve, in Brunswick Street East, is spread over three floors of the building, with a 40-seater fine-dining restaurant on the first floor, the new cafe, which will serve coffee and croissants, on the ground floor, alongside a 12-seater “snug” restaurant overspill and a cocktail bar in the basement.
“People love the ambience of the restaurant,” says Sébastien, who became freelance consultant chef at The Medicine Chest in November 2011 before taking over the business last year.
“Both Mireille and I fell in love with it when we first saw it. It’s really warm, it’s not over-crowded. We like to give attention to the service.”
Downstairs the stylish cocktail bar, presided over by mixologist Dre, can serve up to 60 people and frequently hosts DJs and live music, with 1920s vintage band FB Pocket Orchestra the special guest entertainment tomorrow night.
The intimacy of Alcôve’s smaller rooms, and everything under one roof, makes it a perfect venue for small weddings and parties.
Having hosted a 35-strong wedding party only three weeks ago, the couple are in the process of applying for a full wedding licence.
At the same time, the rooms are not so crowded and cluttered that no one can move.
The titular alcoves in the cocktail bar are perfect for romantic tête-à-têtes, or for close friends to catch up on news, while the area around the bar has been kept clear of tables so people can order without getting in anyone’s way.
Similarly, the restaurant with its big windows is nicely arranged so diners have lots of space to move.
Throughout January the Dupires are offering a special evening menu – two courses for £14.95 in the restaurant – to share what they have created.
And there are special offers in the bar between 5pm and 7pm Tuesday to Saturday, including buy-one-get-one-free on glasses of house wine, beer and spirits, and the cheapest cocktail free with any three drinks ordered from their cocktail list.
The restaurant’s à la carte menu is drawn from head chef Sébastien’s extensive experience over more than 25 years.
Sébastien worked on international cruise ships between 1995 and 2002. He met his Brighton-born wife working on a Disney cruise.
His voyages included time spent in Alexandria, Japan, on the Amazon, working on the luxury passenger yachts seen in the film Speed 2 and on round-the-world cruises which required him to create the cuisine of each destination the ship passed through.
When the pair finally docked in Brighton in 2003 he became head chef at Epicurean, in Western Street, earning his first rosette in seven months, before moving to Steyning, Worthing, and a four-star hotel outside Gatwick.
He decided to set up his own freelance business as a consultant chef in August 2011.
At the centre of his à la carte menu is a desire to keep things local and homemade wherever possible.
“Our butchers are Rog-Man in Farm Road, we get our vegetables from David Rhodes and the fish comes from Brighton And Newhaven Fish Sales at Hove Lagoon,” he says.
“We like to do everything in-house as much as we can – the bread, the ice cream, the terrine, the butchering and trimming we try to do ourselves.”
The wine list has been designed to offer something different from the norm too, and even features English wines, including sparkling wine from the Ridgeview estate.
Sébastien’s experience comes out in his approach to the dishes he serves.
“I wanted to reorientate the food towards the French classic menu,” he says. “But I like to apply my own methodology to do different things.
“For example, I finish off our crème brûlée with molasses and serve it with homemade shortbread, which you are not going to find anywhere else.”
Most of all Sébastien and Mireille are interested in seeing what their customers want. Their location, just off Western Road, means it is very much a locals’ haunt rather than an obvious tourist destination.
“It is all about listening to our customers,” says Sébastien, who offers lunches by request from noon.
“In the past five years people have become more self-conscious about food – they want to know where things are from and what we have done to prepare it.
“We want to focus on quality as an identity and keep that homemade factor.”
Alcôve is in Brunswick Street East, Hove, and is open Tuesday to Saturday, bar from 5pm, restaurant from 6pm, lunches by request. Visit www.alcovehove.co.uk or call 01273 770002