To mark an extensive kitchen refurbishment and the return of its former head chef, Brighton’s hidden gem in The Lanes has revamped its menu.
The House Restaurant, tucked away behind Fishy Fishy in Brighton’s East Street, has been boasting a British bistro menu for many years, having started out life as a pasta and pizza restaurant.
But when Chai returned after opening sister restaurant Chambers Bistro in Shoreham, he decided to move everything up a notch.
“It’s not fine dining by any means,” he says. “The roots of the menu are based in what we did at Chambers, evolving what was already here.
“Our menu is honest food. If we are serving a steak then the steak is the star – it won’t be covered with sauces or over-elaborate.”
Indeed when you look at The House’s winter menu – one of four seasonal menus through the year – it is packed with firm favourites.
The main courses include line-caught haddock and chips, slow-cooked pork belly, home-made beef burger in a brioche bun, braised lamb shank and an extensive steak menu.
There is also a separate vegetarian menu offering three different dishes, including risotto fritters and charlotte of chargrilled aubergine.
Where Chai’s Thai heritage comes out in the most obvious way is in some of the starters, including his signature dish of shredded duck and rocket rolls, which he has taken with him to his different employers, including Chambers and Havana in Duke Street.
But that influence is also there in his preparation.
“The pork belly is marinated in oriental spices,” he says.
“A lot of our fish specials have a Japanese or Thai influence.
“I was trained in classical French cuisine but I try to bring a bit of my Thai background into the British bistro menu. It’s not fusion, it’s more of a different take on cooking.”
In particular he wants the menu to feature umami – the savoury taste found naturally in seaweed and parmesan cheese – as well as the traditional flavours of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.
He estimates that 85% of the food served in House is made from scratch in the kitchens, aside from bread and ice cream which, like the majority of his ingredients, come from local suppliers.
It means he can be confident about what he serves his customers.
“If anyone comes to me and says, ‘I’m allergic to this’, I know all the ingredients in my dishes and can help them,” he says. “If they ring up beforehand we can make something special. We can go the extra mile.”
General manager Reeshi Patel is keen to do the same outside the kitchen, despite the challenges the restaurant poses with its 80-cover terrace out of sight on the main strip of East Street, as well as the 67 covers spread across four rooms inside The House.
“The people who work here are welcoming,” he says. “It’s nothing we have trained them to do, it is the environment in here. It’s not too formal.
“It’s called The House because it is like eating in your house,” adds Chai, pointing to the popular Sunday roasts complete with all the trimmings that the restaurant offers all year round.
Naturally the menu is backed by an extensive wine list with selections from across Europe and the New World.
The restaurant is family-run by Omar and Nicola Kamala, with the upstairs rooms named after their three children: Chloe, Oliver and Saskia.
The homely atmosphere comes from the restaurant’s cosy rooms, small intimate table settings, faux bookshelf wallpaper and dark wood floors.
It feels well-loved but informal, catching the sunlight during the day, but still having an endearing tucked-away sensation separate from the hustle and bustle of The Lanes.
The House offers a lunch and pre-theatre early evening menu daily from noon to 7pm, Monday to Thursday, and until 6pm on Friday and Saturday, with a main course for £7, two courses for £10 or three for £13.
“We wanted the lunch menu to reflect what we did in the evening by offering a smaller version of the à la carte menu,” explains Chai. “If you can have a decent meal for £10, why not come for the full version in the evening?”
The 20-seater Chloe room is also available to hire for wedding receptions, engagement parties and birthdays.
“Our challenge is to make a restaurant which is consistent all year round,” says Chai.
“The menus will change with the seasons but we want people to know if they come in the summer or winter, it’s the same restaurant, with the same quality of service.”
East Street, Brighton, 01273 321111. Open noon to 11pm Monday to Saturday and noon to 10.30pm Sunday. Visit www.thehouserestaurant.co.uk