Cin Cin

Vine Street


Food: *****

Service: *****

Atmosphere: ****

IN MY dreams last night a huge bearded Italian man lay on my bedroom ceiling, arms outstretched as he smiled serenely down on me in bed.

Kevin Spacey fans might recognise the picture, the scene from American Beauty with beautiful Mena Suvari and the roses. But instead of petals cascading on my bedding, in my dreams it was pasta.

Sheets and sheets of tagliatelle drifting gently towards me, slick with butter and Tuscan sausage.

Pecorino cheese gently dusted my eyelids and sea salt and rosemary fell like snow. It was sublime. The man – Fabrizio – had been our waiter and host from the previous night’s dinner. The restaurant that so clearly captured The Gourmand’s imagination and, let’s face it, his heart: Brighton’s newest foodie offering, Cin Cin.

Vine Street is about as “Brighton” as a strip of real estate gets, 500ft of coffee shops, tattoo parlours, vintage shopping and retro cycling chic. But pause half way down and you’ll spot a unassuming blackboard sign that reads simply: antipasta, fresh pasta, prosecco.

The small space beyond was once a garage and the mechanic’s pit and double-fronted garage doors remain. Inside, 16 tall swivel chairs curve around a central horseshoe bar space, backed by a small, open plan kitchen.

A cornucopia of produce lines the benches, with cured meats and cheeses, pert focaccias and vats of plump olives. At the centre of it all is the evening’s host, the man of my dreams it would turn out, who moves from guest to guest, topping up glasses and trays of grissini.

The whole space is no larger than your average Brighton living room and feels a whole lot more intimate. If you’re longing for solitude or to stare into the eyes of a loved one, this set-up just isn’t going to work.

Eye contact is unavoidable but for all those communal dining-haters (and The Gourmand has his fair share of gripes with it), this time it’s well worth the social awkwardness.

First to the menu, which is short and seductive. Divided into nibbles, antipasti, small plates, pasta and desserts, there are also regular specials and every Tuesday, a meal deal of sorts featuring pasta and a drink for £10.

Before signing the lease at Vine Street, the Cin Cin team was a pop-up outfit. The prices still feel a little on the pop-up side of things – very nearly good value, but creeping towards the special occasion price point.

While choosing, we opt for some nibbles. The marinated olives are big and salty, perfect bar food to accompany the short list of Italian wines. The focaccia is soft and speckled with olive oil, herbs and salt. When the final piece disappears, our host smilingly plonks down a fresh plate full, with nothing more than a shrug and “you seemed to like it?” Indeed we did. I swoon. Our small plate orders come quickly and are gone again at embarrassing speed. The rabbit croquette is plate-lickingly good – soft, slow cooked meat, rich with herbs and cream and encased in a perfectly crisp breadcrumb shell. A quenelle of pesto emulsion is fresh from basil and salty hard cheeses.

After this first dish The Gourmand will admit, he thought he had the measure of the place; small, rustic plates that pack a big flavour punch.

And then along came the Jerusalem artichoke. A base of layer of almost opaque artichoke slivers dotted with pearls of sweet macerated fig, nutty truffle mayonnaise and the crunch of crispy artichoke curls. This isn’t your average bar snack – unashamedly fine dining – but the sort of dish you catch yourself thinking about the next day, wistfully recalling each layer of crunch and chew.

Two moreish plates of pasta followed. The first tagliatelle coated in a rich, roasted pepper and Tuscan sausage sauce. The second – and the better of the two – featured delicate folds of pappardelle cradling a pool of slow-cooked beef shin and grated pecorino.

Could such a fresh face on the restaurant scene go on to deliver a home run for all courses? The answer is, very nearly. The Sicilian lemon tart was totally unexpected – a million miles from the chilly slices haunting cake cabinets elsewhere.

A small – arguably a little too small – pastry case housed a molten pool of liquid lemon, the charred, caramelised surface perfectly offsetting the zingy undertones and then offset again by the cooling tang of crème fraiche. The second option, a praline espresso cheesecake was very good but a little overshadowed by its pudding partner. The creamy layers were interspersed with coffee crumb but the soft marsala pears could take another swig or two of booze.

And then, just like that and far too soon, it was over. We could have done it all over again, jeans buttons straining all the way from the rabbit crochette to that perfect lemon tart. Will I be seeing Fabrizio in my dreams tonight? Who knows? But either way it’s safe to say The Gourmand will be back to visit Cin Cin again very soon.

The Gourmand pays for all his meals.

Olives £3

Focaccia, olive oil £3

Jerusalem artichokes, macerated figs, autumn truffle £7

Rabbit crochette, pesto emulsion £6

Pappardelle, Sussex beef shin, pecorino £10

£10 Tuesday deal – tagliatelle with roasted pepper and Tuscan sausage, plus a glass of wine or beer (we opted for red wine)

Praline espresso cheesecake, marsala pears £5

Sicilian lemon tart, crème fraiche £5