A MIDDLE aged man in a zebra costume plays Van Morrison’s back catalogue on a keyboard with the passion and flair of a true virtuoso.

Striped head bent low, his hooves fly blissfully across the keys. Meanwhile a gaggle of hens belt out the words, their melody interspersed by the chirrups and whistles of the bird man hawking his wares.

This is, of course, just your standard Saturday afternoon in The Lanes. And with the restaurants heaving and the sun tentatively shining, a meal out in Brighton means people-watching at its finest.

Our city might fall behind in many departments but we do know how to do first class voyeurism. And today the weird and wonderful are best in show.

This week The Gourmand is making the most of the balmy(ish) weather and dining al fresco at The House Restaurant in East Street. It’s the sort of establishment that gets described almost exclusively by its neighbouring establishments – you know, the one near the Creperie, alongside the Pret, not far from all of those posh candle shops.

I’d barely ever noticed it. I’ve certainly never met anyone else who has dined there, a theory that suggests – perhaps not all that scientifically – it’s a venue catering largely to the tourist trade.

And a quick glance at this week’s menu suggests there’s plenty to lure them away from their pier-bound pilgrimage. With a Saturday lunch menu boasting two courses for £12 and three for £15, it is exceptionally good value. We join a throng of outdoor diners on one of the flimsy white plastic tables. There are seagulls with the girth of a pterodactyl and on closer inspection the table is propped and balanced with a jenga stack of crystallised drink coasters. But with a large sauvignon blanc in hand, such details are easily forgiven.

While studying the menu, we nibble on a shared basket of oily, herby focaccia, stuffed to bursting with rosemary. The a la carte menu is a monster of a thing – starters, mains and puds, a separate steak menu (dubbed their “infamous” steak selection), vegetarian, plus various specials and fishes of the day. In the end we opt for the two-course set lunch option and eventually a shared pudding from the a la carte – more on that later.

Starters come served with a powerful waft of deja vu from wedding banquets gone by. Smoked haddock fritters are lukewarm hockey pucks – lacking the tang of salt and citrus that make a fishcake worthwhile.

A goat’s cheese and spinach “spring roll” has a little more pizzazz, plenty of tangy caramelised onion and salty cheese, encased in a pleasingly crisp filo shell. They stuck to their guns on the spring roll title, the Mediterranean flavoured little parcels served dutifully alongside an entirely unsuitable plum dipping sauce.

Mains are thankfully less 70s dinner party and more of a nod to French bistro. There’s a grilled minute steak, cooked nicely to the advertised medium. The plate is swimming in garlic butter and the hand cut chips are crunchy with plenty of salt. There’s a perfectly respectable salad garnish and if it came dressed, it wasn’t memorable enough to write down or commit to memory.

A breast of chicken, butterflied and grilled has the moisture of a bird that’s known quality time in a pan of butter. As do the sautéed new potatoes, sleek and slippery with the stuff. Even the garnish, the small bundle of leaves dished out dutifully on every plate, has the telltale glisten of dairy. But a welcome scattering of gremolata – finely chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest – helps to cuts through the richness.

In case we hadn’t had time to soak up the ambience, we certainly got our chance now. The wait for our pudding, a shared Eton mess, spanned six musical sets from the zebra and no fewer than 30 minutes. In the end they had forgotten it, lost in the rapid turnover of diners and waiting staff shifting around us. The end result wasn’t really worth the wait. Served in a tall sundae glass, the proportions were all wrong, too much sour tart compote and cream, and too few crunchy meringues. To their credit they apologise for the wait and take it off the bill.

And there you have it – five perfectly respectable dishes, barring a few sad haddock fish cakes, some remarkably shoddy waitering and few extra tan lines. It has to be said, House Restaurant is good value and barely left a mark on our wallets, but for that matter it didn’t leave much of a mark on our memories either. A perfectly sound lunch out but the sort of place that could do with a bit more of the weird and wonderful magic that makes Brighton so memorable.

  • The Gourmand pays for all his meals.


Food: ★★★

Atmosphere: ★★★★

Service: ★★


Two courses: £12

Three courses: £15


Goats cheese, caramelised onion, spinach and pine nut spring rolls with rocket and home-made plum dip

Smoked haddock fritter, dressed rocket and tartar sauce


Grilled minute steak, cooked medium with garlic butter and hand cut chips and a salad garnish

Chargrilled butterflied breast of chicken with gremolata and saute new potatoes


House Eton mess with chantilly, fruit compote, crumbled meringue and coconut ice cream