There’s almost a hint of challenge when Amanda Menahem says she never pulled her punches when writing restaurant reviews.
“Some so-called critics only ever write nice things but I have always told it as it was,” she admits with defiant confidence.
It’s an interesting insight.
Because today she is the restaurant owner - Pascere in the heart of Brighton - and she has invited me and my wife over to give our honest verdict.
So the pressure is on from the moment the first course of the tasting menu is served to prove I can be every bit as brutal.
I tap the home made butter served on a small rock in the hope that it will be as hard as the vehicle which bears it.
It is creamy smooth and spreads elegantly across the two breads which accompany it.
Pascere is one of many restaurants and bistros which line the irregular streets of the city leading down to the Lanes and the sea.
But it stands out from its unpretentious home in Duke Street with a formidable reputation acquired in just 18 months.
Shortly after opening The Guardian was lavish in its praise: “Pascere’s combination of artistry with an underlying understanding of what people want to eat, as opposed to what the chef wants to inflict on us, is Three Bears just right.”
Similar sentiments have followed. Users of TripAdvisor and Facebook have rejoiced.
No doubt that’s because Amanda is not merely driven by a passion for foodie perfection, she has exploited her business expertise as a former HR director who began her career on the graduate scheme at Harrods.
Retaining a team that must be utterly creative in today’s competitive environment - great chefs and sommeliers are like gold dust - is tough enough. So you have to train and look after them.
The word nurture comes to mind. It’s apposite - that’s what Pascere means.
General manager Joe is our genial host for the evening.
Dan is our sommelier and knows not just the great and the unusual wines, but those that are decently priced and he serves them by the glass too. So you can enjoy a gem of a vintage at just £6 served in a wafer thin glass. Charming, knowledgeable, and gently self-assured you’re left with the feeling that if Dan applied those same skills to the Brexit negotiations it would all be satisfactorily settled by now.
Meanwhile head chef James King and his team are on full display - the kitchen and pass sit visibly stage left in the main first floor restaurant.
Not every diner wants to see their meal being prepared at such close quarters and in such a bijoux environment. But it is very much an expression of Amanda herself: “My aim was to create somewhere that would feel like a luxurious but comfortable home from home with a family feel. I wanted to create the sort of place I want to dine in - so the restaurant in its entirety is an expression of everything I love about dining out,” she said.
The food here is without doubt nudging Michelin star supremacy - and not surprisingly recently attained two forks in the Michelin guide. But this is no stately manor hotel with turrets. It’s chic cosy which makes the most of the economies of space.
Dan, like a modern David Blaine, seems to magically produce everything required from a solitary cabinet near the window.
One could wax lyrical about the food. The beef cheek that is as tender as the butter. The hallibut served with a fried quail egg which is as meaty as it is moist. The Lake District lamb rump and leg ragu - a taste sensation.
I won’t say more. It’s irritatingly near-faultless and I promised Amanda something altogether more ruthless.
The truth is, of course, that we wouldn’t have been asked in the first place if this formidable woman of dreams and business had not risked an awful lot of real and personal capital on this venture and she wasn’t utterly satisfied that the enterprise was at the top of its game.
Nor would the invite have appeared if this wasn’t a tough time for most high street restaurants. Since May, many establishments have felt a downward shift in business. It would be a cheap and mis-aimed shot to blame it on Brexit.
Unemployment is at an historic low. Real wages are rising. Perhaps the silver pound is finally shrinking as a new generation of retirees cope without gold-plated final salary pensions or are finally succumbing to a decade of marginal interest rates on a life-time of saving.
Whatever the reason, places like Pascere are sensibly priced and supremely over-deliver. Starters range from £8-£10; mains from £16-£22; and desserts from £8-£9. This is simply the best of the best - from food, to service, to Brighton charm.
We’ll be back - and next time, more determined than ever, to find a few snags to share.
- We were the guests of Pascere and they knew we were dining. However, our review is entirely independent and not linked to any advertisement arrangement.
Pascere is offering our readers this special promotion:
You can enjoy a glass of fizz and 25% off your food bill Tuesday-Thursday dinner and Friday-Saturday lunch throughout November at Pascere, 8 Duke Street, Brighton.
To take advantage you must mention this offer at the time of ordering. Your order must include a main course.
The Tuesday-Thursday dinner menu is served between 6pm-9.30pm; and the Friday-Saturday lunch menu is served between 12pm-2.30pm.
The offer will run until November 30, 2018 and is strictly subject to availability. Cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer or promotion.
The 25% discount applies to food only and does not include drinks.
Available for parties up to six.
To book: 01273 917949; firstname.lastname@example.org