Already among Brighton and Hove’s most serious contenders for a Michelin-star, Etch has just reopened with a fresh new look both inside and out in a move that is at least partly designed to get the attention of the little red book.
The overhaul has seen chef patron Steven Edwards expand into a former beauty salon next door to create a much larger space that he says will enable him to take his flagship to the ‘next level’.
“I call it growing up. When I launched Etch I’d only ever cooked for other people. I was only just discovering my own style,” says Edwards, who launched the Church Road restaurant in 2017 shortly after winning MasterChef: The Professionals. “We’ve gone massively over budget and the reopening has been delayed but I’m really happy with the space.”
The redesign of the prominent corner site – which is located on the western end of Hove’s main street close to the seafront - was led by London Design House’s Akram Fahmi, a close friend of Edwards with extensive high-end hospitality and residential design experience.
Etch has been given a more exclusive, edgy and modern monochrome look that chimes nicely with Edwards and his long-standing head chef George Boarer’s clean, modern approach to fine dining.
The exterior of the restaurant has been darkened and the signage is more discrete, while the dining room is lighter and airier than it was previously with light wood furniture and herringbone floor.
The new lighting setup is especially impressive, with Fahmi having designed the space to look as good in the day as it does at night with the lights dimmed.
The ground-level space that used to house the kitchen, bar and main dining room has been given over entirely to diners with Etch’s open kitchen and reception area located in the newly-created adjacent space gained by knocking through to next door.
Moving into next door has also allowed Edwards and Fahmi to create a slick looking subterranean bar, which is being overseen by existing bar manager Bethany Pogson.
Though originally planned as a standalone affair, Brighton & Hove City Council’s reluctance on the licencing front means the bar is only for the use of restaurant customers, although this could be circumnavigated at some point by providing a bar menu.
Not enough chefs in the kitchen
Upstairs, the menu format remains the same, with Edwards continuing to offer three different lengths of tasting menu (five courses for £65, seven courses for £80, and nine courses for £95). He is also sticking with his policy of minimalistic dish descriptions like duck/chicory.
But the new digs have changed completely the way the kitchen operates. Etch’s previous kitchen was tiny, accommodating a maximum of four chefs and only allowing one person to cook meat and fish at any one time and only one person on the pass. There’s now space for up to eight chefs and the new configuration - a neat square with a large central island - allows multiple chefs to cook and plate-up.
“I’m sure a lot of chefs would say that four is enough for 32 covers but it was limiting, especially when combined with such a small space,” Edwards says. “We had a lot of good ideas that we were unable to execute. My style won’t change but we’re going to start pushing things on once we get used to the new space. We’ve progressed a lot since 2017 and I want to continue the journey. I don’t want to plateau yet.”
Injecting a bit more bottle
While a planned walk-in wine room has been delayed due to complications with a supplier, restaurant manager and sommelier Sam Weatherill has shaken up Etch’s already highly creative wine programme. The restaurant has doubled down on English sparkling wine, giving over much of its list’s real estate to highlighting local (and fairly local) producers including Ridgeview, Nyetimber, Rathfinny, Tillingham and Tickerage.
Around 25 English sparklers in total are offered, with Weatherill having worked hard to source older wines. Nowhere is this policy more evident than within Etch’s English sparkling wines by the glass section, which showcases wines from 2016, 2011 and 2009 at surprisingly affordable prices.
This focus on bottle age is evident on the rest of the wine list, too, with the wines served alongside the nine-course tasting menu currently including a US-made 2001 Sémillon and a 1997 Xinomavro. Weatherill strikes a good balance between the classics and lesser-known wines, with other top picks include Marco De Bartoli’s Vecchio Samperi (a Marsala-like wine from Sicily) and a 2007 Riesling auslese from Maximin Grünhaus.
A more ‘snappy’ restaurant
While the approach at Etch hasn’t changed dramatically, the team have made an already slick experience much tighter (or more snappy, as one of the servers rather brilliantly put it).
Given that the project ran over budget and also saw the venue close for several months during a busy period for the city’s restaurants, the reimagining an Etch has required a big investment from Edwards and his investors.
“It’s costs us but I think it’s going to work,” says Edwards. “Booking are looking very strong, in fact we’re full until Christmas. We’re not a neighbourhood restaurant anymore but we do get a lot of support from our locals.”
214-216 Church Rd, Hove BN3 2DJ