Oh, I do like to OSB beside the seaside
TABLE FOR TWO A Bib Gourmand lures Kathryn Flett to a tiny Italian in a converted garage CIN CIN £ 90 8/ 10
Ihave, over the years, often thought that I should be living in Brighton, and that the only reason I’m not is down to a teeny-tiny tricksy little quirklet of fate. Having decamped from London to Hastings in 2005, three years later I was newly single with two small children and looking to leave.
My thinking: if I were to be a single and (at that time) salaried homeworker with young kids, I probably needed to be living somewhere with a bit more urban infrastructure, somewhere a bit more culturally inyour-face, perhaps a more manageable and affordable version of my hometown – London – with added seaside jollity. Oh, and lots of shops. Plus, it pretty much goes without saying, plenty of decent restaurants.
I’d even nailed the specific locale: family-friendly, close to a decent primary school and a park with plenty of spacious fixer-uppers at the right sort of price.
And then, just when I was booked in to view a house I’d stalked online, something entirely unexpected happened: I met somebody (on a train) whom I felt in my waters, bones and marrow (albeit on pretty scant evidence) might turn out to be a Keeper. Thing is, freshly divorced, he’d literally just bought a house… in Hastings. So, I stayed put.
And here’s the thing. Whenever I do get to Brighton these days, I invariably find myself becoming stressed. It’s the parking, for a start (you may as well be in London), and the number of people (you may as well be in London) and the fact that so many restaurants that look as though they should be great often turn out to be rubbish (you may as well, etc…). Plus, for decades – literally, from the Eighties through to about three or four years ago – I had never had a great meal there. Though back in March of this year, I was delighted to bestow four stars and a rave on Hove’s Little Fish Market (“it turns out that all you have to do to eat quite fantastically well in Brighton is… go to Hove” I crowed. Ho-ho! What did I know?
Then came the news that Brighton’s Cin Cin had just landed a Bib Gourmand. Having started life as a pop-up serving prosecco and antipasti, it now bills itself as the “neighbourhood Italian restaurant you have been waiting for – the authentic food and drink experience you wish you could bring home from those sun-drenched Italian holidays…” It’s also – somewhat confusingly – opened a branch in Hove.
Replete with a Roux-grad head chef who clearly hopped happily over the Alps while retaining some of that Francophile rigour, the BN1 mother ship has all the Brightonian charm one could wish for… or at least it looked as though it did, online. We’d booked for 1pm on a Sunday and by the time I’d parked, Google-mapped and been told, inexplicably, that we were four miles away from our destination, it was 1.15pm and I was shouting “Liar!” hangrily at my phone, which is rarely a good – or even sane – look.
Cin Cin is tucked away adjacent to the touristy Lanes. It’s a no-frills converted MOT garage with a Ushaped bar-andstools affair made from OSB (oriented strand board; that oversized woodchip particle-stuff you see on building sites), while the inspection pit has very cleverly been reconfigured as a cheese/salami/wine cave. Easy-going and informal as this sounds, Cin Cin is not a pizza-and-carbonara joint, so I was slightly surprised to see that the only other diners in situ at Sunday lunch (on what seemed to be an absurdly extended summer’s Sunday but was in fact mid-october) were a family of five, celebrating a 10-yearold’s birthday.
My kids are pretty good with food, my partner less accommodating. However, there is no way we would have bothered to persuade any of them near this, aged 10. Starters: a plateful of four artisan salumi (including a quite gloriously fennelly sausage) and a smoked haddock arancino with saffron aioli and pickled sultanas ( texturally and taste-wise easily the best arancino I’ve had this decade); nor indeed would they have touched my stupendously delicious main course: reginelle (slightly frilled pasta ribbons) with a one-two porcine jab of less-is-more Tuscan sausage and pork ragù – much less my partner’s subtly salty black tonnarelli with mussels, salsify and gremolata – though I guess they’d have been OK with the focaccia and olive oil, simply because when they were 10 the eldest hadn’t yet decided that they were wheat-intolerant.
Meanwhile, our sophisticated small neighbours were demolishing the lot. Which, of course, is almost certainly what would have happened with my kids, had I moved to Brighton in 2008.
But I digress. Over my cheeseboard (a very fine taleggio, in particular) and his tremulous panna cotta with blackberry and apple – as pleasingly crumble-y as it was wobbly – I decided that I really love Cin Cin; the food is cooked right there next to you quietly and unfussily in a non-suffocatingly-hipster manner that demonstrates only passion and professionalism; the service is impeccable, the room is cool and relaxed – and relaxing (and I say this as someone very much stool-averse).
No longer stressed nor hangry, we ordered a third Moretti to share while I texted a friend in Hove, suggesting coffee on the beach. “Cin Cin? Don’t they have a place in Hove?” “Yes,” I replied, knowledgeably, “though that’s not the one with the Bib.” Yup, this week it turns out that the very best place to eat in Hove is… in Brighton.