I have been to Riddle and Finns twice now; once nearly three years ago, in the early days of my spending a lot of time in Brighton, and again last night. Their online menu (it’s a pdf, I’m afraid. Because restaurants) is a little out of date. On both occasions I enjoyed it tremendously, and I’m reasonably sure that on both occasions I did so by making a wretched mess of myself and the table near abouts, by dismantling an enormous crab. The folks I was with ate lobster and sea bass. We had simple sides, a middling Sancerre, a little dessert, and a gorgeous sweet sherry to round it all off. This set us back about £50 per head, which I felt was perfectly reasonable for the experience, but if you’re less fond of shellfish and/or booze, you could easily spend half that.
Either way, I’d recommend a visit.
Riddle and Finns is consistently busy. Tucked just inside the tourist-twee bit of the Lanes, and designed to match the ambience, it would have to footfall to stay busy even without the reputation. The place styles itself as a champagne and oyster bar, something that always makes me suspicious, but in this case they’ve nailed the aesthetic.
The inside is all high marble tables and butchers tiles, with eclectic dripping silver candelabra, and ancient chandeliers. There’s a liberal scattering of Tabasco bottles and claw crackers – it’s the right vibe.
The crab, fried “Singapore style” was giant. The body meat had been stir-fried with slivers of ginger, chilli, perhaps a very little tomato, and spring onion. Claws were left intact. This gave the whole thing a bit of nuance and contrast it would have sorely lacked had the entire crab been spiced. The ginger is very front and centre, at risk of overpowering any delicacy to the shellfish. But with the sweet, juicy claw meat left untampered, you can crack into them and enjoy these succulent little bites alongside the spice. It’s a good balance. Of course, there’s no dignified way to eat a large crab, especially one covered in sauce, and that’s all part of the experience. You’ll end up wearing at least a little, and licking your fingers, and it’s glorious. The spice with the crab flavour, and the physical immediacy of the cracking claws lend something slightly visceral to the whole thing that’s pleasingly less fancy than the context. I’m over-intellectualising my dinner here, but fuck it – I’m a sucker for that shtick.
The lobster I tried was pretty good too – delicate and cooked just right. Not overdone, or toughening the shell as is a risk. Our party had it with the garlic and herb butter, and felt it was perhaps a little overwhelming. Like the ginger on the crab, less would probably have been more here, but it didn’t really get in the way.
The sea bass (out of date on the online menu) was seared on one side for some crisp to the skin, leaving the flesh tender. It was served with a giant potato rosti, light salad, peas and a thick tomato puree. I didn’t try it, but Kit enjoyed it tremendously. Wine-wise, I won’t dwell on the Sancerre. It was basically fine, just far too cold initially, and perhaps a touch disappointing on the nose.
The sherry, however, was something else. It is also, you’ll be amazed to learn, missing from the online menu. No matter. This was my first acquaintance with Noé PX sherry, and it is set to be a friendship that costs me a lot of money. It’s basically a monstrously decadent ice cream sauce.
Syrup-thick, and best served chilled it’s all intricate dark fruit notes and spice. There’s plum there, figs, and something richer. You get allspice and nut flavours. It’s a glass of booze-laced christmas pudding, and it is glorious. I think it was this one, something similar for sure. Find it and drink it.
Likewise Riddle and Finns – go and eat there. It’s not blow-your-mind fantastic, but it’s one of the better meals I’ve had in Brighton, and they do a single thing well.The ambience is great, the food is tasty. They don’t take bookings, which infuriates me. But that’s a whole other rant. We had to wait around and hour and a half on a Saturday evening, and as we arrived at nine or so to sit down, another party were being told they were looking at waiting two hours. So it’s busy. My solution would be to suck it up, and either walk up the road to the Craft Beer Co, or two minutes across the street for an excellent cocktail at the bar above Oki-Nami.