Review of The Coal Shed, Brighton, April 2012
I’ve often wondered why dogs make such a fuss over bones. Apart from keeping their teeth in good condition I couldn’t see the attraction. That is, not until I ate at The Coal Shed.
I had been presented with a bit of a dilemma on this blustery April day. I had been trying to adhere to the Paleo diet as part of a challenge set by my bootcamp instructor. Very basically, this means avoiding all grains, legumes and dairy (except eggs). Most Brits typically reach for a sandwich at lunchtime. This clearly is not an option on the Paleo diet. So I decided I would treat myself to a more substantial meal following the Paleo principles and this is why I found myself in The Coal Shed.
The Coal Shed is tucked down a side street a little way from the seafront. The interior has an informal bistro feel with wooden tables and chairs, natural floor boards and and white washed brickwork. Aside from a few pieces of unobtrusive modern art on the walls and some stylish pendant lights it is devoid of frills. It looks simple and unfussy and this is also reflected in their menu. They specialise in cooking good quality, local, sustainable ingredients in a hellishly hot charcoal oven.
This would apparently extend to the dessert. I had the grilled pineapple. If truth be told, this was probably not strictly Paleo as I’m sure it had been sprinkled with brown sugar prior to cooking. It was supposed to be served with a spiced rum, caramel and star anise ice cream. I sighed. As delicious as this sounded I had to forego the ice cream. Instead my accommodating waiter recommended a dairy free apple and lime sorbet. This proved to be an ideal complement the sweet and sticky pineapple and was refreshing after the previous carnivorous courses.
A bit like dogs and bones I could never see the appeal of a steak as a teenager unless it was slathered in a peppercorn sauce and served with chips. Fortunately, my views on steak (via a period of vegetarianism) have progressed and I now appreciate how gorgeous a steak can be assuming it is from good quality stock and hasn’t been incinerated. The Coal Shed is essentially a steak house (although there are other meat, fish and vegetarian options available) and as expected offers a range of cuts from Sussex reared Longhorn Cattle, which have been dry-aged for a minimum of 35 days. The waiter will show you a black board detailing today’s cuts of Porterhouse and Bone in Prime Rib many of which are large enough to share. I’m pretty sure if you ordered the rib it would be perfectly acceptable to gnaw the bone to get to every last morsel of delicious meat, such is the laid back ambience of the restaurant. You are more likely to have an issue with your dining partner over who gets to do the gnawing…
As I was solo diner on this day I opted for the 250g Rump. The steak was criss crossed with charred lines and tasted deliciously smokey (not bitter like some barbecued foods). And it was perfectly rare. The balance of this meaty main was redressed with an English Garden Salad (all accompaniments, including beef dripping chips, need to be ordered separately). This included a colourful array of lightly dressed cucumber and carrot ribbons with red and yellow tomatoes sprinkled with mustard cress. A welcome change from the drab leaves so often presented as as side salad in other restaurants.
There are several delicious starters on the menu to choose from as well as couple of specials on the chalkboard. Given my current regime I was drawn to the grilled bone marrow. Apparently our Paleo ancestors loved this stuff. As Mark Sisson (supporter of all things Paleo) says on his website “Marrow may be a “sinful treat” for most, but it deserves to be a kitchen staple for Primal eaters.” It was served on a board dressed modestly with chopped parsley, shallots and piquant capers. Having been baked in a searingly hot oven it was soft and slippery with a hint of nuttiness which meant you could spread it on the accompanying sourdough toast (which sadly I couldn’t eat on this occasion). It reminded me a bit of dripping which I used to adore on toast as a child.
So now I get the dog and bone thing. I can thoroughly recommend the bone marrow although there are plenty of less primal starters to choose from (Billy, who has visited the Coal Shed on a separate occasion, speaks highly of the ribs). You will pay more here than you would at a generic steak house. But the price reflects the quality and the effort to source local ingredients. So why not give into your inner canine and give the Coal Shed a go?