There’s a new restaurant in Ship Street. Locals may remember it as The Smugglers sports bar on the ground floor and The Loft music venue upstairs, but The Walrus is a very different and much more upmarket affair.
Run by the same team responsible for the Lion and Lobster in Sillwood Street, it’s had a total make-over of both décor and menu and is now run as a coherent whole with a spacious bar on the ground floor, a regency-style gastro-pub upstairs (if you have a large party do try to get the table in the bow window under the chandelier – you’ll feel like you’re at one of the Prince Regent’s parties!) and an intimate music venue in the basement.
Gone is the dusky pink of before, replaced with a muted shade of greeny-grey with old fashioned carriage lamps and a delightful painted sign featuring Gregory, the sartorially elegant Walrus himself.
Inside it’s furnished in similar muted tones with comfortable banquette seats, individual booths and the strangest, most eclectic mix of wall hangings. If you ever find yourself bored with the company you’re with, just spend the time reading the odd signs, cartoons and adverts that cover every available space. Animal lovers may be a little disconcerted by the hunting memorabilia and skulls dotted around, but the overall effect is fascinating.
And the food? Well that’s pretty darn good.
Freshly prepared on the premises and simply but beautifully presented, the dishes are a cut above pub grub while not being overly pretentious. A first glance at the menu left me concerned that vegans, vegetarians and those with allergies weren’t very well catered for but as soon as I explained my situation the options stacked up. Of course sometimes it’s nice to be able to eat out without feeling you are making a fuss and having to have special treatment, but The Walrus team swiftly and efficiently provided several bespoke dishes.
Pork Belly deliberately chose items that he thought unusual or were hard to get just right. For starters he opted for quail scotch eggs with haggis and chorizo – two different flavours, both equally delicious. The yolks were just as he likes them, slightly soft.
I went for the pulled duck on toast which, until my last mouthful when I discovered a whole peppercorn, was a little bland but the accompanying radish, kohlrabi and bean salad was delectable.
For my main course, a little unadventurous I know, I ordered a burger, without the buttery brioche bun which is its usual accompaniment. It was lean, meaty and cooked to perfection. The chips were skin-on (which I love) and well seasoned.
Pork Belly went gluten-free to try the beer-battered haddock and chips. Cooking with gluten-free flour can be a challenge and we don’t think they’ve got the recipe quite right yet. The batter wasn’t as light as he expected and was a little hard. The fish itself was excellent and the burnt lemon a nice touch.
To finish I was delighted to learn that their sorbets are all milk free (not always the case) so I had a single scoop of raspberry while Pork Belly indulged in an almond financier. Get this wrong and you have a dry, crumbly disappointment. Glad to say The Walrus chef got this exactly right – moist, not too sweet and served with poached peach, blueberries and a luscious vanilla frozen yoghurt.
Prices for starters are around £6 – £8, main courses between £10 and £20 (if you’re having steak) and desserts around the £6 mark.
The restaurant area is comfortable, with a lovely bar at one end (where I’d really enjoy sipping an aperitif while waiting for a table) and the table-ware was simple but elegant.
It’s family-friendly (I think they’ll do well at the Sunday roast trade) and the service attentive.
Music at The Walrus
Their plans are fairly fluid but they’re looking to rotate styles on Wednesdays and Thursdays to include jazz, swing, rock n roll, Latin and blues with small combos.
Fridays and Saturdays they’ll host slightly larger bands – four or five piece – playing covers and taking requests.
They’ll also have some acoustic entertainment in the ground floor bar on Sundays.
In a boho city like Brighton, if they get the right musical mix it could prove to be a big draw.
All in all it’s off to a good start and we give it the thumbs up.
Disclaimer: Pork Belly and I were invited to the ‘soft launch’ of The Walrus just before it opened to the public (May 2017). Our food was complimentary but the opinions expressed above are unbiased and honest.