Since opening etch. in Brighton & Hove, Steven Edwards’ approach to tasting menus has captivated us all. Now he’s turning his attention to Ink, a speakeasy bar
What originally inspired you to open Ink at etch.?
I had always wanted to open a bar for restaurant guests and we believed a subterranean bar would elevate the experience. You can’t see the bar from outside, which also adds an element of intrigue.
There is a preconception of bars in Hove as being busy and touristy, but we wanted to create something that was quality driven and offer something new and different to the area.
Why the name?
The building that we took over was once M13 Mike’s Tattoo Studio, which was rare in that it had a licence, bar upstairs and tattoo studio downstairs and was a pretty cool place.
When we created the speakeasy bar we wanted to give a nod to the heritage of building so Ink was chosen. The name also lends itself well to the design, dark walls and Ben Slow’s eye-catching artwork.
What do you offer there?
At etch. we’ve always been serious about our drinks offer and our cocktails menu is something that we invest a lot of time into. The bar manager loves to give classic cocktails a bit of a twist to make them memorable, but we also pour classic serves and have a range of local wines and beers. We use local suppliers as much as we can and all drinks are served with almonds and olives.
Why do you think it complements what you do at etch.?
Ink adds to the guest experience. If you look at what we offered when we first opened etch. you walked through the door and it was a case of what you see is what you get. Now the bar provides a relaxing space for diners or non-diners to enjoy a drink in sophisticated surroundings.
We also have a dedicated wine room, which has helped Sam [Weatherill, the Restaurant Manager] to expand his wine list to 400 bottles. At etch. We are always striving to do things differently and for us the restaurant is about food wine and cocktails.
How has this year gone for you at etch.?
We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the year after the surge of diners returning after the lockdown. October and March were very busy, but from April to June we started to return to normal levels.
The cost of living crisis has definitely affected us and it’s been a year of ups and downs. We know that we are a special celebration restaurant and we are conscious never to cut costs or quality so that the experience is always at the top end.
As a business we’ve performed better than in 2019 in every aspect although it has not quite been the phoenix rising we’d hoped for after the refurbishment.
We are expecting 2023 to be a tough year and we have reset and realigned budget expectations. We are already making decisions about next year, such as only opening from Thursday to Saturday in January, which is usually a quieter month.
We are thinking ahead and as long as we know what we’re doing we’ll be fine. We’ve already released Valentine’s dinner reservations which has almost sold out.
Why did you decide on going down the route of tasting menus?
I feel tasting menus are the best way to showcase my food. When you only have three courses you only have three opportunities to show what you do,
I want to take diners on a journey with my food. Providing five, seven and nine courses gives me the chance to showcase my style and my belief in the British larder.
Is it exciting for you when creating a new one?
Yes, because we change dishes every four weeks, you get the excitement of thinking of the dish three weeks before. We know what works and we look back at what we’ve done before and how we can improve each dish.
Four weeks is the perfect length of time for a dish to be on a menu as you are always ready to do something different. Towards the end of the four weeks us chefs can’t wait to be serving the new dishes.
Are you able to sum up your style of cooking?
Put simply modern British, but that is how many chefs would describe their style. Even though we change the menu every week, we have a format that we work to that presents diners with a taste of the season. Our tasting menus showcase the British (and where possible Sussex) larder and the ever evolving seasons. I guess you could call it ultra seasonal as every week we make changes to evolve the menu.
Are there particular dishes you love that are on the menus now?
We have a fantastic monkfish dish with leek on the menu at the moment. We poach the monkfish and serve with beurre blanc, Exmoor caviar and barbecued leeks. The dish is not over complicated, but uses quality ingredients. For this time of year, the dish is fresh tasting but still seasonal. It’s easy to go down the venison route, but this is the opposite in that it’s light and vibrant but still captures the best of what’s in season.
When you opened etch., why was Brighton and Hove perfect?
I wanted to be part of a city and we felt that for the business model, being in a city offset the risk with there being lots of places to stay for those travelling from further afield and decent rail connections.
Brighton and Hove is an up and coming foodie city. For its population there’s a lot of chef-led restaurants so we’re in good company.
What do you make of the food and drink scene around town?
It gets better and better each year as the restaurants are all pushing each other to do better. Brighton might have the reputation for being a party city, but when you peel away the top layer there’s a lot of very good restaurants that are focussing on ingredients and high level cooking.
What do you have planned for 2023?
It will be about building on the foundations that we laid at the opening. We want to keep doing what we do and improving on all aspects.
Since opening the Bingham Riverhouse in Richmond [in 2020] we have had to chop and change our offering through lockdowns and social distance measures. We really feel we have found our feet in the last year offering an à la carte and tasting menu hybrid focusing on quality British ingredients.
We’re still on the lookout for opening a pub. I’m hoping that the worst of the staffing crisis is over and if it is behind us, I’m definitely keen to open a pub.