Graze was for years a beacon of upmarket dining on the Western Road. But while garnering 2AA Rosettes, it never really gathered a large following, always seeming a 'special occasion only' place rather than somewhere you'd head for a relaxed lunch or impulse dinner.
Which was why Kate Alleston (co-owner with Neil Mannifield) called time, then set about the bold and refreshing reinvention that has produced the excellent MARKET. The new interior goes for the feel of an old-school food trader with green tiling and plain wood tables creating a welcoming, understated ambience.
The 50-cover space claims to be the city's first spot to put bar stool dining and cooking to the fore. “When we started Graze it was all about fine dining – the more complex the better. And people got bored with it,” says Alleston with refreshing candour. “People know more now. They watch the Great British Menu, they watch Masterchef, people understand it's not about chefs hiding down in a dungeon and making magic.”
There are plenty of tables but the bar stools offer a grand perch for those who like to watch the action close-up. “Kitchen bar dining is popular because that mystique has gone,” says Kate. “And if you're a foodie you've got the opportunity to ask questions!”
Market's chefs work wonders on a menu uniting Mediterranean influences – plus US-inspired brunch offerings - with prime Sussex produce. “It's about food I've grown up with,” explains Kate. “I used to go on long camping holidays to San Sebastian with my parents, who liked to see how many wineries we could do in a day!”
The menu is pleasingly direct, split into clear sections (From The Greengrocer, From The Fishmonger, etc) each offering four or five simply described options e.g. “broccoli, kale, tahini” rather than excess 'pan-fried/rare-breed/foraged' waffle.
Though Kate calls it “posh comfort food”, I suggest it's 'South Coast Tapas' - a format which makes MARKET ideal for anyone wanting a quick drink and snack rather than big meal. “Absolutely. We've designed the menu so people can come in and have one dish or 10,” says Kate. “And there's always something different. A lot of people eat here on a Saturday night and then they'll be back for brunch on Sunday morning.”
While sharing plates is encouraged, there are plenty of larger dishes too - daily specials (plaice with brown shrimps on my visit), Sunday roasts and big weekend brunches. Pitching consumption at your own level extends to the well-chosen wine list, with most wines available by 125ml glass so people can easily try different ones with different dishes - plus plenty available as 375ml carafes.
Sussex producers shine. On the drinks front, there are hooches from Blackdown, Ridgeview wines, Brighton beers and Sussex cheeses. The fish is local, of course – but so is the wild boar bacon that accompanies my delicious scallops with honeyed parsnip.
“We buy from local people we have worked with for years. But we're always interested in new people,” says Kate. “We just got a local Wagyu producer who minces his beef, so we're thinking of having Wagyu burgers. That could be quite cool.”
MARKET is more than 'quite cool', though. The food and drink is excellent, and so is the vibe. “All the elements support one another - the quality, the staff and the other people in here,” says Kate. She's right.
MARKET (42 Western Road, 01273 823707, market-restaurantbar.co.uk