Menuwatch: The Set, Brighton

21 April 2021 by

Dan Kenny is moving on and moving up, having left the Artist Residence hotel for a new site where he intends to keep the offering small but skilful. Andy Lynes reports.

On 31 March this year, one of Brighton's most ambitious and creative dining experiences came to a close, six years after its launch at the 23-bedroom Artist Residence hotel. Originally intended to be a Halloween pop-up, the operation has in recent months taken the form of a sell-out run of home delivery boxes.

"It was the end of the contract and I felt we couldn't progress any further with the limitations of that space," says founder Dan Kenny, who is now preparing for the restaurant's second chapter with a long-term residency at Café Rust in the city's Preston Road.

He will be joined in the kitchen by just one other chef – there will not even be a kitchen porter. Luka Mokliak, former head baker at St John in London, has also been working with Kenny on his gourmet Five Star Kebabs project, which started out in the chefs' home kitchens during the first national lockdown.

The Set
The Set

When the Set reopens on 19 May, it will be for dinner only from Wednesday to Friday, allowing Kenny and Mokliak to continue to run Five Star Kebabs in tandem with the restaurant. It is hoped that the Instagram-based takeaway project, which can name chefs such as Michael O'Hare and Brad Carter as fans, will be available nationwide soon.

The Set will offer a weekly changing tasting menu of eight to 10 dishes, lasting around three hours and offering what Kenny describes as "ingredient-led cooking fuelled by fat and umami". Dietary requirements will not be catered for.

Dan Kenny
Dan Kenny

The price of the menu will vary, explains Kenny, although guests will pay a £75 deposit that will be deducted from the final bill. "We'll try not to fluctuate the price too much to confuse people, but there will be a few supplements here and there, as well as a few increases for certain seasons – usually autumn and winter are a little bit cheaper.

"If we happen to get the biggest Orkney scallops we can from Celtic Fish and Game [based in St Ives], which are about £5 a scallop, it's going to go up a bit. We're hoping that customers recognise the quality of the produce and realise why they're paying extra."

One way Kenny is planning on serving those scallops is as a sharing dish alongside Exmoor caviar hollandaise, with the scallop part-cooked in aged ex-dairy cow fat before being finished on a Big Green Egg barbecue in the café's garden.

Kenny is also working on a barbecue parfait made with chicken livers from his poultry supplier Fosse Meadow Farm in Leicestershire. The otherwise classic recipe is made in a Pacojet and features cream infused with hot coals from a Japanese-style bincho charcoal grill. Covered with togarashi and yuzu-flavoured puffed rice and with barbecued seasonal fruit on the side, Kenny says the dish will resemble a breakfast bowl.

Sussex wagyu and wasabina
Sussex wagyu and wasabina

Another of Kenny's favoured suppliers of high-end ingredients is Trenchmore Farm in West Sussex for wagyu beef. A braised shin pie will feature sirloin of wagyu and XO-cured bone marrow cooked sous vide, served with an XO sauce made with various ‘ends' of Curing Rebels charcuterie, dehydrated scallop roe, dried shrimps, chilli, garlic and ginger.

Café Rust's owners will continue to run the site as a café during the day, with Kenny intending to ‘transform' the room for the Set's evening services. Two separate kitchens will ensure that Kenny and Mokliak can work on mise en place undisturbed. And although the café has room for 20 covers, plus a garden and cellar space, Kenny says he won't be serving more than 14 customers a night.

Coffee: 64% Manjari, peach
Coffee: 64% Manjari, peach

"I think the best food we put out was – weirdly – in between the lockdowns, when we brought the menu back with 12 covers a night," he explains. "We're going to stick to that and just ensure everything's absolutely on point.

We're going to stick to 12 covers a night and just ensure everything's absolutely on point

"There's always the temptation – you start counting tables and covers against your budget, but that's why it's going to be run with a small but skilled team, rather than have junior chefs. I'm hoping the balance works and we can continue to keep it that way. I don't want to go back to 100-cover Saturday nights."

Kenny's emphasis on quality over quantity seems to already be putting the business in good stead, with bookings full for the rest of May and June filling up fast.

The Set, 50 Preston Road, Brighton BN1 4QF

From the menu

  • Broth: spring vegetables and herbs
  • Chawanmushi, tobiko, chicken, chive
  • Chicken parfait, bincho, green strawberry, cornflake
  • Bread, beef butter, gravy, pickled onion
  • Chutoro, HP, radish
  • Orkney scallop, cucumber, béarnaise
  • Wagyu sirloin, beer, asparagus, soy
  • Rhubarb and custard
  • 64% manjari fondant, miso, crème fraîche

The tasting menu price will vary based on seasons. A £75pp deposit is required

Photo credit: Foarke

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