I‘ve had just one dish on my mind since I had the fortune of lunching in etch on what must have been the sunniest day in March: dippy eggs.
Now, I like a dippy egg as much as the next person – but, in all honesty, it can be a bit of a boring breakfast. Sorry Brits. Please don’t get me wrong, because I adore eggs and I adore toast, I just think there are better ways to put the two together.
However, Steven Edwards – who became one of the youngest chefs to win Masterchef: The Professionals in 2013 – found a way to make dippy eggs exciting. No, that’s not even the right word for it… he’s made them sexy. Jammily, gloriously sexy, which is certainly not something I ever thought I would say about a soft boiled egg and a bit of toast.
Except at etch, located in Hove, just minutes away from the beautiful beach, it’s not in any way just a soft boiled egg and a bit of toast. It’s a duck egg yolk, as round and bright as the sun above the seaside haven, but hidden under fried shallots (!) and a nasturtium leaf, pickled nasturtium root and thinly veiled by nasturtium oil.
The egg is slow-cooked “for 62 minutes at 62 degrees”, so I’m told, and the yolk separated for dipping into. Then the brioche soldier – oh, the brioche soldier! The thick, golden rectangular block, toasted in duck fat (a vegetarian alternative is possible) and coated in the creamy, wonderfully calorific duck egg yolk. It would be too heavy if not for the herby nasturtium, and a tiny roll of duck bacon is a sheer delight.
But I suppose I can’t wax lyrical about dippy eggs alone (watch this space though, it might happen someday). The nine-course menu at etch was full of impressive hits – and some misses – but I emerged after a three-hour lunch feeling rejuvenated about what modern British cuisine could be.
You see, I’ve been having conversations recently about how to define modern British cuisine. More often than not, it’s always “good produce done well” – that, or pie baps and cheesy chips, neither of which I take issue with. It’s all well and good, except that it can get a bit boring, can’t it?
In a time where chefs, cooks and food enthusiasts in Britain can access more ingredients from all over the world than ever before, learn more cooking techniques and ways to throw flavors together, leaning so heavily on “good produce cooked well” just feels a bit tired.
But at etch, I caught a glimpse of the direction in which British cuisine is heading. Every twist on a British staple – a cheese and onion biscuit that I could have eaten about 20 of; the house-made onion Wotsits sprinkled on top of a creamy, aerated white onion soup; a Marmite brioche bun served with seaweed butter that I wish there was a bakery dedicated to – made me more excited for what was to come.
The dippy egg was undoubtedly the best example of this new, thrilling direction. But while the menu does lean on the typical modern British food trope, I found that it was the small elements in most of the dishes that really made a difference throughout the rest of the menu.
A crown roasted guinea fowl with tenderstem broccoli, which sounds perhaps dull on paper but was lifted by preserved blackberries and blackberry gel. Norwegian skrei cod roasted in butter – once again, delicious but not unexpected, except for the charred leek ash that dusted the dish, giving everything an incredibly moreish, somewhat seaweedy quality.
Not everything was worth writing home about. About five courses in, two oyster dishes arrive. I am not a great lover of oysters, and I have never had the courage to try them raw – stories of terrible food poisoning are enough to make me steer clear of the buggers for the most part. I’ll try anything once, though, but I can’t say that these were good enough to convert me.
The dessert courses have plenty of room to be made more interesting. I thought that the melty Wigmore cheese paired with rhubarb sorbet and poached rhubarb was an intriguing match, but the sharpness of the rhubarb was watered down and didn’t do much for the delicious cheese. The dark chocolate mousse was smooth and bitter, balanced by an earl gray tea ice cream, but it still left me wanting. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was missing there.
But all in all, a meal at etch was such an indulgent treat. I would be remiss not to recommend it, even if the oysters left me a less-than-happy clam. But that’s on me, not the creative culinary minds at work there.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.