about the Urchin
Today is my birthday and this morning I was thinking about the past, specifically, how events half a lifetime ago continue to play on my mind. As a child, I remember being told that my eyes were bigger than my belly and that expression seemed strange to me. Whilst I try not to take things literally these days, lunch at The Urchin in Hove proved that when it comes to ordering food in restaurants, I continue to be ambitious.
I used to live a road away from The Urchin but in all that time, never went there for dinner. After moving to the coast from London, it took a while to find my feet and then Covid happened, curtailing much of my dining out. A recent Jay Rayner review of The Urchin reignited my interest in the place and with today off work, my wife and I walk walked with my son for an early lunch.
From the outside, The Urchin looks like many of the surrounding houses. Customers can sit on tables around the side of the building or in their dedicated garden area. It was hot on the walk down with the pram and so we sat inside, hoping for quiet and a break from the sun. There’s a bar area as you walk inside The Urchin and we were greeted by a friendly hostess. Behind the bar, there was a good selection of tap beers and spirits and I knew from a previous visit that the wine list was decent. We sat in the main dining room alongside another couple and the staff that served us were chatty. The regular menu was served alongside a board of specials and in my excitement, I ordered far too much.
My wife is a vegetarian and so it was good of her to indulge me by coming along. In previous relationships, eating has been a contentious issue but my wife is more accepting than most.
To start, I had a pair of Jersey rock oysters, one natural and one with crispy chilli. Living by the sea, we’re spoilt for good oysters and I often have one from the fish shacks on my walks by the sea. The oysters from The Urchin were fresh and tasty and the chilli one was the standout dish of the afternoon. The crispiness of the chilli added texture and depth of flavour that perfectly complementing the oyster. Sometimes, the simplest things are the best.
From the specials, my wife had the oyster mushroom Caesar, the only vegetarian dish, that was a mix of crispy Romaine lettuce, mushrooms, Parmesan, Caesar dressing and croutons. I very rarely eat a Caesar salad but I tried some and loved how the richness of the sauce complimented the clean freshness of the lettuce.
Following on from the oysters, I had the octopus and Nduja ragu with tomatoes on sourdough. This was thoroughly delightful, with the spice from the the Nduja perfectly complimenting the softness of the octopus. The fresh tomatoes were sweet and chunky and the sourdough lightly toasted. I should have stopped eating here but kept going.
As is customary whenever eating out, I had looked up the menu long before our trip to The Urchin and spied the salt and pepper squid. I used to serve something similar in a bar in Melbourne and this was the dish that I was most excited about. The squid was coated in a light and crispy batter and the accompanying sauce was exceptional. I don’t know exactly what the sauce was but it tasted of peanut and had a gentle heat. I came away thinking that I’d like a bottle of it permanently in the fridge for liveners.
By the time the squid was done, I had totally forgotten about the king prawns in the main picture and was surprised when they came out, accompanied by finger dipping bowls and fries. The waiter was kind enough to offer some sourdough for sauce mopping and I greedily accepted.
The king prawns were served whole in a rich and creamy broth flavoured with garlic, fennel, celery and puy lentils. I thought that if I ate quickly, I could trick my stomach but the accumulative effect of so much delicious food was catching up and the pint of hazy pale ale that I was nursing made me sleepy. I had visions of the prawns coming out on a sizzling hot plate but they way they were served made them rather more fiddly and messy. The prawns themself were delicious and the rich sauce was great for dipping but by this point I was uncomfortably full and my son was getting restless.
After creating a pile of prawn shells, I asked for the bill and swiftly paid, hoping to escape before my son started screaming.
They do dessert at The Urchin and a whole range of nice drinks but I wasn’t brave enough to try and put anything more inside of me. From The Urchin, we walked back along the sea to the part of Hove we now live and up to our flat for naps. As I write, my son and my wife are asleep in the bedroom and my eyelids are feeling heavy as I sit writing in my armchair.
If you’re a fan of fish then I can’t recommend The Urchin enough but go hungry and space out your ordering. Knowing myself, I’m not surprised that I ate too much but I have always enjoyed pushing things too far. In previous years, I always made a point of going abroad for my birthday and trying to be somewhere new. This year, for the first time I felt that my life at home was better than than anything else I could hope to see elsewhere.