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Review – Shelter Hall, long in the making, quick in disappointment

Shelter Hall, Kings Road Arches, Shelter Hall, Brighton BN1 1NB (07903 284511).

Seven years in the making and millions spent, Shelter Hall is billed as Brighton’s answer to our seaside food hall, boasting seven ‘chef-led’ kitchens hailing from some of Sussex’s most successful restaurants and a bar tucked neatly upon the bustling Brighton seafront. One such kitchen took my attention immediately.  Following the success of his restaurant Pitch and steakhouse Ox Block, local restaurateur and MasterChef 2018 winner Kenny Tutt has once again graced Brighton, this time with his take upon a burger joint. This, I thought, would be worth a visit.

Firstly, I will state that I have eaten at Pitch and am a strong supporter of the venue, from the immaculate interior, the friendly professionalism of the staff and the flawless execution of everything I have ever eaten there. This, naturally, lead to my rejoicing upon hearing of his latest venture and of course I had to pay Patty Guy, and therefore Shelter Hall a visit. I was, however, greeted by something of an odd sight for a food court.  I counted no less than three doormen patrolling the entrance to the venue offering a somewhat foreboding note to our entry, perhaps a foreshadowing of events yet to pass. Our stoic caretakers eventually granted us access to what can only be described as one of the most dismal places I have ever attempted to eat in within the town.

We were shown through a dilapidated stairway up to our table, which boasted a superb seafront view through a grime-encrusted set of glass panelled doors, a delightful panorama of what appeared to be grease-caked acoustic baffles and, of course, an overt security camera pointed directly at us, further cementing the atmosphere of a seaside prison-resort.  If one could have ever wished to dine in Alcatraz, I would highly recommend this as Sussex’s best alternative. 

Shaking off the understandable nervousness from the continuous security patrols, my companion and I sat down to find that ordering is in the form of the irksome downloadable app. It’s a mixed blessing, allowing the convenience of ordering from multiple venues while keeping diners at their tables and away from seeing the establishments in which their food is cooked, an obvious concern given the criticisms regarding the state of the building. It also became quickly apparent that attempting to order by means of the human voice would be as fruitless as the music in the place was so oppressively loud that conversations between tables were at a point of shouting, creating a roaring din upon which it was nigh impossible to be heard. Shortly, we were enthralled by the menus of all seven kitchens all available at the click of a button, allowing for a “mix and match” meal to be made from the assembled eateries. This, then, is what Shelter Hall does exceptionally well: a meal here, theoretically, should satisfy the needs of a group of the world’s fussiest eaters.

Given that we had settled upon Patty Guy for our main repast we were greeted by a rather simplistic menu consisting of predominantly burgers with American cheese and bacon being the only notable toppings, with the exception of the “Sunday Best”, a take on a roast dinner in burger form. There was no mention of from whence the ingredients to these meals came, leading me to conclude that the chef has foregone showcasing local produce, something of a strange choice given some of the wonderful artisanal foodstuffs being turned out within the county. There was, however, a saving grace in the form of a rather sparse “specials” area of the menu featuring a lone blue cheeseburger, though, sadly, no providence was given for the contents of this either.

Now, you may be wondering as to why I have mentioned nothing on the vegetarian options available at Patty Guy, and rightfully so. At the time of visiting there was in fact a total of zero vegetarian suitable burgers available on the menu. I do understand that the kitchen is trying to advance the virtues of grass-fed beef (I am yet to have find any cows fed on much else, in this country) but the lack of options for those with alternative dietary requirements seems a curious choice given that Brighton is a shamelessly progressive city.

I went for the special, the Oklahoma blue.  My partner-in-dine (henceforth known as “PID”) ordering the bacon cheeseburger and we split a portion of chips between us from then nearby “Sol” by Santa Monica. Beers came from the on-site bar offering several local craft-kegged ales in addition to more common choices.  However, I was disappointed to find that there were no cask options available.

Food swiftly arrived, taking just eight minutes from the order to our table and our drinks arrived alongside.  In fairness, the beer was excellently kept, though this, sadly was perhaps the highest point of the meal. The Oklahoma Blue itself boasted a freshly made smashed patty, blue cheese, smoked bacon and mustard, a tried and tested combination that should have been a home run were it not for the sheer greasiness of the patties themselves (Tutt Tutt, Kenny).

I was forced to eat the creation with a knife and fork, peeling off the inconveniently placed and now very much melted receipt from the turgid underside of the potato-based bun. The garlic and parsley fries were scantly portioned and laid upon an oil slick so thick one could easily see Greenpeace inciting a scandal about it. The bacon cheeseburger was sadly little improvement, having been sent back to the kitchen for not complying with my PID ‘s very clear dietary requests. The chips were sent back for a full refund after we had both deigned them inedible; management handled this smoothly with a no-quibble approach and should be praised as such.

Overall, a beer cost around six pounds, a double burger around eleven and chips close to five putting the total of a meal and a drink at just over twenty pounds, which feels a little cynical given the quality of the food that we received from the two kitchens and the feel of the venue itself. Frankly, the two of us found this to be a hugely underwhelming experience. Though we cannot speak for the quality of the food from the kitchens that we did not visit, we agree that, given the issues with the venue itself, repeat custom is not high on either of our to-do lists.  This long-vilified construction work may not have been worth the wait after all.

NB: If you still wish to dine in day-release Pontins then be sure to book a few days after emailing, the phone neither answers nor accepts messages.

Written by Sussex.News Chief reviewer – @TheMintonEats

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