Bill’s – a Brighton institution
Originating in Lewes as a grocery store-come-café popular for its beautifully presented fruit and veg, homemade juices, healthy treats and jams, Bill’s quickly grew into a hugely popular set of 79 restaurants offering an original and traditional menu of stylish favourites.
The persona and charisma of Bill’s Brighton shines through at their old bus depot location on North Road – a big, hipster space with high ceilings, an open fronted entrance, coolie downlights, glass chandeliers, steel piping, industrial ceiling fans, hanging plants, vintage signage, shelves packed with ornaments, wacky art, and open baskets of bill’s produce and drinks, chalkboards of recipes giving away secret ingredients used in favourites such as their famous Bill’s Brownies plus an assortment of sturdy wooden tables, benches and chairs.
Bill’s Brighton has a special kind of atmosphere – always buzzing but with a homely and welcoming vibe that makes you feel immediately at ease. We were greeted by chirpy and super polite serving staff, working fast and hard but somehow seemingly bursting with energy, maybe it’s the atmosphere that keeps them going, but the happy feeling seems to swoop through everyone, including Bill’s customers.
On the menu, which is huge, you’ll find traditional British favourites and modern dishes filled with seasonal and fresh ingredients. If you are trying to stay healthy, there’s a host of colourful salads that’ll fill you up. Then there’s Bill’s signature hamburger. Other great options on the menu include the Mojo marinated chicken skewers or Bill’s vegan Wellington – carrot, cashew nuts and mushroom with butterbean mash and vegetable gravy.
There’s a lot of choice if you’re an omnivore and a good selection of vegetarian options, however vegans will be limited to just one (good) option in starters, mains and desert.
James and I started off with a couple of terrific cocktails – Bill Collins Tall Cocktail which is a mix of London dry gin, pineapple, lemongrass, green tea, kaffir lime leaf cordial, finished off with sparkling water.
For the table were a few mini Cumberland sausages (which had been nuked to the point of mouth scalding), with honey and grain mustard. It was edible after about 10 minutes – when it had cooled down a little.
Starters: James had crispy chicken and sesame dumplings with Bill’s spicy chutney, and I had crispy calamari with red chilli and lie aioli. I wish I’d ordered both as a mains.
James had pan fried chicken breast with herbed mash potatoes, long stem broccoli and creamy wild mushroom sauce. The chicken was hard on the outside – a result of being over-seared, however it was moist inside. The broccoli was over-steamed and limp.
My main meal was Bill’s fish pie with prawns, cod, salmon and smoked haddock, in cream sauce, topped with chive mash and cheese. This was heated to the temperature of molten lava, which effectively destroyed the little flavour that there was. After about 20 minutes, when it had almost cooled down, I can genuinely say that if you closed your eyes you wouldn’t know what you’re eating – akin to something that’s been mass produced then heated from frozen. The portion size was enormous, the mash too much, and the seasoning none-existent.
For dessert I had Bill’s Flowerpot – which comprises of passionfruit cheesecake in a chocolate flowerpot and chocolate soil, strawberries, and edible flowers. I feared I may have contracted diabetes, as the sugar content was off the scale.
Although there aren’t many dairy free, gluten free or vegan options on the menu, Bill’s are extremely accommodating to dietary intolerances, and take them very seriously. They even do their own special intolerances menu.
The kitchen is happy to replace and swap out items where they can and may even go as far as to create a whole new meal combination for you to make sure that you are able to eat.
I’d definitely recommend Bills designer burgers – what I saw coming out of the kitchen made me regret my menu choices.
Written & photographed by Cindy-Lou Dale