Bit weird to start a food review with poetry but bear with me. Steps by Frank O’Hara is a celebration of New York and sunshine and the joys of life great and small: “How funny you are today New York / like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime…”
Do yourself a favour and check out the whole thing here if you don’t know it. Firstly, because O’Hara was a genius whose poems are basically a written hit of serotonin; secondly, because Steps does a better job of communicating the joy of Soho on a sunny Thursday evening that I ever could. The place was a festival: its streets crammed with tables and smiles and happy noise.
Even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
G’wan, Frank! You tell ‘em!
OK. Tempting though it is to hand over the entire review to a man buried in 1966 – hit by a dune buggy; souls like O'Hara don't die in bed – I guess I better talk about Sussex Bar & Restaurant. And that’s fine: Sussex Bar & Restaurant is a delightful thing to talk about as well. The food is great; the drinks are cold; there’s an oyster stand. As a wise man once wrote: in a sense, we’re all winning. We’re alive.
How’s the food?
Great! Didn’t you read the last sentence? Fine, more detail: the set menu is an absolute bargain, three courses for £28. Starters include a lovely, punchy beef tartare and Wye Valley Asparagus with a Hollandaise sauce that makes you appreciate the difference between good Hollandaise and bad Hollandaise (this is the former: it doesn’t taste like custard).
For mains, go with the South Coast Cod with Savoy Cabbage if you want something light that still carries plenty of flavour. (Remember, you’re in Soho – it’s hard to party when totally stuffed.) Alternatively, the Confit Lamb Shoulder with Potato Salad finds the spot and then hits it, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’re in safe hands here. Whatever you get, it’s gonna be good.
I almost forgot! Sussex has partnered with Noilly Prat and the result is an oysters and vermouth bar – so you get a plate of oysters with the standard flavourings plus a shot of vermouth to make life a little more interesting. Does it work? Well, we had a plate, and then another plate for dessert. So yes. It works.
What to drink?
Well, there’s vermouth… Aside from the oysters, Noilly Prat has a special cocktail menu – strong on martinis, as you’d imagine – and anyone who makes it through all six offerings wins a free trip to A & E. (I’m kidding: I reckon it’s doable. But just because you could, doesn’t mean you should.)
There’s also a fairly extensive wine list with a number of bottles grown on the family vineyard in Nutbourne, West Sussex. Plus other countries if you insist on venturing further afield. Plus more cocktails that don’t all contain vermouth. Or oysters.
What I’m saying is, you’re sorted for booze. Sorted.
Will it bankrupt me?
Depends how many oysters you guzzle (answer: not enough) and whether you stray off the set menu.
Regarding the former, you can get six for £15 but you might regret not going 12 for £25; the rest of your food won’t exceed £28 pp. Unless you go rogue and order the lobster or the forerib of Sussex beef – then all bets are off.
Anything else to note?
This will be a beautiful summer. Visit Soho if you don’t believe me. Choose adventure. Channel Frank O’Hara. Smash life. Read the final stanza of Steps:
oh god it’s wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much
Yeah. What he said. With added oysters.
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For more info, see Sussex Bar & Restaurant