Brighton and Hove has long been a brilliant treat for lovers of vegetarian and vegan cuisine. Indeed, it has transformed the very concept of healthy eating from a smelly sandal lentil and brown rice seaweed garden into a colourful gourmand paradise.
The promotion of vegetarian cuisine has meant the city offers a vast selection of plant, fruit and pulse based goodness at economical prices to boost your health without draining your wallet.
It’s a great surprise then to see a new restaurant such as Bait open it’s carnivorous doors in the green capital of England.
The concept of Bait is refreshingly simple. Food is served live, and eaten while the beast still twitches. It would be understandable if the more squeamish among you reacted with revulsion, but take a pause after the initial gag-reflex and ponder the genius of the idea.
This is not animal cruelty. This is food efficiency wrapped in an honesty blanket of kindness.
Killing an animal for pleasure is obviously disgusting. Killing an animal for food is, for many, a matter of survival. Torturing that animal by skinning, disembowelling and dismembering it’s corpse after the traumatic injury of it’s death is an additional and unnecessary humiliation.
It is far more honest to eat the animal while it lives, so it knows it’s being eaten, can understand it’s fate, and be relieved it will not be subjected to the dishonour of being hung in freezer cabinets to be poked at by snot-nosed mothers, or even worse, coated in gunky batter and deep fried to within an inch of it’s taste.
For the customer, there is the frisson of recapturing the majesty of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Okay, we may not have caught the beast, but we do have the satisfaction of killing it with our bare hands, sharpened teeth and acidic stomachs.
Unusually enough for Brighton, the restaurant was devoid of customers when I arrived at 7.00pm, although a trail of blood across the checkered floor being carefully mopped up by a pale skinned youth showed the evidence of previous feasts.
There was a set menu, changed daily according to what was freshest, without options. Again, this is a refreshing alternative to the seemingly unlimited choice that more cowardly restaurants offer. But, like so many Brightonian establishments, remarkable value at £19.99 for two courses (lunchtime saver £14.99 between 12 and 3).
My starter was octopus. It arrived on a plate and was disappointingly still at first. It quivered after a poke with a fork as my waiter encouraged me to begin slicing off it’s tentacles with the sushi knife he handed me. He stood over and watched as I continued my dissection, advising me on the tastiest parts, and the best angle to cut, so as not to terminate the beast prematurely. As I dropped the twitching salty morsels into my gaping maw I became overcome with a briney bloodlust, and several times nearly choked with the excitement.
On occasion my stomach attempted to reject the still wriggling rubbery slime slivers, but I persevered until the cephalod moved no more, and sadly the course was concluded. Although white would be the wine of preference with salts of the sea my carafe was filled with thick, meaty red, and I was surprised how well the full-bodied grapes complemented the dish.
Half an hour later the main course arrived. A pot-bellied pig named Eric was brought out by a leash and chained to the side of the table. I had wondered about the smell of pig that had wafted from the back of the restaurant before, but was relieved to discover it was all about the food.
I began with the belly, carving in thick, glistening slices, that I plopped onto my plate and flavoured with soy and worcester sauces from a wide selection of condiments offered. Eric’s squeals echoed my own inner delight. The squealing intensified as my feeding continued, and I requested that the animal be quietened so I could better enjoy my meal. The waiter tutted, muttered something in a foreign tongue, then coughed and politely advised that the sound of the meal was as essential to it’s experience as the taste.
My inexperience again showed when the course concluded prematurely. The carving of the head should be one of the final acts, but in a moment of insatiable madness I had blundered into it far too soon when the waiter had briefly excused himself for a few moments. I did not complain about his inattention but sorely regretted my virginal lust when the carcass was hauled away, bones unpicked.
At Bait the meal concludes with the death of the creature, as to continue would be an insult to it’s memory. The restaurant is a celebration of life and death, and I cannot fault their peerless integrity, despite my disappointment.
Bait is a reminder of how truly lucky we are in these modern times. Such a culinary experience was once the preserve of only the most hardened adventurer. We no longer have to climb mountains, wade through swamps or hack through jungles for our food. We merely book online, give our credit card, address, next of kin contact details, and sign a waiver to enjoy such a feast.
The turning of our stomachs, or pasty short-sighted moral outrage, are the only obstacles that the modern adventurer must overcome.
Do not allow Bait to be a once in a lifetime experience, at least not for the diner.