Steven Edwards’ long-awaited debut restaurant etch is now open in Hove. Duncan Hall paid a visit

Hove isn’t the most obvious place for a television star to open his first restaurant. It would seem natural to trade on a Masterchef: The Professionals winner’s name in the tourist hotspots of Brighton, but Steven Edwards always had Church Road in his sights. “It’s somewhere with untapped potential,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting to be so far down Church Road – the original plan was Palmeira Square – but there are places like The Ginger Pig, The Connaught and Hove Tandoori here. Why not have something that’s fine dining? We aren’t attracting people from a large radius – 90 per cent of people walk here!”

There has been a lot of excitement about Steven’s forthcoming Hove restaurant. Having trained with the likes of Raymond Blanc and Chris Wheeler he made his name at Horsham’s South Lodge Hotel. Steven still lives in Horsham, having moved there to work as chef de partie in The Pass Restaurant with Matt Gillan, of Great British Menu fame. Moving through the ranks, and winning Sussex Young Chef of the Year in 2010, Steven became head chef at South Lodge’s second restaurant Camellia at just 25 years old. Following six years at South Lodge, Steven set up etch as a pop-up experience, cooking dinners at Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace, Nyetimber Vineyard and Leeds Corn Exchange.

His first permanent restaurant is in a former bank, which up until earlier this year was home to curry house Zamdani. It has been transformed with an on-trend dark blue paint job, modern art on the walls, an open kitchen and plenty of small tables accompanied by banquettes and cosy dining chairs offering 34 covers. Unlike The Pass there are no stools pulled up to the kitchen counter, the open space is more about practicality so food isn’t being transported up and down the stairs. “We want guests to come out and enjoy being with each other rather than thinking we need to be the centre of attention,” says Steven. “Guests can see the chefs working, but for me being able to see the guests is important.”

Steven’s food is based around a tasting menu, with options of four, six or eight courses. We tried the six-course menu, featuring two vegetable, one fish, one meat and two dessert courses. And the treats came thick and fast, starting with a glass of Nyetimber sparkling wine and a pair of amuse-bouche – Twineham cheese on a crumbly biscuit brioche and the savoury explosion of a mushroom doughnut. The ensuing brioche bun, made with Marmite and served with seaweed butter kept cool on a beach pebble, deserved its own place on the tasting menu – packed with umami flavour and a butter which melted away with the consistency of foam.

When the first course of broccoli-cheese arrived it was almost a disappointment compared to what had gone before, as the foamy cheese sauce and spears of broccoli seemed a little ordinary. That was until one discovered the delectable cheese bon-bon hidden under the sauce.

All the courses are named after their two constituent ingredients – although a label like mackerel-gooseberry seemed woefully inadequate for the sharp fruitiness of the gooseberries, the cooling watercress purée and mackerel served two ways: cured and expertly blowtorched on top, and in a gooey tartare tube.

The second vegetable dish, egg-onion, felt cleansing. The duck egg was boiled for 60 minutes at 64 degrees, creating a lovely unctuous yellow yolk served on a blini. The onions were served as a purée and pickled in slices, with chargrilled spring onions and spring onion dust. It was two of the simplest ingredients in the average store cupboard completely reimagined.

In my book it is hard to go wrong with pork – and so it proved with pig-broad bean, a small piece of pork belly cooked for 24 hours until it practically melted under the fork. It was accompanied by luscious deep-fried sage, broad beans, both whole and as a purée, and a generous flourish of dehydrated pork crackling. A heavenly end to the savoury portion of the meal.

At present the six-course tasting menu offers two dessert courses – perfect for anyone in an agony of indecision when the sweet trolley comes around. The chocolate layer cake was slightly overpowered by the perfume of its accompanying earl grey ice cream – the only real wrong note of the whole menu. But the final cherry-crème fraiche was a masterclass in dessert-making. In its entirety it was like a perfect cherry bakewell slice – with crème fraiche piped into the centre of fresh cherries, a light and fluffy crumb and topped by a white chocolate shard.

Steven has been encouraging staff to taste each new menu so they know it backwards themselves from personal experience.

He changes the menu every week. “The suppliers are almost writing the menu for me,” he says. “There is some great produce out there – I just let the people do their job.” Ingredients are key. “I never use many spices or pepper which is unusual,” he says. “I want the natural flavours to come through.

“If I’m really inspired by a great strawberry it is going to be full of strawberry flavour. I want that flavour to be etched on your memory.”

Need to know

etch is open from 6pm to 9.30pm Wed to Sat, and for lunches from noon to 2pm on Saturday. There are plans for more lunchtime dining on Thursdays and Fridays during December. Private dining is available. Tasting menus start at £40 for four courses, £50 for six and £60 for eight. For a cheese course add £10, and wine flights start from £30 extra up to £50 for eight courses. The eight-course tasting menu is available Friday and Saturday evenings, four courses Wednesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday lunches.

etch. Restaurant, 216 Church Road, Hove, BN3 2DJ, 01273 227485;