“Exceptional in every way. Each dish wowed us with seamless balanced flavours which are only fair to be compared with the very best restaurants in Brighton!”
I love Chinese food. I love it more than any type of cuisine going and I suffer from cravings, which at times I simply cannot keep at bay. My wife Sally, however, isn’t as keen, so being a gentleman I often have to make sacrifices and go with her choice for our Friday night takeaway. Last week whilst shopping in town we passed Gars, and the heady scents rising from the doorway brought my cravings back with a vengeance. I have not been to Gars in over twenty years myself, but memories of my last experience came flooding back and I thought it was high time I educated Sally in what exceptional Chinese cooking is all about. I did not give her time to protest, as no sooner than these thoughts had entered my head, we were through the door and seated ready to order.
Providing high-end Chinese dining at its finest in the same spot in the heart of Brighton’s historic quarter since 1983 , Gars is a Brighton institution which has stood the test of time like none other. Gars is one of the city’s oldest and most successful independent eateries which every Brightonian will have heard of, or visited at least once in their lifetime. It is the place to go for anyone who demands more from their Chinese experience than greasy plastic containers in a paper bag. Gars is certainly not your typical Chinese restaurant. It is luxuriously decorated with traditional styles meeting contemporary. Elegant floral arrangements adorn the room, whilst gleaming glasses and immaculate sparkling silverware are positioned on the table tops, with modern chandeliers casting intricate light patterns on cosy red and crimson walls. I was in the mood for a feast so I opted to sit in the upstairs dining room on a circular table with s rotating glass plate for the abundance of food I was about to order.
We started with a selection of simply divine Dim-Sum served in traditional bamboo towers which release plumes of scented steam when opened. Each tower revealed jewels of thin wun tun pastry encasing light fillings of either pork, prawn or a divine mix of both, each very individual, incredibly moreish and tasted great dunked in chilli oil and vinegar dip. This was Sally’s first experience of Dim-Sum and she absolutely loved them, though sensibly only had one of each to save room for the rest of the gargantuan order I had placed, meaning my ‘appetiser’ consisted of twelve dumplings to myself, which I swiftly devoured.
Our starters arrived as I popped the last dumpling into my mouth; a heavenly mixed platter of delicately flavoured chicken satay, some of the fattest prawn toast I have ever seen, giant crisp and juicy tempura king prawns, and incredibly tender and tangy salt and pepper spare ribs. I could see Gars was starting to win Sally over, as she greedily chomped on the giant prawn toast which barely fitted in her mouth. I still had the lion’s share however, as Sally knew we had some crispy duck coming, which is usually the only thing she will eat on the rare occasion I manage to wear her down and get to order a Chinese takeaway.
We got halfway through the starters when my cheeky side-order of quick fried squid arrived. This one was all mine as I have not yet been able to get my fussy wife to try anything with tentacles. Tender and succulent pieces were spiced to perfection with salt, pepper and chilli and expertly cooked with just the right amount of bounce in the bite before they melt on the tongue. I could see Sally eyeing the dish up, as the smells emanating from bowl were irresistible. Holding a small piece in my chopsticks up to her mouth, she hesitated briefly before munching down on it. The look on her face said it all. Sally was impressed!
Sally was visibly excited when the duck pancakes arrived. I was beginning to struggle, but soldiering on was easy when presented with this classic dish done so well! The duck was incredible, juicy and tender plump strips of meat, with the crispy outer layer which we all know and love, some of the richest hoi-sin sauce I have tasted, along with crunchy slivers of spring onion and cucumber. I always tend to overload my pancakes so the contents end up bursting out and making a mess of the table. Today was no exception and Sally looked slightly embarrassed as she nibbled on her expertly rolled delicate creations. My favourite bit; gnawing the last bits off the bone after dipping it in the sauce.
I started to think I might have been a bit greedy at this point. I decided to unbuckle my belt as the mains arrive. First out was a sizzling fillet steak in black bean sauce, which emanated an aroma that filled my nostrils and awakened a hunger in me that even I did not think would be possible! An absolute triumph of a dish, it consisted of tender morsels of melt in your mouth steak and a punch-packing peppery sauce. Prawns in Ginger and chilli and Ginger are perfection on a plate, incredible sweetness and zingy chilli do a merry dance on the tongue as you bite down on the chunky juicy tender shrimp. The dishes are served with sides of buttery smooth and fluffy egg-fried rice and Singapore noodles brimming with meat and seafood, so much so it could easily hold its own as a main dish itself.
After ploughing through a generous plate each, we had to admit defeat. Our waiter could see we were struggling so he kindly offered to pack what was left in a doggy-bag for us. My breakfast was sorted for the following day! As we left, I managed to get Sally to admit that she thoroughly enjoyed herself and absolutely loved the food. At least now I know that when my cravings appear again, I know I will be able to take the wife to Gars. Despite having visited Gars previously, albeit not for a while, I had forgotten just how superior the chef’s skills are here compared to even my favourite takeaways. In fact, every dish we enjoyed wowed us with seamless balanced flavours that would fairer to compare with the very best restaurants in Brighton. The comprehensive drinks menu, incredibly hospitable service and obdurate attention to detail only adds to my previous statement. Exceptional in every way!