The place: Foodilic, 163 Western Road, Brighton, BN1 2BB. Tel: 01273 760 190.
The glowing symbol of a big, juicy tomato attached to a vine might give some clue to what awaits at the new branch of Foodilic in Brighton. Step inside, and you’ll enter a health-foodie heaven of multi-coloured salad mountains, freshly-squeezed juices, organic free-range chicken, interesting savoury pastries and an irresistible line up of cakes created daily on-site.
The original Foodilic opened in North St, Brighton in 2009, offering the same healthy and nutritious food, but with a self-serve buffet operation. Foodilic Western Road, which opened in May, is really the new face of the brand. The help-yourself buffet has gone, but the great value hasn’t.
It’s designed to be a friendly, open-early, close-late operation (from 0700 to 2300 six days a week, with shorter hours on Sunday) serving up ‘delicious and nutritious’ food to the masses, one spoonful at a time. Owner Peter Ilic, a restaurateur from the former Yugoslavia who’s been creating dining concepts in the UK for the past three decades, has plans to create a chain of Foodilics in the next few years. A third site is due to open on London’s Kings Cross in a couple of months’ time, with other locations currently being considered.
With pale wood floors, furniture and countertops hewn from Serbian tree trunks, plain white walls and high ceilings, the new site has an organic, laid-back, welcoming feel. We arrived for a late lunch on a Monday afternoon, and the place was animated and lively, with people dropping in for a quick bite or ordering food to go. It felt like a cool place to be, staff seemed happy in their work, people were being served quickly and efficiently, and there was also ample seating.
As we entered, there was a great piece of food theatre happening at the food counter. Pastry chef Zaya, originally from Mongolia, was stretching out her filo pastry with a zen-like concentration (yet still finding time to smile at passing diners), filling it with a variety of concoctions and rolling it up ready for baking. These were Foodilic’s signature feuilletes, baked filo pastry rolls with a variety of appealing savoury (like a trio of shitake, oyster and button mushrooms) plus a few sweet (like sweet roasted pumpkin) fillings.
The problem with walking into a place like Foodilic is that I immediately go into indecisiveness meltdown. So much delicious-sounding food chalked up on those giant blackboards, and only so much room on my plate! Luckily Foodilic’s amiable manager Petr Blecha was on hand to guide me and my two and a half dining companions (two adults and a one-year-old) through the food selection.
Between us we went for a few salads, including raw beetroot salad, mango and avocado salad with dill (my little boy had almost gobbled this all up before I even tasted it), celeriac caesar salad, cauliflower salad (with quinoa, pomegranate seeds and pine nuts, this was really delicious), and juicy stuffed pimentos.
We sat down at our table with full plates and I wondered whether we’d perhaps been given over generous portions for review purposes. However, after half an hour of watching other diners come and go I could see everybody else enjoying equally abundant platefuls.
All our choices were super fresh and tasty, and I found myself later wandering back to the main counter to take notes on ingredients with a view to recreating some of the dishes at home. Every ingredient was listed alongside each dish, so people with gluten or dairy intolerances would know exactly what to choose. Salads were charged by the spoonful, starting at £1.40 eat-in.
My partner tried a hot option – Coq au Vin with green beans and rice. The beans were a deep green and crunchy, and the chicken was moist. Some other non-veggie options included beef casserole with rice and beans, and salmon with a pomegranate glaze. Our friend tried the vegetable moussaka, which was rich and tasty and got a big thumbs up from her.
We couldn’t ignore the feuilletes being so loving created by the cheerful Zaya. Pastries are so often filled with boring, predictable ingredients, but these were different. We chose a Crab and Ginger feuillete which had a very rich, deep flavour, as well as Salmon and Sorrell, plus Cottage Cheese with Marscapone and Sorrel (no complaints about these). Customers could choose four feuilletes for £3.50.
For drinks, we all opted for varying mixes of fresh juice (mine was beetroot, pineapple and cucumber) which were temptingly displayed in a rainbow of colours in containers on the counter, and very reasonably-priced at £3.50 dine-in. They looked promising, but sadly none of them delivered on flavour. It seemed to me that the juices were being pressed regularly throughout the day and kept in unchilled containers before serving. That meant they needed topping up with a large portion of ice, which immediately watered down the taste.
However, it’s a problem that’s easily remedied, and something Foodilic should really address. I do think customers would probably be happy to pay a little more for something that was pressed to order straight into an ice-cold glass – giving it little time to oxidise and ensuring maximum nutrient content and taste. The power of a great juice is addictive, and can only serve to attract lots of customers if done right.
Let us eat cake!
To finish we could not resist cake – but what to choose? There was a large, mouth-watering selection of sweet things on display. We went for a New York style cheesecake with blueberries (it passed the three-and-a-half mouth taste test); a Coffee and Almond cake – which would normally be my favourite but this time it was topped by the Aubergine and Pecan cake. I’ve never experienced aubergine in a cake before, but it was sweet, moist and the out-and-out winner. The tasty coffee was also Fairtrade and Organic – so another big tick there.
It’s clear that Foodilic takes food very seriously. The new branch has two dedicated salad chefs, two pastry chefs and two dessert chefs. Blecha says the cafe will increasingly start to serve more raw food (food not heated above 37 deg C, often prepared in a special dehydrator), in an attempt to offer Brighton consumers more nutrient dense and inventive food. Many of Foodilic’s salads already contain all raw ingredients, and there are a few offerings like raw burgers and cakes (I’m told the raw chocolate mocha cake is extremely good).
Raw food is still a bit of a niche market, even in Brighton and London, but Foodilic has noble intentions to educate palates and I applaud it for being pioneering in this area. As owner Peter Ilic says: “Having observed the health-consciousness of people in Britain, it became clear that dull and tasteless healthy products were forcing more and more people to seek the tasty ‘junk’ food alternatives. The Foodilic concept aims to provide tasty foods, which also have health benefits – like our range of raw salads.
“The raw food market is massive in the USA and it is starting to open up here in the UK. We want to be at the forefront of bringing the benefits of raw food to the UK market. Once our pilot restaurants have demonstrated their success, we will look to make immediate expansion of the chain.”
‘Bring your own’ to Brighton
While Foodilic has clearly been given a branded makeover on the outside, ready for expansion, it nevertheless has a very warm and non-branded feel on the inside, and I really hope that subsequent openings retain the same feel.
What struck me most was the great selection of fresh food and amazingly good value. For example, a marinated, organic chicken breast with two super fresh salads cost from only £6.60. And you could probably return to the café every day for a couple of weeks and have something different and nutritious each time.
Foodilic also operates as a BYO, so as it’s open late into the evening, you can take along your favourite bottle of vino and pay them a mere £2.50 in corkage. At that price, you could even treat yourself to an organic bottle of wine and still be way ahead of regular licensed alcohol prices.
Blecha adds that Foodilic is also keen to further develop its takeout market, and healthy outside catering for any kind of event, from children’s parties to weddings.
Hopefully you’ll be seeing Foodilic’s big red tomato in more locations in the future. It offers a beacon of hope in the sea of nutritionally-deficient offerings served up by the big fast food chains. I only hope that as my one-year-old grows into an active schoolboy, all of us mums and dads will be holding parties for our kids at places like this, and not in one of those soulless places with twin arches or a grinning colonel out front.
[Life and Chai was a guest of Foodilic. All views expressed are, as always, those of the author]
Other links: Foodilic’s blog post on its raw food dishes