Tucked at the end of a narrow alley off Middle Street, opposite The Victory pub, is the secretive Twisted Lemon, one of the most bizarre restaurants I’ve visited in Brighton. Unless you’re paying attention, you’ll miss it – only a large sandwich board on the side of the road ensures it’s not completely out of sight, out of mind. On a Sunday afternoon, when a quick glance through the windows of every restaurant in sight revealed that every man and his dog was taking advantage of the weather, it came as something of a shock to be the only two people in Twisted Lemon.
To his credit, the barman was immediately attentive, asking us how he could help us. With bare tables in front of us, and a stairway disappearing up into darkness, we hesitantly replied that we were after food. After subtly letting us know that it was happy hour on cocktails, he bade us sit down and unleashed half a dozen laminated menus on us. We sat down, bewildered, both uneasy at the fact that we were the only two people in the establishment.
The burger chose itself, really – the most expensive, biggest-sounding concoction on the menu, the Twisted Tower Burger. When our order was taken, however, the incredibly amiable waiter informed me that they had run out of bacon. No bacon? With a corner shop just down the road, and no patrons in the building, surely it couldn’t have been much trouble to pop out for some? A burger joint without bacon? Unthinkable.
For some reason, the suggested substitute was halloumi. But it turns out that this came at the expense of the cheese too, so my burger was already short of an ingredient when I got it. A quick glance at its size, though, and I wasn’t too perturbed – this monster was compromised of a patty, three onion rings, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, the afore-mentioned halloumi and my own Kryptonite ingredient – raw red onion.
I was starving when I entered Twisted Lemon, so the first few mouthfuls of the Twisted Tower Burger were beautiful things. The patty was chunky and coarse, with the outside just a touch too charred. The bun was light but crispy, solid enough to encapsulate the embarrassment of riches within. But the chewiness of the halloumi began to make the burger a bit of a chore, and the onion rings were soggy, adding an unwelcome element of stodginess to the taste. Mushrooms and lettuce leaves began to spill out like wounds as the burger began to disintegrate. The size though, was immense, and initially the burger needed to be tamed with cutlery before it was manageable enough to pick up with the fingers.
The fries were slightly undercooked and pretty heavy – a side dish that reminded me of chips I might have been served in a school canteen. However, they were plentiful. Whilst £10.95, including the chips, felt like far too much to pay based on quality, I can’t complain too much about value for money. I left several mouthfuls of my burger and a handful of chips, both because I was stuffed and also because everything felt a touch too unhealthy.
My fiancé summed it up perfectly. Twisted Lemon felt like a Student Union. Despite some welcome tunes from Bob Dylan and Mumford & Sons, the atmosphere was just strange. The small number of tables we spied downstairs were all completely barren – condiments, cutlery, sauces were all stacked on the windowsill. Chairs were strewn haphazardly about. The back door was open, letting in the cold February weather. Upstairs, Twisted Lemon might feel more like the part (we didn’t check), but downstairs feels unfinished or an afterthought, as if it’s a late night bar run by kids who decided one day to offer some food and bung a couple of tables in the corner. Having said all that, I really can’t fault the service – the guys that waited on us were very friendly and good-humoured and checked everything was fine with our food very quickly.
Firstly, we were eager to wolf down our food and get out ASAP because we were the only people in the restaurant. We felt like we were ruining the fun of the cluster of staff that had congregated around the bar. But then, bizarrely, as we were mopping up the last of our meals, the place exploded. A group of five guys sat at the table beside us, a group of four girls next to us, and immediately the space became cramped and claustrophobic. A gaggle of people then came in and descended on the bar for the cheap cocktails, and the staff, who were on Easy Street just moments before, were suddenly swamped. From tumbleweed, to being at the centre of a press of people, we’d had enough. So keen were we to escape, we paid at the bar and got out.
Not a bad meal by any stretch, but just a bizarre and amateurish vibe all round; we won’t be returning to Twisted Lemon for a meal. Full marks to the friendly staff, but there was something very discomforting about the whole experience. And… no bacon!
Price: £10.95 (included chips and side salad)
Rating: 3 out of 5