Milk No Sugar – Pho-licious.

I’m not a fan of cringeworthy double barreled words – but for ‘Milk No Sugar’, the quirky little Viet-styled cafe on Trafalgar Street, I’ll put up with the discomfort. Pho-licious is the word.

After lamenting only a few weeks ago about how ‘Pho’, the chain of Vietnamese street food restaurants, had the monopoly on Viet-cuisine in Brighton – on my way to the train station I noticed a sign outside of ‘Milk No Sugar’ (which has a pretty unassuming shop front) declaring their sale of Pho – how had I missed this? I ventured in a few days later and have since eaten there four times and thought it was time to put a few words to their operation.

If you’ve eaten at ‘Pho’ on Black Lion Street, you’ll know how consistent their taste is and how uniform their dishes (and don’t get me wrong, that’s not always such a bad thing at the level of taste and expectation), as is the nature of any chain where only homogenisation will do. You’ll also probably notice the tired character of their staff. Put it one way, I wouldn’t venture into that kitchen uninvited.

But at Milk No Sugar there’s a different vibe and that’s all through the smiles of Hugo, who I’m assuming is the cafe’s proprietor. He’s bouncy, chatty, says awesome a lot and falls over himself to tell you about their food.

The first time I dined there, just recovering from a few days of feeling under the weather, I demolished two bowls of their Pho: large, meat stock but with tofu (£5.50 a piece). I also sat for Milk No Sugar, Brighton.a few hours writing, soaking it all up: the little cafe has a wicked style – quirky signage hangs from a ceiling that resembles a chalky upside down ice-cube tray, like the interior of some cafeteria chiseled into a starship hangar on some hollowed out moon somewhere. Plumen light-bulbs float over the counter and low-lying sun-scorched metal chairs, characteristic of the smoggy road side tuck-shops in the East, host bums from every walk of life. The eyes glance over the curious beverages and treats on sale – like the ‘nutella-latte’ for instance: sure to make your teeth ache.

My Pho brings all the boys to the yard.. Okay, I'll stop it now.

My Pho brings all the boys to the yard.. Okay, I’ll stop it now.

But the grub is pleasing. The stock of the Pho is well rounded and warm, with tones of cinnamon, roasted ginger and star anise brought out from a well tended stove. Garnished simply, but maybe with not quite enough fresh roughage, it’s nevertheless a dish you’ll return for and a taste you’ll want to share with friends. Hugo took great pride in boasting about the vigour of his vegetarian stock next to the meat and after trying both I agree, they’ve put some thought into getting the tastes right.

Pho @ Milk No Sugar

The rice paper rolls are everything a rice paper roll should be: sticky and crisp for all the right reasons, and shot through with fresh mint and fresh leaves – and not served in bloody cellophane, which is nice. The accompanying condiment, a syrup of heat and tang to drench the dinky rolls in is a treat and Hugo’s obvious pride and joy, as he stood encouraging us to dunk, saying ‘yes, homemade – awesome, yeah?’.

At the end of my meal I turned to my other half and speculated about the ingredients and their quality – for a food-politico, good food means food with Rice Paper Rolls @ Milk No Sugarintegrity at every level, not just in the mouth. But I have to say I don’t think I could bear a reveal of some MSG additive, or some questionable supply chain – which undoubtedly exists: it’s a high street munchery trading at killer prices after all. On leaving, one of my friends muttered along the lines of: well, there’s a lot of love there innit – that makes the food okay, even at the molecular level. He’s woo. I was wooed.

I think for now it’s got to be my guilty little pleasure, my little starship hangar of smiles – coz if it’s sci-fi, it’s okay isn’t it?

Don’t answer that.

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Helmston: A tiny tuck-shop packing a punch of taste.

Helmston is a small vegetarian eatery on the boundary of the North Laine in Brighton – an unassuming little place on the outside, you’ll miss it for some of the more superficially chique, but predictable cafes on Trafalgar Street if you’re not careful.

Tiny Tuck Shop Packing A Punch.

Tiny Tuck Shop Packing A Punch.

This bountiful little trove has been trading for around 7 months now – growing from its humble beginnings as a food stall on Gardner Street’s Saturday market, it’s now tightly packed into a decorative sandwich-bar-style venue, and doing what looks like a good business. The punters who drifted in off the street seemed to know Jazz, the lovely counter man by name – which is always reassuring. Good eats make good community. My mate was already sat munching in the corner – she’s Israeli, knows life and gets food. It was a good sign.

The charming but pokey little venue is dripping in beautiful little oddities: hanging faux-wall lamps made of kitchen utensils, a rolling pin fixed as the door handle and hyper-colour menus draping the limited wall space promote a multitude of vegan / vegetarian fare that seems almost impossibly diverse and plentiful in a space so small. A small shelf in the corner boasts a wonderful selection of raw honey – some sourced in and around Sussex. With spices on sale such as sumac from Palestine: a fizz of a herb, that is tart, zesty and invigorating – apparently good for chicken dishes. In the background ‘chef Andy’, the progenitor of this exotic little tuck shop whistles cheerfully along to the radio as he tends to each meal by order in what looks like an immaculately polished kitchen.

Fun food and novel window displays. Very Brighton.

Fun food and novel window displays. Very Brighton.

But what about the food and beverage? On recommendation as a first-timer, I went with the ‘gado-gado’ (yum-yum) described as ‘hot saute potatoes with spinach, beansprouts, peanut-sauce, broccoli, coriander, tamarind, lime, chilli and more’. And what a recommendation! Served in a quaint little wooden-bowl, it was an opulence of flavour, perfume, colour and texture. Every mouthful was a variation on the one before: a literal firework display of sweet banana and pomegranate, complimenting the more earthy accompaniments of sprouts, spinach, brocolli and peanut – all carried by a kind of dark and rusty undertone of tamarind and pepper and excited by a bite of lime and popping of sumac. It made me sweat pleasingly – not so much from the heat, but from the startling complexity of flavours and texture that made me think ‘how the bloody hell can I put words to this?’.

Indonesian Lushness. Taste Explosion. Legendary Eats.

Indonesian Lushness. Taste Explosion. Legendary Eats.

Then on to the cakes – Jazz on the counter gave me a brief run down of the cakes and pastries on offer before I chose (most of them dairy and gluten free and some savoury too!). I’d reiterate the options, but was so lost in the visuals that I’ve forgotten the body of what he put across. Eventually, I decided on a spelt tart of rhubarb and custard and a raspberry, coconut and chocolate ‘bon-bon’.

Now you know what to do with your redundant kitchen bits. Very Marwood-esque (insider observation).

Now you know what to do with your redundant kitchen bits. Very Marwood-esque (insider observation).

For me, a more traditional grain used in baking shows consciousness and artisanship that encourages my trust as a wary participant in sweet and baked goods (damn food sensitivities). So I was pleased to see spelt used for the tart pastry – and the result was a predictably light, gentle but texture-ful case boasting a buttery summer-glow. The spelt basket was filled with a light custard that to be any more potent would have suggested some artificiality, and topped with a few delicate slithers of pert and cheeky rhubarb that had me sucking my teeth. The little bon-bon was encrusted in a jewelled-pink coconut coat, which when crisped open revealed a sunny yellow center – taste wise: sweet coconut with a hint of rose, which the silk and bitterness of the chocolate tempered well.

Drinks? I had a wheatgrass shot with ginger to begin with – great combination which softened the harshness of the wheatgrass and made me feel super-green. And in the end I finished with a coffee, with hemp milk (God I love Brighton), which was a pleasing finish and sent me well on my way.

Only pink shards remain. We hope Helmston will let us show you some food photos soon - but visit their facebook page in the meantime, it's all there!

Only pink shards remain. We hope the Helmston will let us show you some food photos soon – but visit their facebook page in the meantime, it’s all there!

Overall, smashing little place, intoxicating food and priced well for its location (you can eat well for £5.50 and if you have a tenner, you’re living the dream). Chef Andy wishes to maintain an “air of mystery” around the delights flowing from his kitchen and was a bit sensitive about pictures. To feast your eyes, you’ll have to feast in person. And we reckon that all things considered, that’s not such a bloody bad thing 😉

I asked Jazz about their supply chain ethics and organic considerations before leaving – he gave me his email! I’ll report back.

Overall Octopus Alchemy rating: 9/10

Visit the Helmston’s facebook page here.