I’m sitting in a restaurant on a side street in Brighton. Having just ordered, I gaze at the décor, which is comprised of several fish tanks resting on the window sills and tables. Amongst the sunken pirate ships, ornate treasure chests and strangely statuesque two inch Poseidons, tiny skeletal-like creatures swim gracefully back and forth. My food arrives – a salad of mixed leaves, sprinkled with those very creatures that are swimming in the tanks around me. I’m in Monkey & Brine, a pop-up restaurant that specialises in dishes made of Sea-Monkeys.
For those unfamiliar with Sea-Monkeys, they’re artificially bred crustaceans that are sold as novelty pets. Their popularity is mainly due to the fact that they are relatively easy to maintain – they initially come in sachets that contain eggs which hatch once they are put in water, and within a matter of weeks, one’s aquarium will be full of these little guys swimming around.
At Monkey & Brine, these crustaceans are getting a second life – as food. Head chef Sam Munroe explains the ethos behind the restaurant:
‘I was staring at my Sea-Monkeys one day and I thought, ‘I could do some really exciting cooking with this stuff.’ I can’t believe it had never occurred to anyone to do this before, they’re the perfect food source – they come preserved, they’re sustainable, they multiply quickly, and they taste great.’
And taste great they certainly do. The Sea-Monkeys provide a satisfyingly savoury crunchiness to my salad, and they are used in other inventive ways through the various dishes served here.
‘A customer favourite is Sea-Monkey three ways: Sea-Monkey hummus, topped with Sea-Monkey za’atar and served with our sourmonkeydough bread which is made from dried and milled Sea-Monkeys. Our specials board is updated regularly – at the moment it’s Sea-Monkey Pil Pil fritters with aioli and dehydrated brine shrimp eggs.’
In a modest unit just off Edward Street, the restaurant is proving to be a hit amongst students, local residents and lawyers from the County Court across the road. I ask Sam about what he thinks about the success of Monkey & Brine and what he has planned for its future:
‘I think people just love simple, locally sourced produce that tastes good. And if they can watch what they’re eating swim around in front of them then that makes the whole process fun too. I think people also appreciate someone being entrepreneurial – that’s what it’s all about now, David Cameron recently said that small businesses having a go is what pumps him up, and although I may not agree with all his policies, I feel that it is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur – especially with all this great produce around. We’re working towards expanding our menu, including desserts such as Sea-Monkey caramel brûlée with dried shrimp brittle, as well as developing our cocktail bar which will serve classics like the seawater daiquiri.’
From the sachet to the plate, Monkey & Brine seems to be going from strength to strength, and I know that I’ll definitely be coming back for dessert.