Since opening in Lewes 2001, Bill's has taken off, representing everything that is great about the modern cafe. Now also to be found in Brighton's north lanes, this restaurant/cafe/green grocer is never without hoards of customers.
As well as being a truly global market and deli, the restaurant also opens first thing in the morning, offering a host of organic breakfasts or sweets. Going on throughout the day, Bill's offers daily specials as well as a lunchtime and evening menu.
Examples of some of the great things to be found here are 'Thai spiced pumpkin and coconut curry' a delightful mezze comprised of dishes like babaganoush and feta cheese.
Whether you visit Bill's in Lewes or Brighton, expect it to be extremely busy. It is worth it though.
Bill's is an amazing place to take someone who is visiting you from some lesser county where they don't have expensive greengrocerly fantasias - the cultivated cornucopian atmosphere is truly inspired and remains so despite the corrosive passage of time. Everything about the experience - from the carefully selected artisan products that line the walls to the heaps of fresh produce heaped in the (unfortunately shrinking) retail area - screams freshness and flavour and the joys of a perennial harvest festival at the kind of primary school where none of the kids ever have to bring tinned smartprice beans.
So why only three stars? Well, first, the shrinking of the retail section is a shame. I can't fault the decision on a business level, but I think the effect on the overall feeling of the place has been diminishing - I preferred it when it was half shop/half cafe. Now it is a cafe with a gift shop and (secondly) I've never been that convinced by the cafe.
The food is good - to an extent. But they have a habit of reinventing wheels in their authoring of recipes and I've always found that dishes seem to have one ingredient more than they need. You're forever finding an extraneous cardamon pod in your hollandaise or some other such addition that seems like a good idea in principle but that mainly serves to suggest that, here, the concept is the most important thing.
It is a good concept, but sometimes you wonder if it might not be improved if the actual food shared equal billing with it.
Go there, especially if you are showing off to visitors. You'll like the first visit loads; and the second - but maybe around the sixth or seventh you'll look down at the toasted walnuts in your yoghurt on top of the strawberries and bananas and seeds on your pancake and just wonder if, in life, it might be possible to have too much of one too many good things.
Three large buttermilk pancakes
Sprinkled with fresh blueberries, strawberries, banana and mango.
A pinch of toasted seeds and nuts.
A scoop of good quality ice-cream with vanilla flecks.
Great quality maple syrup dripped over all of it.
Sounds good, right?
Problem is, there was only one portion left and some other lucky bastard had ordered it!! Luckily, they had my second choice available - a mezze plate with olives, feta, melon, humous, guacamole, babaganouish and grilled bread. Was it worth the 15 minute wait and sharing the table with two others? It was lip-smackingly deeeeeeelicious.
Only four starts? Controversial, I know, but let me tell you why...
Its not because I don't love it, Bill's is a fantastic place to come for brunch or lunch. The food is great and they have started doing larger lunch specials such as lamb shank as well as the normal menu and the lighter meals and the great breakfasts). Today I went for the baked salmon with crushed new potatoes and hollandaise sauce - beautifully pink inside, cooked to perfection. I was too full for a pudding but my friends obliged, one having "the best pavlova" she had ever tasted (I tried some, it was damn good!)
I don't even mind the fact that you have to queue for a table, it doesn't take that long and its worth the wait.
The staff are friendly and helpful and the prices reasonable.
My only slight niggle is that it has moved away from its original premise - Bill's started out as a local greengrocer, which then went on to provide food. Over the years, the restaurant got bigger and bigger, and the shop area smaller and smaller until it now only covers one wall as you walk in. Its no longer somewhere that you can walk into and browse at all the scrumptious produce. I loved this cafe-shop combo, and am already missing it now that it seems to be being fazed out.
I'll never forget the happy day that I stumbled upon Bill's for the first time...I was strolling through Lewes town centre with my mum, about to set off on a country walk, when suddenly we were confronted with what we thought was a weird and wonderful fruit and veg shop. Further investigation unearthed a lovely little adjoining café with incredible looking desserts and sandwiches piled up behind the counter. When a waitress walked past us with a fruit crush and a bowl of pavlova, we delayed the walk and sat down for lunch. Our food was so delicious (quiche and pizza served with various unusual side salads) that we returned post-walk for cake and tea!
I was really excited when Bill's opened in Brighton and although the space is equally as beautiful and the food is just as exciting, I still pine wistfully for the original little Lewes café, every time I eat there. Maybe its because the Brighton branch is so achingly cool and so obviously popular. The Lewes café felt like my little secret, and whilst yes, it is now very popular, its genius is understated and it just feels a little more unexpected and for that reason, all the more special, nestled amongst the sleepy streets of Lewes. Maybe I'm clinging on to romanticized memories, but I'm sure the food is better too!
I absolutely love Bill's. It's always a good sign if there are a bunch of people waiting outside a restaurant because good things rarely go unnoticed for an extended period of time, I think. Although the prices are a little expensive, you know where the money goes when you taste the food. The food is fresh and organic, and some would consider that posh, but somehow the grocery store/restaurant still retains a quaint charm somewhat like a really busy bed and breakfast in the countryside. The staff are all young and friendly that genuinely care about your comfort while you're eating, so service was top-notch and the atmosphere is warm and inviting.
I went in for breakfast/brunch and ordered the all-day breakfast that consisted of two big buttered slices of toast topped with two sunny side up eggs, side of bacon, sausage, tomato and mushroom. All washed down with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Needless to say, after the meal I had to be carted out of there because I was too full from the fairly large portion of food. It was the perfect start to a great day of exploring in the town of Lewes
You wouldn't think you could beat the Bill's in Brighton, but this, the Lewes Bill's, the original Bill's, outstrips it. Where to start?! Firstly, I would like to get married here it is so beautiful and charming. It's one large room with fruit and veg beautifully presented down one end, ceiling high shelves of pretty tins, oils, jams, a spiral staircase....sigh...and then the other half of theroom filled with black wooden tables. It is much smaller and cosier than the warehouse converted Brighton version. However, because of it's smaller more intimate size, it can also get incredibly busymand full of hub-bub. Most of the time I love that, it cheers me up and makes me feel I am in the thick of it. Sometimes it does make me curse the well-heeled locals out for lunch, making me queue for a table! The food is just as good as Brighton- in fact the eggs benedict are always better, better hollandaise, better poached eggs.
I love Bill's. The food of course is excellent but it is the staff who make it such an enjoyable experience. They are genuinely nice and even though the place is always busy they are attentive (but not overly so) and charming, I was on my own today and normally that would make me feel awkward and slightly self concious but there is such a buzz to Bill's that I felt perfectly relaxed and happy. I had Eggs Benedict that was sooo good and a pot of tea. I cannot speak highly enough about the tea. A simple enough thing to prepare but all too often it is disappointing, the tea I had today at Bill's was perfection. So in conclusion 5 stars for everything, the food, the staff, the ambience and of course the tea.
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