We love it when a company doesn’t just speak to a trend but goes all out. Take Veganuary for example. Instead of offering just a couple of vegan specials, neighborhood gem Cin Cin has ditched all meat and fish for a month — instead, most of the Italian dishes on its January menu are vegan and the rest vegetarian. And there is not a single fake meat in sight. It’s a bold decision, but it’s definitely paid off.
We headed to their casual Hove restaurant on a Tuesday night (best day to go if you’re looking for bargains as you can take advantage of their £10 pasta and wine/beer/soft drink) and as always had a very warm welcome. It’s a small space, but whether you’re in a more secluded back room, at the bustling counter around the open kitchen (for the best view of the chefs in action), or tucked away in a corner behind a door. found that you get the same excellent service.
Whenever we’re in an Italian restaurant, we like to start things off with an aperitif, and for us it has to be a negroni. Cin Cin’s has been kicked up a notch, taking us back to the good side of the pandemic days when we ordered their pre-mixed cocktails to celebrate their Italian finish. They have a small but perfectly crafted selection (amaretto sour is another favorite) and a well-curated wine list as well. It was a school night for us, so we just stayed together.
To buy us some precious decision-making time (we were with a vegetarian who was so happy she could eat absolutely everything on the menu it gave her decision-making paralysis), we ordered all the snacks – Nocellara olives marinated in lemon, chilli and garlic; pesto focaccia; and panelle with truffle ricotta and balsamic onion.
If you’re picky, the warm focaccia could have done with a bit more pesto, but the panelle (Sicilian fritters made from chickpea flour) were excellent, the onions cutting beautifully through the rich, earthy truffle sauce.
To the actual beginning…
Appetizers unpacked, we moved on to appetizers and opted for the vegan crema di cec, grilled Brussels sprouts, crostini and radicchio, and roasted butternut squash with vegetable sarancino and Gorgonzola with walnut and sage dressing.
We loved the combination of textures and flavors in the vegan brussels sprout appetizer, from perfectly cooked al dente cabbage (no soggy animals here) to crispy crostini on a bed of delicate crema di ceci, velvety hummus.
But it was the arancino that stole our hearts and stomachs. Cin Cin is – quite rightly – known for their arancini, so we had high hopes for this vegetarian goodness. And luckily, we weren’t disappointed. Creamy, cheesy and incredibly fresh, we could have easily ordered another, but there was just too much to try.
And the main event…
We ended up choosing two vegetarian options, but we’ll definitely be back to try the other vegan entrees (especially the salt-fried celeriac with black truffle sauce, which sounds delicious).
The handmade chestnut pizzoccheri (Cin Cin’s take on the Lombardy pasta dish) with fontina, celeriac and January king cabbage was perfectly cooked and full of flavour, buttery chestnut, sweet celery and nutty Fontina in delicious harmony.
Our second choice was gnocchi with green leek-pepper sauce and shallots. For us, this was a wonderful winter dish: creamy, but zesty.
It’s fair to say we’d probably eaten enough at this point, but we’re pudding lovers and have never knowingly said no to the question “Would you like to see the dessert menu?”.
The chocolate, spiced red wine-poached pear and caramel millefoglie was a decadent treat, with the pear the perfect foil for the rich chocolate and sweet caramel. A high-quality Christmas on a plate.
Pistachio semifreddo with vanilla shortbread and Campari-soaked blood orange was another great flavor combination, teasing us with sweet and bitter notes from the shortbread base’s nutty pistachio and buttery crunch to tangy orange.
As for the puddings, we disagreed on which one was our favorite, so we can’t advise you there. Suffice it to say, you really can’t go wrong.
You know what we also love about Cin Cin? Service. It is always prompt, warm and considerate without ever being intrusive. And tonight was no exception. Excellent service is the icing on the proverbial cake, or torta, if you like. It’s infuriating when sloppy service ruins a good meal. And that’s definitely not happening here.
We’ve also always learned new Italian words after dining at Cin Cin – so you don’t have to google it next time boiled is a Tuscan bread soup. Oh, and the laid-back restaurant is also dog-friendly – just be careful not to bring a pooch.
In short: Whether you’re already vegan or vegetarian, or just want to eat a little less meat or fish, Cin Cin’s January menu is a great shout out to showcase the incredible versatility of vegetables. If the taste is this good, who needs meat?
Vegan à The a la carte menu is available at Cin Cin in Hove and London until 31 January. However, we would get a reservation sharp, especially if you plan to go on a Tuesday. They also have a vegan chef’s menu of the month with five courses costing £45 per person and an optional wine flight for £35.
Want (even) more Cin Cin in your life? Then head to their sixth birthday celebration on January 18, when they’ll team up with Passione Vino wines for a six-course pairing menu that explores Northern Italy.
Open Tuesday to Saturday; dogs allowed
60 Western Road, Hove, BN3 1JD