Based in the enviable location at the end of Preston Street it overlooks the i360, the remaining bits of the West Pier, and of course a lot of lovely sea.
We visited on a day which had seen some cruel deluges on Brighton Pride celebrations, but as local papers have always like to say, failed to ruin the fun of what seemed like several billion Pride party-goers.
Amid the Bacchanalian revels and Biblical downpours, we arrived at Zarqa, which is nestled in a Preston Street/seafront sweet-spot, which was all too briefly the home of the Mexican Tlaloc.
Zarqa is also part of the Brighton branch of Hotel Selina, a hotel/hostel chain which has more than 100 sites across the world and styles its locations as ‘lifestyle experiential hotels for Millennials and Gen-Z’.
Selina describes its Zarqa restaurants as ‘a modern take on traditional Middle Eastern and Arabian flavours’ and says they have been successful in other global locations.
The Selina group is Israeli-founded, and Zarqa’s manager Guy also hails from Israel, and he has helped oversee the menu and restaurant which opened just a few months back in May.
There’s a nice feel to the place, obviously aided by the sea views, and the big windows overlooking the sea meant that even in the gloom of a disappointingly grey August day it was relatively light inside.
The decor is simple with bright and breezy blues and pinks, and orange washed walls, and plenty of greenery to soak up those seafront rays..
On our visit we were looked after by the effervescent Benjamin, who himself was a brilliant advert for the venue and the Hotel Selina group, fantastically welcoming and engaging, and knew the menu backwards.
There were of course a few nods to Pride, with a special menu for the day, including a the suitably-themed cocktail Cheers to Charity, made up of gin, limoncello, homemade raspberry gazoz (a Turkish soda sweetened with fruit syrup) of which 100 per cent of the profits went towards the MindOut!, a mental health service for the LGBTQ community.
I chose the enlivening Marga-Zarqa (when in Rome and all that), the venue’s signature margarita, a powerful beastie made up of Tequila blanco, triple sec, well mixed with lemon and pomegranate.
There’s a good sized evening menu which somewhat cheesily proclaims ‘Welcome to the Middle Feast’ but the variety of the dishes made up for the poor punning.
It’s a small plates/picnicky set up, and a selection of dishes seemed the sensible play given the number of eminently desirable options.
First up came our second entry from the Pride menu, a pretty in pink plate of hummus. Presumably pinked up by some beetroot and pepped up with the addition of a preserved lemon dressing, served with a chick pea salad, warm pitta and some rather ace golden chippies (hummous and chips, there are definitely worse ideas than that).
Next up was a new addition to the menu, and backing up Zarqa’s pre-opening claim of aiming to use only fresh, locally sourced ingredients was Drop a Beet – a nice-looking plate of seasonal beetroot.
The roasted sweet slices of red and golden beets worked well with a creamy and slightly salty whipped feta and the spice of sprinkling of dukkha (a Middle Eastern spice, seed and nut mix), but the additional pomegranate molasses were a tad too sweet for my taste.
Conversely, the pomegranate molasses were perfect for a funky and imaginatively little dish entitled Aubrulée (a Portmanteau of aubergine and brulée) pureed aubergine topped with a slab of goats cheese.
The melted cheese, smokiness of the veg combined more favourably with the molasses.
Best dish of the day, and one that I’d implore everyone make a beeline for, was the King Zarqa-Arka – a superb creation of prawns cooked in arak (a Middle Eastern anis spirit) fiflel chuma (a Libyan Jewish chilli paste), tomatoes, coriander and served with thick slices of toasted Jewish challah bread.
It was brilliantly balanced, buttery dish with a subtle taste of aniseed and the occasional herby zing. The big crustaceans were polished off in a trice and the dish was mopped free of any trace of the superb sauce.
Post-cocktails we glugged a couple of beers, my dining chum went for a pint of Beavertown’s lively, hoppy Neck Oil IPA, I opted for the calmer, relatively light Belgian Bavo lager.
Pudding provided not only another chance for a portmanteau but also for a Middle Eastern savoury staple to make a rare appearance on the sweet menu.
Balaganage is fun combo of halva, caramelised banana, black tahini, pistachio and vegan ice cream.
The earthiness of the tahini comes through loud and clear but at the same is transformed by its sweet playmates, and made for a nice pud with some interesting textures.
We finished with a nip of L’Hostia, a herbal Catalan liqueur, recommended by Benjamin, which is described as an ‘elixir that will: ‘lead us into temptation and deliver us from evil’, the latter remains to be seen.
Zarqa is a unshowy but comfortable venue, with a peerless and mostly pier-less view, and a sparky, interesting menu that will appeal to Milennials, Gen Zedders and anyone who appreciates excellent service and a creative approach to fresh Middle Eastern food.