Subtleties of Indonesian at Warung Tujuh, Brighton

Two days after I landed in England, I strolled along the seafront to East Street (the original eastern boundary of Brighton), turned north, went down the second righthand alley, and ended up at a small Indonesian restaurant recommended by staff at the Artist Residence. Just a little farther down that alley is Pool Valley, a road that was built over a pool at the end of one of the valleys that run toward the sea here. In the vicinity of the pool the original fishing village grew up, a sleepy place until it was discovered and turned into a resort town in the 1700s. As Lydia Bennet says of Brighton in Pride and Prejudice (1813), “A little sea-bathing would set me up forever.”

In April, however, eating inside is much more comfortable than swimming in the sea, and the quiet late lunch I had enhanced that feeling.

Warung Tujuh interior Brighton UK April 2014

Warung Tujuh literally means “Stall 7,” a “Warung” being a stall that sells street food in Indonesia, and “Tujuh” (Toojoo) meaning 7. There was only one other group in the restaurant, and the waiter was tall and handsome. When I asked him to recommend something adventurous, he didn’t really seem to get what I meant and pointed out the popular dishes. Everything I ordered had a subtle blend of flavors, and although the Sambal Tempe Teri had the most heat, it was by no means hot.

After some consultation with the waiter, I chose Sate Lilit for a starter, a Balinese dish made from ground swordfish and seasonings grilled over charcoal on a lemongrass skewer. The swordfish cake tasted smoky and had a firm texture, but I noticed that the Sambal Oelek—a basic Sambal (condiment) made of chiles, vinegar, and salt that may be in your refrigerator right now—was mild. Perhaps it was the tourist Sambal?

Warung Tujuh Sate Lilit Brighton UK April 2014

Ikan Bumbu Bali came next, a pan-fried sea bream covered with a Bumbu (spice mixture) sauce consisting of tamarind, turmeric, sweet soya sauce, candlenut (so called because the fruit can be burned like a candle), lemongrass, and shallots. The much milder sea bream, moist with a light crust, went well with the tangy sweet-sour sauce.

Warung Tujuh Ikan Bumbu Bali Brighton UK April 2014

I should have stopped with those two dishes, but the Sambal Tempe Teri sounded so good that I had to try it. The subtle anchovy taste withstood the medium heat, and the crunchy bits of tempe contrasted with the softer textures of the rest of the meal.

Warung Tujuh Sambal Tempe Teri Brighton UK April 2014

Toward the end of the meal, the waiter asked me if I was traveling alone, and I said yes, I had wanted to try traveling alone in a familiar place before I went to Asia in 2015. He said he would be too lonely traveling alone. At this point I was the only lunch customer left, and the sound system was playing hip-hop. Warung Tujuh, unlike some other restaurants, did not add a tip to the bill, but I left him one anyway, and made my way down East Road toward the Lanes and the Royal Pavilion, turning once to look back at the sea.

East Street, The Lanes, Brighton, UK April 2014