From the vintage glamour of its promenade, beach and pier to its burgeoning food scene, Brighton draws summer weekenders from London in their droves. Here’s how to make the most of a break in this iconic British seaside town.
Where to eat
No trip to the British seaside would be complete without a plate of chips. But, this being Brighton, even the chips have had a hipster makeover. BeFries, a Belgian style chippie with a choice of 22 sauces and a bunch of beers, takes this British staple onto an entirely new plain. Chef and co-founder Chan Beevers, who’s cooked for the Queen at Coutts, as well as working at Zuma, and Duck & Waffle, is the man behind the sauces made in-house. The Black Truffle Mayo and Basil Mayo are both to die for – they’re also vegan, and due to be stocked in Planet Organic, so even if you aren’t a fan of fries, the sauce alone is well worth a punt.
In the evening we eat at The Chilli Pickle, an Indian restaurant founded ten years ago by Brighton boy Alun and his partner Dawn. In an age of uproar over cultural appropriation, it’s a miracle The Chilli Pickle hasn’t been picketed out of existence, but it would take an army of social justice warriors to ward off the throng of customers. It comes as no surprise to learn that Alun – a chef of 20 years – had a spell at acclaimed Indian restaurant The Cinnamon Club.
For elevenses, break up your shopping spree in the very best of Brighton’s vintage shops with a slice of carrot cake and a caramel iced coffee at artisan bakery The Flour Pot.
Riddle & Finns, where we head for lunch, is a Champagne and Oyster Bar that’s been open since 2006. I’ve promised myself I’ll avoid the bread, but the taramasalata, and mackerel pate that it’s served with means my will power doesn’t stand a chance. Riddle & Finns is the seafood stalwart of Brighton, and I suspect my enjoyment would only be topped at its newer branch, which has a terrace overlooking the beach.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the seaside without an ice-cream, and Boho Gelato comes highly recommended. Judging from the queue, I’m clearly not the only one to hear about the handmade Italian style ice-cream. With flavours like Blackcurrant Cheesecake or Peanut Butter Sea Salt Caramel, the crowds are no surprise.
Another option for dinner is Cin Cin – an Italian restaurant where the pasta is made on site, by hand. Like many of the best Brighton businesses, the popularity of the first site has led to a second, and Cin Cin can be found on both Vine Street (in the North Laine area) and Western Road, which heads towards Hove. But they’re both in walking distance of Brighton beach, so we saunter along to the Western Road restaurant, where we sip Prosecco on their terrace, in the sun. My gazpacho with local crab is divine, and it’s followed by a beautiful strozzapreti pasta with Taleggio cheese, hispi cabbage and sweet red onion from Tropea in Southern Italy.
Where to shop
Brighton is heaven for those with a taste for independent shops and vintage boutiques. The lanes – its most famous quarter – is a network of winding alleyways full of quirky shops unique to Brighton.
Wax Factor on Tidy Street is the perfect place to grab a book for the beach. With everything from Iain Banks to Ian Fleming, Alan Bennett to Stephen Fry, and Roald Dahl to F. Scott Fitzgerald, it’s absolute bliss for book lovers – and the best bit is that they do exchanges, so when you’re done, you can bring your book back and swap it for another one.
Across the road, Trafalgar Street’s Madhatters sells everything from Panamas and Stetsons, to hat brushes and fabulous fascinators. While I’m trying on something impractically perfect, a rather suave gentleman strides in to have his top hat shined and adjusted for Royal Ascot. It is all I can do not to note down his number when he gives it to Debbie who’ll be winding out the hat stretcher for him.
Neighbouring Swag is worth a look if you’ve got £800 upwards to spend on an antique French mirror, or a spare £2K to burn on a chandelier, while Hope & Harlequin on Sydney Street sells wedding dresses dating back to the 1900s as well as making them to order from new fabric, using vintage patterns.
Tailor Gresham Blake (worn by David Gandy to the GQ Style party) can be found on Bond Street, and Mister Smith on New Road sells fabrics and wallpapers from Mulberry Home, Colefax and Fowler, Osbourne & Little, Nina Campbell and Cole & Son, amongst others.
What to see
The 2003 fires, which may have been arson, have left a charred wreck of the West Pier some distance from the shore, but in its place, a new “vertical pier” has been built, in the form of the British Airways i360 – a doughnut shaped viewing pod which reaches 450ft (20ft higher than the London Eye). While taking in views of Beachy Head and the Isle of Wight, you can grab a Brighton Gin & Tonic or “Rocktail” (apparently a G&T with a stick of rock thrown in) while you’re up there.
After our descent, I take a stroll along the beach, past Volk’s railway which is apparently the oldest electric railway in the world. And no trip to Brighton would be complete without a snoop around its famous royal pavilion and a ride at its deliciously kitsch fairground on the Brighton Palace Pier.
Where to stay
Each room in Hotel Pelirocco – a Grade II listed townhouse – is individually themed. “The Pin-up Parlour” with its chaise longue and antique telephone by the bed, is a shrine to Diana Dors, while homage is paid to Quadrophenia in a room with Mod must-have khaki parkas in lieu of dressing gowns, and bedside tables fashioned out of scooters.
Just a few doors down from Hotel Pelirocco, Artist Residence is a boutique hotel in a listed townhouse – but its position in Regency Square means that it directly faces the seafront. It is also conveniently next door to Michelin Guide restaurant The Set. The rooms in the hotel have all been designed by different artists and our twin room is the work of V&A exhibitor Charlie Anderson. But if you’re coming as a couple, the room to go for is 21, aka “Bigger Balcony Sea View.” With a free-standing bath by the windows that open onto the balcony, you can roll out of the four-poster bed and sit outside at the table for two, looking out at the sea.
For unrivalled old school luxury, head to The Grand – the seafront facing hotel that survived a bombing when the IRA attempted to assassinate Margaret Thatcher at the 1984 Conservative Party conference. Large balconies and sea views abound in this classic Brighton outfit and, with a two-course set lunch menu available for only £10 a head, it makes for a great place to dine too.
Drakes, a seafront facing hotel with a peaceful, airy bar, is another stellar option for weekenders. With telescopes in the windows, and free-standing baths in the beach-facing bedrooms, this Grade II listed Georgian townhouse is apparently favoured by Kylie. Yep, Kylie Minogue. Offering “love hampers” containing “erotic accessories” along with Champagne and chocolates, baths can be run to order, and scattered with rose petals on arrival.
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