The Sussex seaside resort has more to offer than ice cream and sandcastles
We have visited Brighton before. A wonderful time was had by all – but as it had been with the children, it revolved mainly around ice cream shops, the pier and more ice cream shops. Not a bad thing – the perfect English seaside experience in fact. But as we had wandered around the town, we kept spotting lovely restaurants and great looking pubs that we would have patronised in a flash if we didn’t have the precious little darlings in tow. We both thought that a return visit – sans young ’uns – was absolutely required.
We stayed at The Claremont in Hove. Imagine a boutique hotel with none of the pretensions or achingly hip staff who endeavour to make you feel out of your depth. This was like being put up at a friend’s – albeit a friend with a great pad. Aside from the darling hospitality trays, snuggly bathrobes and luxury toiletries they also had cafetières and real coffee in the rooms.
We had a few places in mind that we wanted to try out – but were more than happy to be guided by our helpful host so we wandered along the road to The Ginger Pig for a drink and a bite to eat. This pub has been voted one of the UK’s top ten by GQ, and we certainly had a fabulous meal there – the standouts being the lamb cannon and the rhubarb and custard pavlova. And not a chicken nugget in sight.
The next morning a short but wildly bracing walk along the seafront had us in the heart of Brighton itself. Just back from the coastline is The Lanes – a twisting, meandering mix of alleys and, well, lanes, that house quirky wee independent shops, cafés and galleries. Antique jewellers are cheek by jowl with funky designers. It’s a wonderful place to pootle about, and before you know it, hours have flown by.
Those of you familiar with Choccywoccydoodah from the TV show will understand why we joined the throng outside the boutique chocolatier gaping at its stupendous creations. Teapots, fruit, skulls and flowers, all made from chocolate. Their Bar du Chocolat seemed like the perfect place for a quick pit stop. It has every conceivable way of eating and drinking chocolate and then some. As a sop to the kids left at home, we spent a bit of time shopping. And then a bit more coming up with transport solutions for chocolate dinosaurs and unicorns. You can order by post – which would have been much easier. It seems a near impossible statement, but a person can tire of chocolate, so we decided on some proper food instead.
Mr Turner had spied half a dozen places he fancied as we had wandered around. I look at jewellers, he looks at restaurants – that’s how we roll. We dropped into The Walrus for a reviving mulled cider as we pondered options and the Curry Leaf Cafe over the road tuned out to be our winner – even trumping the offer of slow roasted goose leg that the barman tried to tempt us with.
On our arrival in Brighton, Himself had been drawn to a street food stall in the station which had a smell that – as the great Scottish saying has it – went right round your heart. But, we were running late and he wasn’t able to sample anything, so he was thrilled when he realised that the parent establishment was in The Lanes. Offering traditional South Indian street food, the Curry Leaf Cafe is a Brighton institution. Delights as diverse as the marsala battered fish and chips and the thali platter mean that there is something for everyone, and everything for someone in our case. If only Deliveroo did intercity orders.
Emerging from The Lanes, we found ourselves in front of Brighton Pavilion. Built as a seaside retreat for the Prince Regent, later George IV, this exotic palace with Indian-styled domes and fretwork stands in striking contrast to the Georgian villas that line up from the seafront. Inside it is even more spectacular, and for the best part of an hour we craned our necks to take in the astonishing wall canvases, decorative dome and crystal chandelier of the banqueting room. It’s a place quite obviously built for nothing more than the pleasure and entertainment of its occupants. Taking a leaf out of the prince’s book, we decided to opt for a bit of indulgence ourselves.
Brighton has a reputation as a hub for all things “alternative”, even if those things are hardly alternative nowadays, such as vegetarian food, on which Brighton was well ahead of the curve. Terre a Terre is an award-winning restaurant that dispels any preconceptions of vegetarian food being more worthy than wow, with indulgent dishes as creative as their punning names. Our server, Dirk, talked us through such delights as Sneeking Peeking Steamers, Aubergine Genie and Aloo Sailor. After establishing how hungry we were – and that we weren’t vegetarian – he steered us away from our original choices and towards dishes we wouldn’t have dreamed of ordering. As a result, we had an utterly fabulous meal. I would defy the most die-hard carnivore not to leave here raving about the place.
The next day was as bright and crisp as the first, which was especially welcome given our plan to do some very special sightseeing. We were visiting the British Airways i360, dubbed the world’s first vertical cable car. On a 530ft tower, a viewing pod that looks not unlike a set from Men In Black, rises to 450 feet to offer those inside panoramic views over the South Downs, the coastline and, on a clear day, the Isle of Wight. Download the app before boarding and you can plot your way along 66 miles of coastline as the pod travels up and down. The views are, I’m told, absolutely stunning, but, since I am terrified of heights, I took the opportunity to properly acquaint myself with the wonderful Brighton Gin being served at the centrally located bar. There are even, gulp, Sky Dining nights where you can enjoy a three course meal as you look out over the sparkling evening lights of the Brighton and Hove seafront.
All too soon, it was time for us to head back home. Rest assured though – we’ll be back. Whether or not we bring the children… maybe when they’re older and can enjoy it all as much as we did.
The Claremont, Second Avenue, Brighton and Hove, (theclaremont.eu, 01273 735161) Superior double at £185 per night.
Easyjet flights from Edinburgh to Gatwick start at £28.29. Trains travel directly from Gatwick to Brighton, from £8.80 single
The Royal Pavilion, (brightonmuseums.org.uk) £13 for adults , £7.50 for 5-15-year-olds, with 10 per cent discount for online purchases. An audio guide is free to download to your phone or pay £2 to hire a handset.
British Airways i360: adults £16.50/children £8.50 – 10 per cent discount for bookings 72 hours in advance
Dining out: thegingerpigpub.com, choccywoccydoodah.com, curryleafcafe.com, terreaterre.co.uk