I started a new job back in July, and as much fun as that has been (and thankfully – still is!), sometimes, you need to get away from it all and have a change of scene. Time for a little pre-Christmas trip (yes, you can see that I am a little behind with blogging!). Not being such a fan of the usual travel hassle of using a London airport, and with a trip to Brussels in December ruling out another Eurostar journey, it was going to be a British trip, and what better than the seaside favorite, Brighton?
Funny thing about Brighton is the beach. Not a long strip of powdery, golden sand. It’s pebbles. And that means a walk along the seafront is a good lower body workout. All that effort and the bracing sea air left me utterly exhausted, which was good, given the heroic quantities of food consumed over the weekend. But as you can see, the coast is still quite picturesque, with the ever-changing sea and skies over the English channel.
But first things first – the tourist highlights. Obviously the beach, and there was the obligatory trip to the penny arcade on Brighton Pier. I know piers and arcades are dreadfully naff, but I still like to go in with a couple of pounds, get 100 two pence coins, and play the cascade machines. Once the pennies are gone, I stop. I like the thrill of this sort of gambling, but I am far too sensible to ever waste a serious amount of cash. Sort of a “thrill lite”.
For slightly the more highbrow, the crowning glory is Brighton’s most famous landmark, the Royal Pavillion (below, lit by night). And yes, it does look like an oriental palace has been plonked in the heart of a very British seaside town. What started as a little holiday house for the then Prince Regent back in the 1820s grew to become an ostentatious display of faux-indo-chinese architecture. But still, there is something rather wonderful about this structure, so unexpected. At the moment, there is a skating rink next to the Pavillion, so everything is covered in winter lights and all in all it looks really quite magical.
Of course, for a food lover, another big draw of Brighton was the prospect of visiting a few well-known vegetarian restaurants! Determined to enjoy a menu where I had too much choice to know what to do with, dinner on Friday was in Food for Friends, a bistro-style affair which claims to be the original Brighton veggie restaurant. And I loved it. The decor is fun and fresh, the maze-like shape means the place feels very intimate and cosy, and the food was downright excellent.
We started with a selection of dips (one butternut squash, one beetroot-feta, and one hummus). The butternut in particular was great – cleverly paired with cinnamon and toasted pinenuts – inspired! I also took the chance to enjoy a glass of English sparkling wine from the Ridgeview Estate in nearby Sussex. If you come across this stuff, I highly recommend it. I’ve even had a French friend agree that it was excellent (even if I did hide its English origins when I served it). My starter was a sublime ricotta and spinach bake – soft, creamy and souffle-like, and packing a strong, rich flavour that worked very well in slices of crisp olive-oil coated toast. To balance this, my main was a tasty halloumi-mango salad, which hit the spot. Ripe fruit, an interesting selection of leaves and other “bits and bobs” in the salad (nuts, sprouts etc), and wonderful chunks of creamy halloumi cheese. Yes, creamy rather than just plain salty. However, while I went for salad with all the best intentions, I have to admit that once I finished my main, I then ate someone’s potato gratin and sun-dried tomato beignets. Not because I was hungry, but just because it all tasted so darn good. Having eaten to capacity, dessert was not going to happen (rare for me!), but the staff were obliging enough to offer a sample of their special mulled wine to round off the meal. They have a secret recipe involving fresh ginger, lemongrass, star anise and chili peppers, which makes for an aromatic, warming drink that was perfect for the chilly evening. Delicious!
So all in all – very impressed with Food for Friends, and will happily go back next time I am in Brighton. In fact, I was so impressed, I went back the next day, and picked up a copy of their cookbook. Beautiful pictures and some very inspirational recipes, from quick’n’tasty to fancy. I would post pictures of the meal, but it was too dark and I had drunk too much English fizz, red wine and dessert wine to work a camera with any degree of competence, but I did take the bill with me, as someone had included a rather thoughtful little handwritten note on it. I like little touches like that!
The next day, I went for breakfast in town, and chanced upon Tic Toc, a cosy little cafe with a nice selection of breakfast bits.
I know that I should be trying new things, but I was rather boring, and went for the simple but utterly delicious cheddar cheese on toast covered in bakes beans with a good dose of black pepper. Very, very tasty, and something I think I will start making for myself in the mornings. They also had good coffee, fresh clementine juice, and nice baked goods also on offer, which was the perfect set-up to head out to the beach for a long, bracing (i.e. freezing) walk on the English seaside.
Dinner on the Saturday was at the famous Terre à Terre. The atmosphere here was more list a busy London restaurant, with the bonus of friendly and attentive staff(*). A refreshing change to be served by people who were cheerful and knew about the food they were serving!
From the menu, the food looked fabulous, and I was having real trouble deciding on a starter. No worries! You could order a grazing platter with all manner of little goodies, so no need to miss out on anything. Noodles, tofu, Indian things, Spanish things…and my favourite, mild halloumi which was battered and deep-fried, served with a side of fries. Finally, veggie fish’n’chips! Worked like a dream. And for mains, I had a proper soufflé made with local Sussex cheese and a mountain of watercress…plus whatever I could steal from across the table when not being observed (a very tasty rösti dish). I cringe slightly as I write such a gushing post, but it really was all delicious, and I was impressed with how innovative the food was, as well as the effort made to make it look visually stunning. If I were going for dinner with a big group of friends, this is the one I would come to. Again, too dark and too much wine consumed for decent pictures, but I can promise you it’s worth visiting.
Ah Brighton…it was a good couple of days, and I am sorry I did not jump on a train to come and see you sooner. But I promise that I’ll be back soon, but don’t hold it against me. It might just be in the springtime though…
Food for Friends, 17-18 Prince Albert Street, The Lanes, Brighton BN1 1HF. Tel: 01273 202310.
Tic Toc Café, 53 Meeting House Lane, Brighton BN1 1HB. Tel: 01273 770115.
Terre à Terre, 71 East Street, Brighton BN1 1HQ. Tel: 01273 729051.
(*) OK, there are a lot of really great staff in London too.