More insider guides for planning a trip to Brighton
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Gone are the days of good-but-staid establishments, second-rate pizza parlours and soggy fish and chips. Brighton today has an increasingly sophisticated restaurant scene that easily outshines other seaside resorts. The trend in many is to emphasise locally sourced ingredients, and that’s all to the good, given Sussex’s burgeoning vineyards, artisan cheesemakers and organic farms. From a tiny Italian joint serving silky homemade pastas to Southern Indian street food, Telegraph Travel Brighton expert Louise Roddon shares her favourites.
The average age of Isaac At’s team is just 23 years, but don’t let that put you off. Nor the tiny IKEA-styled space with its elegant if uncomfortable pine chairs and too small tables. Come instead to ogle Chef Isaac Bartlett-Copeland at work in his open kitchen (you can dine at the counter) where he and his team magic up small precision-cooked set menus spanning sea buckthorn and crab apple sorbet to hangar steak with heritage grains. Isaac’s passion for local ingredients (you get a food and drinks mileage chart) feels a bit laboured, but this, after all, is Brighton.
Contact: 07765934740; isaac-at.com
Cin Cin Italian Bar and Kitchen
This tiny Italian joint in North Laine is located in a converted garage. Don’t expect elegance or comfort (the wooden bar stools around a central servery are bum-numbingly hard) – what you will get though is comfort food: small plates of zingy asparagus with hazelnuts and lardo, soused mackerel with sweet beetroot or first-rate charcuterie, then authentically homemade silky pastas with gutsy sauces (try the Tuscan pork). Pick a table away from the always-open double doors, or, if you want the full works including mains other than pasta, book at their larger sister branch in Hove.
The Flint House
This newcomer to Brighton’s dining scene is a fab place to flop after scouring The Lanes’ antiques shops. Located in a newly renovated flint and stone fisherman’s house, it has a lofty bar and patio upstairs (check out the dramatic plant arrangement above the bar) and either casual counter-top or table service below. The theme is small sharing plates: zippy-tasting mushrooms on toast with truffle oil and duck egg (perfect for lunch) or slow roast lamb belly with confit garlic, anchovy and crushed peas. Prices are decently pitched; so too the wines, including a palatable but unusual “Taronia de Gris” orange wine from Languedoc.
Contact: 01273 916333; flinthousebrighton.com
Reservations: This place operates on a first come, first served basis
This Victorian street-corner boozer is a locals’ favourite, and at weekends it’s packed with a benevolent mix of hipsters, young families and ageing hippies. From the snug salons and low ceilings, crowded barstools and walls covered with a clutter of old cigarette tins, this is where Brightonians come for a great range of cask-conditioned beers and craft lagers. If whisky is your thing, they’ve over 100 varieties. Expect a noisy friendly vibe and mostly traditional pub grub fodder: burgers, cheesy chips, mussels or dressed crab. That said, the ingredients are generally locally sourced and the cooking is sound.
Contact: 01273 689006; basket-makers-brighton.co.uk
Getting in: ID sometimes required
Another fine newbie for Brighton, Murmur is the baby of 64 Degrees’ chef, Michael Bremner – and he’s created a winner here, tucked in one of the old boat builders’ arches facing the ruined west pier. Murmur – named after a murmuration of starlings – dishes up day-long treats such as lobster croquettes with charred lime or roast cod with hispi (fish is the wow ingredient here). Brunch is also a great option, especially seated on the outdoor terrace on a fine day. Inside? It’s small with tiny tables, cool canary-yellow metal chairs and hopelessly poor acoustics. But hey, the food is the main shout here.
Contact: 01273 711900; murmur-restaurant.co.uk
Semolina is not in the most attractive of locations – tucked away in a side street behind the London Road – but this small, husband-and-wife-run bistro offers assured cooking at highly reasonable prices. It’s a tiny, basically furnished space with small wooden tables and chairs. Expect zingy dishes such as cod clams with Parisienne gnocchi and salsa verde alongside dreamy fish soups, homemade terrines, and an occasional foray into North African flavours. Vegetarians won’t go hungry and there’s a good wine list where local wines feature, alongside excellent cocktails.
The Bistro at Hotel du Vin
Okay, we miss the cluttered Parisian bistro look they had going – even the dried flowers, and particularly the tobacco-coloured walls – but the latest look of sparseness works very well and the place still exudes a certain Gallic charm. It’s just more elegantly conceived, with marble tables offsetting eau de nil colour notes. What this place continues to do well are classic favourites such as slow roasted Gloucester old spot pork belly and steak frites. This is equally a perfect spot for a Sunday roast – but you need to book.
Contact: 01273 718588, hotelduvin.com
Terre à Terre
Vegetarians and carnivores alike adore this spacious pared-back restaurant for inspiring dishes and clever twists on all things pulled from the soil. The menu is a tad convoluted – what exactly are amchur, arame wakame and dengaku? – but no matter; if you can’t decide, opt for the easy-to-share tapas menu comprising seven generously sized though scaled-down portions from the à la carte menu. An Asian twist runs through some of the dishes, too. Wash down with cocktails made from local distiller’s Blackdown gin and vermouth.
Contact: 01273 729051; terreaterre.co.uk
Chef Michael Bremner opened this cramped industrial-chic establishment in the Lanes before flexing his wings in London, yet the original still pulls in the punters. The concept is slow precision cooking – an egg, for instance, poached at 64 degrees for 40 minutes to intensify flavour – with dishes intended for sharing. Grab a chair at the kitchen counter (always fun), and choose from ever-changing yummy treats spanning ox tongue, polenta and pickles to brill with grapefruit and chilli. Five or six dishes are sufficient for two – just don’t expect them to arrive in any logical order.
Contact: 01273 770115; 64degrees.co.uk
Curry Leaf Café
Curry Leaf Café continues to wow with lunchtime Southern Indian street food and well-executed dinner choices. They’ve also opened a kiosk for hot and cold snacks at Brighton Station alongside the Kemp Town Kitchen on Upper St James’s Street, but this, the original, is the cosiest. Hot lime green and orange décor, exposed brickwork and canteen-cool metal furniture provide the perfect setting for chef Kanthi Thamma’s imaginative cooking. For dinner, opt for slow-cooked Keralan duck mappas or the excellent Bengali fish curry. Cool off with a craft beer from an extensive drinks list.
The Coal Shed
The Coal Shed is known for its expertly cooked, well-hung steaks. And now – huge puff for Brighton being first on the scene – they’ve also got an outpost in London. The décor of stripped floorboards, wooden tables and brick walls can result in poor acoustics but the cooking is spot on. Come in the evening to chow on aged Scottish cuts and fabulous beef dripping chips. Alternatively, try good value lunches and Sunday sharing roasts featuring 35-day aged beef. They also offer locally caught fish and seafood, but it’s better to stick to the dishes that serve the restaurant’s original purpose.
Contact: 01273 322998, coalshed-restaurant.co.uk
The Salt Room
Brighton has ridiculously few decent fish restaurants, considering its seaside location – but this is certainly one of them, especially for a celebratory treat. Peerless sea views meld with on-trend ships’ lamps, exposed brickwork and stripped floorboards. There’s even a covered sea-facing terrace, though the traffic noise mars the enjoyment a bit. And the food? The devil is in the detail – homemade bread with yummy seaweed butter, appetisers of salt cod fritters – preceding starry Josper grilled local fish. Pick a window table, try one of their cocktails and linger on for the inventive afternoon tea featuring sweet and savoury treats topped with candyfloss.
The Mock Turtle
If it’s a spot of tea and a cake you’re after, try The Mock Turtle. Don’t be put off by its location, just yards from the windy and desolate bus station – for this quaint three-storey tea room is a real find. Sure, it looks a little old-fashioned, but expect to find an eclectic crowd here. The café is bound to please retro fans with its jumble of small dining salons decked out with dainty Willow Plate crockery and polished gate-leg tables. Come for fry-ups, cream teas, ridiculously large slabs of homemade cake and snacks spanning sardines on toast to Welsh rarebit.
Address: 4 Pool Valley, Brighton BN1 1NJ
Contact: 01273 327380
Opening times: Tues-Sun, 9am-6pm
A fab choice for breakfasts, brunch or light lunches. Locals rate this neat little Hove café for hangover-busting specials: eggs Benedict perhaps, or homemade baked beans with Sussex pork and herb sausages on sourdough bread. The food is cooked to order, always locally sourced and the coffee never fails. There’s plenty of loose leaf teas too, alongside gluten-free options. And do save room for the excellent cakes. The interior décor is limited but has a nice Nordic vibe with a pine refectory table, panelled walls and salvaged school chairs. Avoid sitting near the door – Hove’s winds have a nasty bite.
The Gingerman was one of the city’s first restaurants to offer proper posh nosh, and despite swapping its formerly plush and somewhat staid décor for a more contemporary look of exposed brickwork and wooden tables, it’s still an absolute winner. The cooking is highly inventive to the point of quirkiness, with a strong emphasis on locally sourced produce. And for such high standards the set menus offer surprisingly good value. Get behind irresistible dishes such as Brighton coast Gurnard with pork scratchings or the much-vaunted Sussex Wagyu beef with Brighton blue cheese.
Contact: 01273 326688; gingermanrestaurants.com
The Little Fish Market
The city’s star turn is found in Hove where three AA Rosettes chef, Duncan Ray (ex-Fat Duck) presides over a very special restaurant at the bottom of an easy-to-miss side street. What’s not to love apart from the scary bill? Expect exceptional cooking, an unfussy blond wood interior of just eight tables and a fishy five-course set menu. No choice means no foodie FOMO (that’s fear of missing out) – just plate after zinging plate, with stand outs spanning perfectly cooked cubes of cod with seaweed butter and a memorable salmon risotto with oyster, watercress and lemon to velvety halibut with caviar and crispy chicken skin.
Wisely pitching at affordable yet innovative comfort food, Hove’s buzzy new Wild Flor has already found favour with locals, and not just because it’s a good place to go for a decent meal: this is a pleasingly calm space too (no over-loud music or over-fussy décor). This modest restaurant offers clean, unpretentious dishes such as Brill with olives, capers and samphire, or slow-cooked brisket with Swiss chard. Starters are particularly starry: don’t miss the veal sweetbreads in a foam almond and cream sherry sauce. On Mondays they run good-value bangers and mash lunches and dinners served with a glass of Beaujolais or Burgundy.
Contact: 01273 329111; wildflor.com
The Ginger Pig
A member of the Gingerman clan of local restaurants, ‘The Pig’ takes the concept of gastropub to new levels. Inside, it’s spacious and contemporary, with dark wooden tables, banquettes and a cool revamped auberginey colour scheme. Do keep in mind it’s popular with local families, and gets busy at weekends. That said, the atmosphere is convivial and the staff are super friendly. Pick a Sussex brew to enjoy with hearty dishes such as barbecued braised beef cheek or pork fillet with crispy pig head. Just the thing before a wind-whipped walk along Hove’s prom.
Contact: 01273 736123; thegingerpigpub.com
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 10.30am-12am; Sun, 12pm-12am
The Restaurant at Drakes
This basement restaurant is plush and surprisingly bright, with sinkable charcoal-toned banquettes, plenty of crisp napery and gleaming silver. So pleasant a space is it that you can easily overlook the dated slate-as-a-plate thing they’ve got going. There’s wonderfully attentive staff too, which befits chef Andy Vitez’s starry cuisine. Vitez is hot on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients; think Gurnard with brown shrimp dumpling in a bouillabaisse consommé and Trenchmore Sussex Wagyu beef. Just try not to indulge in too much of the utterly delicious homemade bread, or you may find your eyes were bigger than your stomach. It’s not cheap, but the two-course lunchtime menu is particularly good value.
Contact: 01273 696934, therestaurantatdrakes.co.uk
Opening times: Mon-Fri, 6pm-9pm; Sat-Sun, 12pm-2pm, 6pm-9pm;