Brighton, one of the best coastal cities in the UK famed for its beaches, promenades and lifestyles was a fascinating place to spend a couple of days away from London. We’d visited this bright and colourful city on a number of occasions before but this was the first time we had decided to spend a couple of days without the need to get back to the Capital as the sun went down. In the absence of any international travel in the near future, this was as close to a beach holiday we’ve experienced in the last year and certainly we were blessed with a break in the weather that made for an enjoyable experience. Enjoying the simple pleasures of a traditional British seaside vacation, fish and chips on the beach, spending a pocketful of change at the arcade. I’ll concede, ordinarily I would have opted for a European city break, booking a cheap hotel and flight and enjoying the culture of our neighbours over the Channel but on this occasion, it felt a little more down to Earth and honest. Avoiding the usual weekend visitors we travelled down during the week and it felt a little different, a little more honest and open, it reminded me when we visited the island of Gozo in 2019, after the last ferry had returned to Malta and the residents came out to enjoy the evening without the expectations and demands of guests to their homes. It was lovely to see this city outside the prism of a day tripper and just to feel at home if only for a day or two.
Getting down to Brighton is relatively easy from London, there are a variety of options to cater to your needs. Parking is a little expensive in the city centre, it actively encourages you to visit using public transport options but thankfully is well catered for and isn’t an issue if you decide to visit and abandon the car. We got the Thames Link service from St Pancras, on other occasions on a nice day at the weekend a busy service between the two cities but during the middle of the working week it was relatively empty which was perfect for us. It’s a little expensive to get the train down to Brighton on an open return, however you may feel about the necessity of moving towards public transport away from car ownership, until the price mechanism works to attract visitors, you do have to be honest and accept rail travel in the UK is punitive in contrast to similar fares in Europe. After crunching the numbers as we arrived, it did work out cheaper to drive and park in the city overnight than getting there by train but for ease of access and to take away the stress of a long drive we did our part for the planet and put ourselves in the hands of public transport. Everything ran to time, and with an expansive bus service in Brighton and Hove it was easy to get about with a general sense of navigation, and a healthy reliance on Google Maps to find out where and how to get to our accommodation. It’s always fun to see a little more of a place from the top deck of a bus that affords you the luxury of taking in your surroundings from an elevated vantage point.
Deciding where to stay was an important consideration, Brighton is renowned for its guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation, with a wealth of options available to us it was a little overwhelming trying to decide the best place to meet our needs. We decided to stay at The White House, appealing to my American tendencies a fortunate consequence but offering a delightful stay, a short distance away from the main promenade and pier and further out than we’ve explored on previous visits. Our main intention was to see a little more of the city away from the bright lights of the arcades, but also that could accommodate a personal dietary issue of managing a gluten intolerance. Thankfully, this lovely little boutique hotel, a short walk from the pier and the city centre afforded us the benefits of being close to the main attractions of the city whilst just outside the main activity and nightlife of Brighton. I’m passed the need and age to experience the energy and activity of the night time economy, I enjoy an early start after a good nights sleep and waking up to the sound and smell of the sea. Thankfully, my partner made a great discovery a little bit outside the centre that was easily accessible by bus and by foot and with a personal service that catered to my dietary concerns it made an endearing and memorable impression of this unique city by the coast. A really tasty breakfast, and most importantly a Nespresso machine in the room to cater for her coffee habits.
How like a King I dined
Brighton has a rich variety of places to eat, though our particular focus was on locations that could provide a gluten free alternative. Travelling to any coastal city in the UK, you do immediately look to find a fish and chip shop, the trend towards providing a specialised wheat free menu has grown in recent years though usually restricted to certain days due to the restrictions in preparing produce in gluten free batter. A higher cost and smaller target audience make this a prohibitive venture. Thankfully, we were able to find a takeaway that provided this option throughout the week so after checking into the hotel and dumping our bags, we hopped on a bus on a short ride away from Brighton to find Wolfies of Hove. We hadn’t ventured out this far away from the main pier and promenade of Brighton before so it made for an enjoyable experience to see a little more of the area. Wolfies is a lovely little family run restaurant a short walk away from the beach and easily accessible by bus as an alternative to the traditional restaurants on the high street. After picking up a cod and chips in gluten free batter we walked down to the beach and enjoyed our lunch on this more quiet stretch of shingles and stones. You could see the pier a little further along the beach but it was nice to enjoy our food away from the crowds, it felt a little more like where the locals go to visit to appreciate the sea and the sun, lacking the pull of the Pier but equally, more space to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. The cod was nice and fresh, the batter a little more thicker but still pleasant to eat. Fish and Chips on the beach is a British tradition, it’s nice to discover a quick and viable option when we travel down here again that lets us both enjoy it without making a sacrifice for one another.
If you fancy a lighter bite to eat, situated in the lanes is a delightful little bagel shop that provides a gluten free alternative to the traditional wheat based bagel. Bagelman serves up a menu of tasty sounding options which allow you to swap out for a gluten free bagel. They are prepared in close proximity to normal wheat based varieties, if you have a strong reaction from coeliac then it may be one to avoid as there is the possibility of trace contact and contamination but for those with a general wheat intolerance it was perfectly ok to eat. The bagel itself whilst a little dense in contrast to traditional varieties was enjoyable and didn’t taste artificial or pulled out of a packet. I use batch brought bagels often for lunch at work so have come to tolerate them to a degree but it was nice to eat something that actually felt and tasted as you would imagine it should. They have a nice range of flavours and options on their menu, allowing you to choose from a half dozen or so suggestions or the opportunity to build your own to control what you put into your body. They are all freshly made by hand, the ingredients were fresh, the beef sourced from local farmers. It’s the sort of small, local deli store you envy when you come across it and make it a favourite to go back to providing good quality food at an affordable price. I went for the Tower, all your favourite meats stacked up sandwiched between layers of cheese and vegetables. They were even kind enough to swap out the cucumber for a pickle. I love finding these kind of places when I visit a city, small independent stores or chains local to a location that provides great food with enthusiasm for their produce.
One of the best pizza restaurants in Brighton is found a little further up The Lanes providing both indoor and al fresco dining for those who like to watch the world go by at Fatto a Mano. Even better, for those that suffer from a wheat intolerance it provides a really enjoyable alternate gluten free base for all their pizzas allowing you the potential to enjoy their menu without the usual restrictions and constraints imposed by the condition. I’ve sampled a number of varieties in recent years having switched over due to this dietary issue, you start to tell the good from the bad and this was a really tasty and authentic alternative to a traditional wheat based option. One of the key details you notice very quickly, a gluten free base doesn’t tend to have that charred effect from the pizza oven, often feel doughy and dense and not entirely appetising. This looked, and tasted authentic, one of the best Italian style pizzas I’ve enjoyed in a long time that was as close to the real thing as you can get when giving up flour. The entire menu is in the Italian style, which does sometimes leave you with a lot of crust and not much on top but thankfully they were generous with their portions of toppings on both the white and red pies so you didn’t feel you were making a sacrificing choosing the Italian style over the American style meat filled varieties. For me, their ‘Nduja option which is as close to a meat covered pizza as you could find, it had a slight heat to it from the spicy salami and minced pork but tempered by a tasty tomato base sauce and double servings of parmesan and mozzarella. The only slight sting in the tale was the additional cost of the gluten free base but for a decent tasting pizza, you can swallow this surcharge even if it does make you feel a little excluded at times.
For those with a sweet tooth, Brighton has an abundance of riches to cater towards your particular predication. The chocolate options alone are treasure trove of cocoa based treats. Though its most famous resident the eclectic and unique Choccywoccydoodah has long closed and vanished from the high street there are a number of small and local contenders vying to attract your custom. Last year at Christmas at Kew, there were a number of small and boutique stands on your visit including Montezuma’s Chocolates who started trading in Brighton and sell a variety of delicious tasting, unique flavoured bars and treats that mix fruits, spices and scents to create a really memorable experience. It was great to discover their store in The Lanes and pick up a couple of bars to take away to enjoy at a later date. Directly opposite Montezuma’s was another family based chocolatier, Be Chocolat that provide a more traditional boutique chocolate buying experience that bring to mind stores in Paris or Belgium with small, individually crafted pieces on display made onsite that look and smell fantastic with the odour of cocoa throughout the store. They are a little more expensive and certainly an extravagance and indulgence but equally, it comes back to wanting to try something local and supporting the local community in being bold in continuing these endeavours in a challenging business environment. Moving away from the world of fine chocolates, Cloud 9 bakery serving up some amazing traditional and gluten free brownies that looked and tasted amazing.
Things To Do On A Rainy Day
It was lovely to experience a modicum of normality during our brief stay in this wonderful city. Our ambition was to see a little more of Brighton and Hove and through our dining locations and hotel choice it fulfilled this endeavour but equally there is something pleasurable to spend time idly wandering The Lanes, exploring the small independent boutique shops that are common place and unique to this city without the time constraints to get on a train back to London. You can easily lose an afternoon sitting on the beach and thankfully we were blessed with idyllic weather on our arrival allowing us to dine on the rocks and stones overlooking the sea gorging on local cuisine. The walk from Hove to Brighton Pier takes about twenty minutes and is a lovely stretch of the promenade affording views of the Pier and beaches in addition to the famous painted huts that look fun but cost an eye watering amount to own. As you get closer to the bright lights of the pleasure beach an inordinate amount of bars populate the area but there is something communal, especially now coming out of a period of time when we’ve been required to isolate and distance from others to sit down and enjoy a drink in close proximity once again. I like how these bars have turned to technology to operate, the use of digital menus and payment apps allowing you to order and pay for your drinks that are brought to your table in short order. It doesn’t take away a job or a role but equally minimises the tiresome process of standing at the bar trying to get served. We took a seat at Oh So Social close to the Pier after walking from Hove, enjoyed a pint of cider and watched the sun going down, a lovely way to spend an evening in Brighton.
Away from the beach, the city itself perched and designed around the steep climbing hills is a fascinating area to explore by foot. The Lanes, home to many gluten free friendly restaurants has a big assortment of independent shops similar to Camden, it has that same bohemian feel to it and is great to explore. There is no real uniform or structure to the area, as such it makes it a fun exercise to just walk and explore going down small passage ways and alleys and emerging into an open square of stores and shop fronts. It gives the area a real European feel to it in contrast to other cities with traditional high street designs. There is a wealth of street art to see, the City is known for its vibrant personality and character, a thriving politically active, aware and expressive community adorning buildings and signs with street art and decoration. Its fascinating to explore and see. Some of the buildings are a little gaudy and rundown, as with every city in the UK it has suffered over the last year and beyond through falling investment and regeneration programs though it still retains a sense of character and you come across some fascinating buildings and structures such as the Royal Pavilion which looks like a palace from the subcontinent. Surrounded by gardens its a calming and cathartic experience to walk around losing yourself in greenery away from the lights and sounds of the city. Equally, you can immerse yourself on the Pier and spend a vast sum of money playing 2p machines chasing the high of winning a cheap key ring or novelty plastic mug as a souvenir of your visit. Before enjoying a bag of sugary donuts although in the absence of a gluten free alternative this particular staple of the British Seaside experience was entirely lost on me unfortunately. But it smelled tempting, I was envious with my eyes.
It was a different sort of Summer break than I imagined I would be having a year ago. It’s still a little surreal to remember as this Pandemic was emerging in Europe I was able last year to travel to Rome and have a week in the Eternal City relatively free of restraints and restrictions. Ever since, travel and holidays have been a secondary concern, a luxury more than a necessity. During the intervening periods last year, it meant a quick trip up to Edinburgh, this year to date, a couple of days by the coast in Brighton enjoying the benefits and virtues of this wonderfully independent and unique city that stands out from its neighbours and peers. The first signs of the travel industry emerging from the shadow of the pandemic are on the horizon, more traditional destinations opening up on the provision of vaccines which I like many now are in a fortunate position to have received and can tentatively look forward to at some point in the future. But on reflection, this was the first real break in nearly half a year of work and it was nice just to forget about the struggles of work and the global pandemic and escape to the coast for a couple of days doing all those traditional activities you find on the pleasure beaches. I’ll readily admit it’s not the holiday I would have chosen ordinarily for the simple fact I tend to prefer City Breaks so would look towards spending a day or two in an historical city such as Edinburgh or Rome in contrast to a day at the beach. And for me personally, that’s any beach anywhere in the world, the prospect of sitting idly by the water when you could be out and about exploring a good museum or ruins is too much. I like to be active. But equally, my body insisted I needed a break and even though we walked a few thousand steps during our brief stay in the City, we did manage to rest and enjoy the simple pleasures around us.
The lasting and final impression I took away from visiting Brighton, only achievable from having the motivation and energy to move away from the attraction of the promenade and pier was the assortment of gluten free food options in close proximity and easy reach through public transport. It now means if I ever get down to Brighton again I can easily recommend going over to Hove and enjoying this British dish on the beach away from the large crowds that always make me feel a little uncomfortable. It afforded the option to open the area up away from the usual things I tended to gravitate towards and that was a reward in itself. I love the little pizza restaurant we found in The Lanes, we’ve never been tempted to stay beyond the afternoon, always mindful to get away from the city before it comes alive at night but now, I’d be happy to stay a little longer, enjoy an evening meal before making our way home. I guess my final thought on this break, we really only scratched the surface on what makes this city such an interesting place to visit, with restrictions in place as they stand a great deal of the night time economy is still closed for the time being for instance. But beyond that, the thriving artistic community you see along the beach front and the murals on the walls. The great, independent food stores we only sampled briefly. A wealth of small stores and shops, some great gin bars and distillers. So many facets of a City you are aware of but without coming across in your day to day routine. Would I have gone on a European city break given the choice? perhaps, more than likely. Equally, I do feel enriched and have benefited from my brief visit to Brighton that I hadn’t experienced before. And for someone that actively avoids a beach holiday, that’s a startling admission.
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