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Getting Grand in Brighton – A Trip to the Seaside:
The best way to reach Brighton from London , in my opinion, is by train. Journey from Victoria through scruffy surburbia out to the rolling South Downs and as the train ambles across the historic Victorian viaduct there’s growing excitement. Even if the London you leave behind is grey and cloudy, there’s a good chance as you cross the hills the sun will appear. Surrounded on three sides by the South Downs, Brighton itself seems to escape the worst of the British Weather. Or is it just that this quirky seaside City is sunny whatever storm is blowing up? When you reach Brighton, of course, you find the sea. Walk out of the station and straight down the hill for less than ten minutes to find yourself on the pebbly beach. The pier is just a few seconds away, complete with amusement arcades, a big wheel, fish and chips and lashings of strong tea.
Just under an hour from London, Brighton has been a popular seaside destination since the 1780s. The Royal Pavilion was designed and built for the then Prince Regent, later to be crowned George IV, making it THE place to visit. The seafront from Brighton centre west to Hove is lined with elegant garden squares, each white stucco fronted house carefully positioned to provide an appropriate view. The most magnificent place of all to stay is the ornate Grand Hotel, built in 1864 to accommodate Brighton’s wealthiest visitors. Of course it is on the seafront and of course it has been carefully constructed to ensure as many as possible of its residents have a room with a view. Anything less would be unimaginable.
Despite strong links with Brighton both for College and Work, I had never stayed at the Grand Hotel before, though many years ago I went for tea. At that time, just before the bombing in 1984, it was just a little shabby and I remember my parents, used to slick Middle Eastern Hotels from their work overseas, being a little disappointed. The bombing and attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister at the time, caused five deaths and many more injuries and rocked the world besides removing a large chunk from the façade of the Grand. It took two years to rebuild. And, it seemed timely that we visited just before Margaret Thatcher was buried – the iconic Grand Hotel Brighton for me is intrisically linked with the Iron Lady in History.
My stay was during the current round of refurbishment, which includes a major overhaul of rooms, a new spa and relaxation area (opening in May) and GB1, the Grand’s new fish restaurant. And the visit was with the intention of learning to cook fish with Alan White, executive chef. This time our afternoon tea was served in the comfortable terrace, looking out over the sea. My room, one of those recently refurbished, had a pretty balcony and panoramic windows. The enormous bed, made up with crisp white sheets and fluffy pillows, was dwarfed by sofa, armchairs a large flat screen tv and a work desk. And the bathroom was full of those lovely touches that make a hotel stay feel special. Little pots of cotton wool, tissues, generous bottles of shampoo and bubble bath and, of course, plenty of soft white towels.
Dinner in GB1 was a chance for Alan to showcase his own food before we were let lose in the kitchen the next day. The menu in GB1 is set up so that visitors can chose between relatively straightforward traditional dishes right through to specials, like the South Coast turbot with samphire and seafood casserole and girolles fish sauce. The food is all sourced, with the emphasis on seasonal and local food.
I started with Scallops with black pudding and cauliflower puree, quail eggs and bacon. Very dainty to look at but full of flavour and paired for me with a creamy glass of St Aubin La Pucelle domain Roux Pere et Fils.
Meanwhile, my companions seemed almost unanimously to have chosen the Boom Boom Syrah to drink and there were enthusiastic noises from the other end of the table!
For mains, we were pretty much divided about whether to pick the Turbot (my choice) or the Lobster Burger. Both got rave reviews. My Turbot appeared with a lovely creamy girolle sauce, salty samphire and an accompanying shellfish casserole. The Lobster burger, like a dish out of Jaws arrived with lobster claw pushed through the bun pinning the burger together.
The pairing of the Turbot with Eric Louis Pinot Noir was inspired. Light enough not to overwhelm the fish but with more depth and body than a white wine to complement the mushroom sauce.
Desserts for those of us who could manage it were delicious. I enjoyed a light lemony trio while a few old hands indulged in what looked like a fantastic chocolate fondant.
GB1 is unpretentious and carefully thought out. The dishes are structured so that there are options for aspiring foodies but also a range of traditional options like South Coast Classic Fish Pie, Beer Battered fish and chips and of course a ‘Catch of the Day’. There are meat options for the stalwart carnivores and a reasonable selection of vegetarian dishes. And, for the most part main courses are under £20. There’s a very well priced lunch offer too, so I know where I will be heading if I am in Brighton for the day.
Breakfast the next morning continued with much the same style, I didn’t eat more than a slice of toast, but there was an extremely good looking full English on offer and even I felt envious watching one of my companions devouring an excellent looking eggs benedict.
Watch out for Part II where we were let lose in the kitchens of the Grand Hotel Brighton to prepare our own lunch…
97-99 King’s Road