THE fact that Brighton is home to the largest gay population outside London has done nothing but increase its reputation for great food, good clubs, fabulous art and design galleries and a nightlife that doesn’t quit.
We stayed at the Hotel Du Vin and Bistro on Ship Street—steps from the sea front and right in the heart of town. From here you can walk to restaurants and shops (the new Lanes and the Old Lanes) famous for antiques and fashionable and quirky boutiques.
The Theater Royal, one of the oldest theatres in England—all Victorian red plush and mahogany—is a great place to see a tryout play before it moves to London’s West End theater district.
Meander through the Old Lanes to window shop the overpriced antique jewelry but do your real shopping in the raffish North Lanes on the other side of North Street where you can still get a few bargains, though given the state of the dollar these are fast shrinking.
The Hotel DuVin (www.hotelduvin.com, phone 011 441273718588) has 37 rooms starting at $300 a night. The boutique hostelry has the most comfortable beds this side of a Four Seasons, offering cool white duvets over Egyptian cotton sheets, flat screen TVs and huge walk-in showers floored in stainless steel.
For couples the hotel has several ultra romantic rooms with side by side twin clawfoot tubs facing the sea view, with nothing between them but a bottle of champagne and a couple of glasses.
The hotel’s bistro has some of the best cuisine in town, seriously French as is the frenetic sommelier Mathieu Ouvrard who is faster in working a room than any wine pusher I have ever seen. There is also a wine cellar for an enophile to salivate over.
Where To EatBRIGHTON also has one of the world’s most original lunch spots, Bills, close to the Pavilion. From the outside it looks like a huge produce warehouse, vegetables, and potted plants spilling out into the street. Inside is a cross between an old fashioned grocery store with shelves crammed with jars and cans of goodies, and counters dishing out the most original and wildly decorated salads it has ever been our pleasure to sample. Oh yes and they do sell the produce and the groceries too.
We also heard good reports about, but didn’t have time to sample, Momma Cherri’s Big House which offers—would you believe?—American soul food in the heart of England. It and was featured recently on Chef Gordon Ramsey’s TV show.
Here’s a few insider secrets but keep them to yourself. We’re going back and we don’t want too much crowding from American tourists.
The Melrose Restaurant, a simple bistro on the sea front opposite the old pier, has been run by the same Greek family for 35 years. It’s not fancy but their seafood is fresh and fabulous, and the prices are astonishingly reasonable even in today’s hyperinflated market.
Hove is the community slightly further along the seafront. The new name of the town is actually Brighton and Hove, but the Hove end is a little less hectic or "more refined" as the locals would say.
Check out the Ginger Pig, one of the new English "Gastro Pubs," for lunch or dinner: Terrific and inventive food, great drinks and reasonable prices. 3 Hove Street, 011 441273-736123.
At the other end of Brighton, Kemp Town is home to the Blanch House Hotel and Restaurant, the current darling of the show business "luvvie" set, and serves cool food in even cooler surroundings.
On the other side of the spectrum, fast but excellent sandwiches for "elevensies" (the time when the English stop their morning round for coffee) at the very casual café in central Brighton at Marks and Spencer’s department store, third floor, is totally reliable. Fine sandwiches, cakes and great coffee or tea if you prefer.
Warning: the dollar is weak, the pound is strong, so you need to check the menus carefully if you haven’t taken a line of credit on your house to fund going out for dinner.
One restaurant on the beach in Brighton actually clobbered us for an extra two pounds ($4) "charity contribution." When I checked on what the charity was they said they had a new charity each week and the latest was to help "birds." I asked them to remove the charge.
How We Got ThereTRY the new British airline Max Jet. For what other airlines charge for premium economy tickets you can fly nonstop to Stansted Airport avoiding the madhouse that is Heathrow on this fairly new service.
Here’s the kicker: Every seat on their new fleet of 767s is Business Class. Well worth the extra money. Great legroom. We paid $800 each way although you need to check current fares with their website and watch for their "deals."
Fast trains from Stansted leave regularly for Liverpool Street Station in central London. The night before we left to return to Ventura we stayed at the Stansted Radisson a terrific hotel that is barely a 100-yards walk to the check-in desk. Forget the shuttle; it’s the closest I’ve ever stayed to a check-in desk anywhere in the world. www.stansted.radissonsas.com. 011-441279661012. Rooms start at around $220 a night. Well worth it.