Seafood platter at the Salt Room (courtesy of the Salt Room)
A mere 47-minute train ride from London, Brighton, on the south coast of England, combines traditional seaside fun with an artistic, free-thinking vibe. Its proximity to the capital makes it a popular destination for day-trippers escaping the Big Smoke, but the offbeat city is worthy of more than one day of exploration for those who can swing it.
Brighton’s quirkiness is reflected in its food scene, too: From funky cafes to innovative fine dining restaurants, the city has more eateries per head than anywhere else outside the capital. Here’s a taste of what Brighton has to offer:
Spread at the Chilli Pickle (courtesy of the Chilli Pickle)
Food from every corner of the globe is represented in Brighton. You can feast on Mongolian BBQ, munch on Mexican tacos, or dig into Vietnamese pho.
The Chilli Pickle is located on Jubilee Square adjoining the hip MyHotel, and is one of Brighton’s most popular Indian restaurants. Its colorful façade entices, and the interior is contemporary-India cool. The food tastes as amazing as it looks. At lunchtime, generous thalis are on the menu: Curry, dhal, rice, chapati, shorba, raita, pickle, chutney, and popadams carefully arranged on a banana leaf are literally a feast for the eyes. The cocktails are pretty good too.
Sister restaurants Pinocchio and Donatello are long-established community-minded establishments, offering quality Italian set courses at excellent prices. Perfectly situated on North Laine and Brighton Lane, respectively, the restaurants both have bustling, down-to-earth atmospheres. In summer, al fresco seating is aplenty—always a bonus.
Courtesy of Holy Phok
In neighboring Hove, Holy Phok is a Vietnamese street-food restaurant with attitude. It’s a fun, funky, and colorful dining experience, and the food is fresh and fragrant, much of it grown by the owners themselves. Check out the tasty prawn, duck or tofu bao buns. Known for its warm hospitality and welcoming staff, Holy Phok is always a delight.
Moroccan café-bar The Blue Man is on the right-hand side of the main drag that takes visitors downhill from the railway station to the sea. Entering this cozy restaurant—with its exotic, festive vibe, festooned with fairy lights and lanterns—is like being transported to a hideaway on the streets of Marrakech. The menu is eclectic and includes such delicacies as wood pigeon tagine and Moroccan tapas (kemias).
Tucked away in Pool Valley opposite the pier, The Mock Turtle, a quaint Victorian-style tea room hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1972. It’s as if time has stood still as customers enjoy cream teas and homemade cakes on Blue Willow china. Colorful coffee, strawberry, and vanilla cream meringues are a specialty, while traditional British favorites, such as Marmite on toast and Welsh rabbit, are always a popular lunch choice.
For some 1930s glamor, you can’t beat Metro Deco, a Parisian-style tea room in bohemian Kemp Town. Although a wide selection of specialist tea is available, for something a little more frivolous, there’s sparkling wine from a Sussex vineyard or a tea gin cocktail to accompany scones or sandwiches. The decor is sumptuous and the furniture charmingly mismatched. Regular events include gin tastings and dog-friendly parties.
Rosti at Terre a Terre (courtesy of Terre a Terre)
Brighton is the vegetarian capital of the U.K. Even restaurants that aren’t exclusively veggie/vegan offer an unusually generous range of meat alternatives.
Eating at Planet India feels like eating in a living room in Kerala with some added hippie touches and a relaxed ambience. The food is very different from most British Indian restaurants and has a more authentic slant. The bhel puri starter is a winner, and there aren’t many vegetarians who won’t fall in love with the pea and paneer curry.
Undoubtedly Brighton’s most renowned veggie restaurant, Terre a Terre is in a league of its own. Even staunch carnivores are seduced by the sight and taste of its creations—many of the offerings resemble works of art. One of the most popular dishes is “rosti revisited,” a decadent plate of crispy potato, garlic, onion, cream, and nutmeg topped with buttery sautéed spinach, a poached egg, and toasted mustard rarebit.
Friends for Food, in the South Lanes, is another fantastic veg option, upscale and seasonally inspired.
The terrace at the Salt Room (courtesy of the Salt Room)
There are plenty of eateries on the Brighton seafront to partake in traditional fish and chips wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper. For those who prefer their lunch on a plate, the city is home to some excellent seafood restaurants.
Fairly new on the scene, The Salt Room has become one of the hottest dining spots in the city. In addition to the stylish exposed-brick interior and cool lighting, the glass-fronted mezzanine provides sweeping views of the English Channel and the i360 Tower. Chef Dave Mothersill uses the finest ingredients from local Sussex suppliers. A Josper grill is utilized to enhance the flavor of everything from starters to cocktails. The surfboard platter is one of the restaurant’s signature dishes—an incredible array of langoustine, shrimp, scallop, mussels, and crab claws.
English’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar is the oldest restaurant in Brighton, established in 1945. The cozy dining rooms are housed in three old fishermen’s cottages in the Lanes. Famous diners including Charlie Chaplin and Judy Dench; a top-hatted ghost has been spotted by staff strolling through the kitchens. The menu is impressively extensive, incorporating lots of British ingredients: local seafood (oysters are served only in season) and meat, freshly baked fermented breads. More than a hundred carefully selected wines are available as well.
A spread from 1972 Kitgum Kitchen (photo by Sue King)
In typical U.K. fashion, Brighton is home to more than its fair share of pubs. Back in 1800, for every house in Brighton, there was one inn. These days, there are approximately 900 premises that are licensed to serve alcohol, from traditional boozers to sleek cocktail bars.
There are plenty of unique drinking establishments to choose from. In the alternative North Laine area, The Prince George Pub serves up exclusively vegetarian dishes and offers an extensive range of Sussex ales.
Just around the corner in York Place, The Yellow Book is a steampunk-themed pub. It’s a friendly and inclusive venue to enjoy a pint, and don’t miss the delicious cheesy chips (fries)! Cocktails are well-priced, and there’s even an array of steampunk hats to try on.
The Signalman, near the London Road train station, has recently been renovated, with a smart new look and beer garden. It’s a short schlep out of the city center, but the food alone—a tantalizing combo of East African and Gujarati street food provided by pop-up 1972 Kitgum Kitchen—is worth the trip. Kitgum founder Fayaz’s parents were exiled from Idi Amin’s Uganda back in 1972, and although his family left with a single suitcase, they brought lots of delicious, unique recipes with them.
Although traditional pub grub such as pies, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and fish and chips remain popular, Brighton’s abundant gastro pubs serve these classics with innovative twists or, alternatively, create exciting dishes of their own. Take The Ginger Dog, an upscale yet casual Victorian pub in Kemptown, for example, where the menu features ham hock pakoras, beetroot tartare, and roasted cod with smoked roe and butterbeans.
About the author: Sue is a travel writer/full-time nomad and is passionate about exploring the world. She has been living out of a small backpack since 2012. Her favorite countries (and cuisines) to date are the equally colorful and compelling India and Mexico.