A March 2005 trip
to Brighton by MichaelJM
Quote: A brief visit at Easter to this great south coast town.
The restaurant is housed on the ground floor of a Victorian property but feels really modern, spacious, and airy. The small tables, with their crisp white-linen tablecloths, neatly laid out with stylish cutlery and sparkling glassware, gave a real sense that the business values their customers – a small flower arrangement completed the scene.
Sometimes you "feel at home" in a restaurant, and the whole ambience of ‘Estia’ gave me that sensation. The waitress was friendly but not over-familiar and gave us plenty of time to ponder over the menu. "No hurry" seemed to be their maxim.
There was a small, but comprehensive menu and details of the "chef’s specials" chalked on a small blackboard. I have to say that I thought this was unnecessary and had a negative effect on what was otherwise a quite sophisticated environment. However, we opted for one of the "specials", a Meze selection meal. During the week, this is around £10 a head - the weekend puts another £3 on the bill (supply and demand, I guess!), but it's still a good value. For our money, we got a traditional Greek feast with some scrumptious olives (double rations for me because my wife loathes them), flavourful hummus, tasty taramasalata and tzatziki dips, stuffed vine leaves, Greek meatballs on a bed of pilaf rice, pita bread, and grilled halloumi cheese (my personal all-time favourite).
We chose the house white wine from a none-too-inspiring wine list, and in all fairness, it was extremely palatable – crisp and fruity. I just wish I could remember what it was! But it was good enough for the four of us to order a second bottle.
The Meze deal also gives you a main course, as well, and that makes for the good deal. I opted for the Kleftiko. I rate myself a bit of a connoisseur on lamb dishes, and this was extremely tasty – no surprise that the restaurant prides itself on using only organically reared meat. It was beautifully seasoned with a fine balance of herbs and spices and served piping hot.
No room for pudding? Not likely – I managed, after a short rest, to go for a chocolate cheesecake – rich in taste but not at all sickly. I could have gone for the more traditional Greek pudding, but they didn’t have chocolate!
To round off a good meal, I just had to try out of their Irish coffees – it’s not the normal way I enjoy whiskey, but it felt right – a strong, creamy coffee with a bit of a kick. It was an appropriate way to finish off our experience at the Estia.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 30, 2005
3 Hampton Place, off Western Road
Attraction | "A walk down the prom"
Start your walk by choosing the lower level nearest the "beach" (I use the word with some trepidation because Brighton’s seashore is 100% pebbles). I crunched my way across the shore and dipped a toe in the water – much too cold to even paddle in, but at least I’d felt seawater on my foot! Then I headed back to the prom to find the restaurants, souvenir shops, the penny arcade museum, and a range of stalls offering locally manufactured crafts. Certainly if you want artwork or photographs, then there’s abundance on sale here (although my sons, one an artist and the other a keen amateur photographer, would claim they could do better!), but amidst the quality, there’s an awful lot of mass-produced tat. Examine closely before you buy, and always haggle over the price.
At beach level there are basketball and volleyball courts, and for skateboarders a purpose-built "outdoor arena". There is a charge for skateboarders, but Brighton does seriously attempt to stop random skateboarding throughout the town – so you’ve less chance of been mowed over here than in most places.
Back onto the upper level, and you’ll see, on the corner of Black Lion Street, the mid-1500s "Old Ship Inn", with its fine, crisp lines and striking bay-fronted windows. The Grand Hotel, although a fine building, is now most famous because of the bombing of 1981, when the Tory Party Conference was targeted. Along the route, Brighton has several surprises in store, as the front has several pieces of modern art for your pleasure (or amusement), whilst on the other side of the road are the fine Regency Houses that are Brighton’s trademark. Make sure you detour off the prom to examine the elegant houses that line the squares at right angles to the beach – Regency Square is particularly noteworthy.
The "peace monument" forms the border between Brighton and Hove, and although there are several different interpretations of its significance, the real fact is that is was built to celebrate the reign of Edward VII.
For £1.50, you can save your legs and travel away from Hove and ride on the world’s first public electric railway. It was opened in 1883 and you can journey the 1 1/4 miles along the beach from the pier to Black Rock station – not the fastest of journeys, but you’re riding a 200-year-old experience. Whilst this way, check out Royal Crescent (1798) – the first terrace to face the sea – and the time that anyone who was anyone would have had a place in Brighton.
Brighton Sea Front
Attraction | "The Brighton Pier(s)"
So, Brighton became a 1-pier city overnight. The second pier, built in 1889, continues to be used for its original purpose, although it does replace the original Chain Pier (1823), which was swept away in a fierce storm. The Palace Pier is a third of a mile long and boasts an elaborate gilded dome in the style of the much-loved pavilion.
The original pier would have been lined with fishermen and crammed with pinball machines (not quite as we know them today) and moving-picture machines ("what the butler saw"), known as the penny arcade. Today, if you want to check out some of the original machines, a small museum on the lower promenade has an interesting selection to look at and play on.
The pier does not claim to have the super structures of the major theme parks, and many ride fanatics will think the rides extremely sedate. However, what the pier has is atmosphere, and that makes it a venue to try. I’d recommend you go at night, as then the whole structure is illuminated and the razzmatazz is there for all to enjoy.
I’m sure life on the Victorian pier was much more sedate, but nowadays you’ll enjoy a whole range of sensations. The combination of fish-and-chips, hot dogs, doughnuts, toffee apples, and candy floss attacks the nasal senses and taste buds if you care to weaken your will. Whilst the bright flashing lights of the rides, the side shows, and the modern arcade games combine with the music, banter from the stallholders and the noise of the machinery assault your sight and hearing. It would be unusual to make it around the pier without the shrieks of delight from the ride participants, and of course, everyone has to shout to make themselves heard. The general brouhaha on this busy pier will result in some good-natured jostling as you try to maneuver your way around – don’t be timid, because you won’t get anywhere. Before you leave for the comparative calm of Brighton Prom, make sure you purchase a stick of Brighton Rock and take a bit of time to check out the souvenir shops that dominate the center "aisle" of the pier.
Every Saturday night in the summer, the pier plays host to a fantastic firework display –it’s free and encourages the tourists down to the promenade in droves.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 30, 2005
+44 (1273) 609361
Attraction | "The Lanes (Brighton)"
It’s a bustling place which, despite the narrowness of some of the streets, still manages to host licensed street traders. Their presence helps create a special atmosphere for this part of town and adds an informal feel to the busy streets. The Laines probably houses the largest number of independent record shops that I’ve ever seen in such a small area, selling a wide range of vinyl for the purists and popular and variously more obscure music on CD. Even if you’re not buying, it’s worth a poke round, because most do a good trade in new and "previously used" albums.
If music isn’t your taste, then try the secondhand bookshops – these have always fascinated me, and the smell of an antiquarian bookshop is indescribable (a sweet fustiness is the closest I get). There’s always an atmosphere of quiet respect as people pore over the bowing bookshelves.
The Laines really is the place to go if you’re looking for antiques or memorabilia. There are small select furniture shops, specialist fireplace centres, bric-a-brac stalls, and a large emporium that will take you hours to fully explore.
The jewellery shops offer good-quality, locally fashioned pieces, and considering they’re not produced in large quantities, many of these are offered at competitive prices. Some are highly wearable, and others are just wacky and worthy of an inspection. Victorian costume jewellery is also prevalent and affordable.
You’ll find some clothes shops reminiscent of Carnaby Street in the '60s; indeed, some of the items will date from that era. It’s just incredible that the moths have been kept at bay and youngsters still want to buy this gear as original. If you fancy designer wear, then you don’t need to walk far – you’ll find this somewhere in the Laines.
Some days, flea markets are set up on the Laines. Here you may just find a bargain if you’re prepared to rummage around and bargain hard. I was just amazed at how quickly the local council cleared up the street debris after such an event.
There are adverts for alternative medicine, masseurs, shops selling handmade soap, herbalists, numerous coffee shops and breakfast bars, and candle-makers. You can create your own design on plates, invest in expensive handmade rugs, or purchase pricey home-knitted jumpers. There’s a very interesting off-license selling a wide variety of bottled beers and some great little food emporiums.
As we wandered the Laines, we couldn’t help but sense a strong bohemian feel to the place, and time just flew by as we inspected the tremendous variety of shops in this compact area of Brighton.
Attraction | "The Royal Pavilion"
Before you enter the lavishly designed buildings, make sure that you enjoy a saunter around the gardens. These have had extensive work done to them over recent years, giving careful attention to Nash’s original design – they are colourful and give tantalising glimpses of the pavilion as you progress, and the view is impaired by the mature plants.
Inside, there are some great rooms to view. The banqueting room, with a massive crystal chandelier shimmering in the light and supported by a fire-eating dragon, is a fantastically "busy" room. The long gallery is more than a "link corridor" and was originally well used as a "play area" for royal visitors. It, too, is lavishly decorated, and we particularly liked the mounted Chinese figures that guard the entrance and the painted glass panels that provide light for this room. Again, a superb chandelier has pride of place.
The music room is another extraordinary room despite two devastating acts of God – in the 1970s, a fire severely damaged the room and its contents, and after a sensitive restoration, all was well. That is, until a hurricane dislodged a stone roof decoration in the late 1980s. Now the room is as described in Nash’s original design. It’s stunning, with superb chandeliers, the brightest of colours, and a hand-knotted reproduction Axminster. Just imagine the king’s own musicians serenading him with the likes of Handel or Bach.
Less ornate but still incredibly impressive is the huge kitchen. The walls are lined with wooden shelving, a mighty "range," and an enormous spit roaster. The high ceiling is support by cast-iron columns culminating in metal palm leaves at the ceiling, and above this is a further space with windows, giving the kitchen a real airy feeling
And, finally, give yourself plenty of time to admire the splendour of the royal bedrooms. The aptly named Yellow Bows Rooms are garrulously decorated in bright daffodil yellow, but they have been faithfully restored using fragments of the original wallpaper to recreate the original setting. The mahogany four-poster in Queen Victoria’s bedroom has been reproduced from the description in the final inventory taken just after Victoria left Brighton. This room has the stateliness and sophistication that you’d expect of Queen Victoria.
And, of course, as you’re leaving the building, you will be able to investigate the pavilion shops – there you might find the odd souvenir or two!
Royal Pavilion and Museums
Brighton, England BN1 1EE
+44 (1273) 290900