The Grand Brighton is back as the belle of the South Coast, having undergone an extensive renovation over the last few years, complete with a state-of-the-art spa, grand seafood brasserie and a buzzing lounge bar with innovative cocktails, an environment so far from being reminiscent of a nursing home with wing armchairs that it’s difficult to find a seat even on a Sunday evening. The sleek new look of the hotel is attracting not only sophisticated locals, DFLs – the ‘Down From London’ crowd, but those in and outside the UK drawn to experience the finest the English Riveria has to offer.
Dining at the glamorous seafood restaurant GB1 is a gourmet treat as good as anything you’ll sample in Brighton, with the option to sit more informally on high stools placed around the striking central fish bar or at one of the candlelit tables on the sea facing terrace. The extensive menu features prime market fish caught in the early hours on the south coast shoreline, superbly prepared whether simply grilled or enhanced by more complex ingredient pairings which showcase Executive Chef Alan White’s talents. Meat options are meanwhile just as tempting due to produce such as Trenchmore Sussex Wagyu beef and Southdown lamb.
Start with an aperitif such as Black Velvet or GB1 Fizz and the scallop popcorn I discovered an insatiable appetite for, followed by seasonal native oysters whenever possible, exchanging the usual shallot vinegar for vodka and tomato juice. The GB1 Favourite of milky cod featured a wonderfully smoky prosciutto dust, an almond purée, charred romaine lettuce and broccoli three ways, natural, crispy, and in the form of a pickled purée; an exciting fish dish of texture, contrasts and surprises that went superbly with a Provence rosé with which we toasted to the beginning of our three day foray by the sea. Dessert was equally refined, from a pistachio pannacotta with just the right wobble, topped with frangipane, matcha green tea and fresh raspberries, to an unctuous chocolate fondant with caramelised banana and expertly made honeycomb that won’t have you ringing the dentist.
The Grand’s impressive sea front position, with suites such as our own reflecting the nostalgia of this beloved coastal resort through trendy and tactile stripe fabrics and black and white images of landmarks around the city, makes you want to linger indoors even on a sunny day; whether enjoying a decadent champagne afternoon tea on the famous Victoria terrace to a luxury treatment at the chic Grand Spa; a peaceful haven away from the bustling, bohemian city outside the hotel’s revolving doors, a modern England revolutionised by dramatic social changes that could hardly have been dreamt of when the property was first opened over one hundred and fifty years ago at the height of the Victorian bathing craze and the freedom afforded to all classes by the burgeoning railways. Wonderfully, the rejuvenated Grand now feels as though it’s still ahead of the curve.
Window-shopping/ogling in the jewellery quarter of The Lanes made me recall the pleasure of selecting my engagement ring four years ago – if only I could always have the fun of trying on countless diamonds until hitting upon the right one. The consolation was a lobster Thermidor lunch at English’s, the oldest restaurant in Brighton, specialising in oysters and seafood. Try the tempura hot rocks with homemade tartare sauce to start and lashings of Champagne alongside.
Afterwards, under the influence of bubbles and Brighton’s intoxicating atmosphere, mum and I did something we’d always wanted to, race a car in an arcade game. This was followed by gathering pick n mix in a sweet shop before sunbathing in a frayed stripy deckchair a half naked man asked us to pay an extortionate amount to sit in for half an hour, letting our hair down (quite literally) on a rollercoaster and reminding ourselves that we both still feel like teenagers even if we don’t look it. Brighton really is the ultimate destination for the young at heart in search of equal doses of fun and relaxation. Who needs Botox – being here is enough to take years off.
On a grey, breezy afternoon we chickened out of a day on the pier and amused ourselves by drinking Moet & Chandon and playing Canasta (with Brighton souvenir playing cards) in a red booth in JB’s diner, just a short stroll from the Grand Brighton, where Elvis, The Kinks and Little Richard satisfied our love of retro music. Our visit also coincided with Swing Patrol’s weekly Lindy Hop class – an intensive yet incredibly easy to follow dance lesson that will have you bouncing around to ‘Hit the Road Jack’ and other classics in no time, a fabulous way to work up an appetite before dinner at one of my favourite Brighton restaurants, Riddle & Finns in the Lanes.
The following morning, after partaking of a Paris-style breakfast in bed of coffee and croissants, I soothed my aching legs with a decadent full body aromatherapy massage at The Grand Spa who work with Natural Spa Factory products, Heaven Skincare, and offer a range of luxury Carita facials. Tailored to my needs, it was the ideal antidote to the kicks and flicks of the night before, along with some pulled muscles I didn’t even know I had.
With a swanky spa café stocked with the ideal combination of Champagne and cake, along with a sumptuous relaxation lounge featuring soft, cushioned day beds, I maximised on the post-treatment experience and indulged in some me-time that’s hard to find in our hectic everyday lives – a moment of bliss that only needed the sound of crashing waves to send me to sleep.
With a copy of Graham Greene’s iconic Brighton Rock tucked under my arm, a stick of the real stuff packed into my suitcase for the young relatives, and a portion of fish and chips generously doused in malt vinegar for the ultimate lunch on the pebbles, this far-from sleepy seaside venue is like nowhere else on Earth – a refreshing paradise in which to reflect and regroup. Sea air does strange things.
The Grand Brighton, 97-99 Kings Rd, Brighton BN1 2FW. For more information, including details of Christmas offers and reservations, visit www.grandbrighton.co.uk.