Mostly Matt and Cat write about the Isle of Wight. But not always. In 2014 they took an autumn city break in Brighton where they got some great dining out tips from the locals, and this is one of several reviews they wrote there. It’s one of an occasional series of mainland reviews.
They say that Ventnor is where all of the refugees from the early Isle of Wight Pop Festivals laid their roots. The Islands most southerly town was known for its preponderance of beardies and yoghurt-weavers, partly drawn to the locations climate and lack of police presence – perfect conditions for growing exotic weeds. Although today you may still find a cadre of whiskery hippies – identifiable by their Peruvian cardigans and green wrists from copper bangles – their children and grandchildren are now owning the town. These energetic progeny have injected an artistic vibe into Ventnor, which has drawn businesses,visitors and other creatives to this revitalised corner of the Isle of Wight.
That model is not unique though. If you can imagine Ventnor magnified several hundred times, you wouldn’t be too far from envisioning Brighton. Once rather dismissively labelled London by the Sea, like Ventnor this city has evolved and grown into something really interesting. Yes, the seeds were sown by hippy forebears who themselves must have been influenced by the citys ultimate patron of leisure and style, the dissolute Prince Regent. And now they have born fruit.
Which brings us to today and Matt and Cat’s city break, seeking good food on the mainland. Brighton is, of a course, a seaside town but – aside from the outrageously twiddly Pavilion – what gives it character are its warrens of lanes and cat-creeps, home to boutiques, galleries and restaurants. There are strong echoes of bohemia – Brighton is still the place to buy that Moroccan filigree lamp – but you can now also purchase space-age holographic clothing and e-cigarettes. So after all this picking over artisan jewellery, scrutinising handmade footwear and laughing at novelty keyrings, any shopper will need refuelling and boy, were Matt and Cat spoilt for choice for places to go.
There are plenty of venues for your first meal of the day. For food on the hoof, Matt was particularly taken by Oatopia, a street food wagon he found outside the station. The cheery ladies in the truck had an early morning repartee that would be more than enough to charm the most jaded commuter. And porridge, obviously. His takeaway beaker of organic porridge was moistened with organic milk and topped with a scrummy spiced plum compote. For a more traditional cook-up try the Farm Cafe in North Road, or for many vegetarian or even vegan alternatives (this is Brighton after all), there are the North Laines. Matt and Cat had a veggie fry up at the celebrated Wai Kika Moo Kau cafe. This was almost a caricature of a place – the herb-scented breakfast was served to the sound of native American chanting from the nearby street-stall. Apart from the lack of bacon, it had all of the prerequisite components: toast, beans sausages (albeit meat-free bangers) and even chips. Someone had been a bit heavy-handed with the generic dried herbs for M&Cs liking but it gave the otherwise fairly unremarkable dish a Mediterranean feel.
Rather than try and create a meat-free pastiche of the full English, across the road from Wai Kika Moo Kau the clever folks at iydea have created vegetarian breakfasts that take the rule book and crush it beneath their leather-free sandals. Matt had poached eggs – but instead of beans, these were served with avocado, smoked cheddar and sweet chilli sauce. This dish gave Matt sufficient pep to start his day. Cat loved her banana and peanut butter on toast – the perfect food for a days bimbling around the regency town. Award-winning iydea was Matt and Cat’s favourite breakfast of their trip – well worth seeking out. For tea and pastries – at any time of day – try Temptation – proper tea in a china pot with a cute knitted cosy (and don’t miss the fabulous knitted Pavilion in the window).
Make like Deckard and pick up noodles to go at Itsu. Matt and Cat first encountered this Japanese fast food joint in London and were pleased to see discover one of only two branches outside the capital in Brighton. Cat had a splendid chicken and coconut: crystal noodles, chargrilled chicken with velvety coconut milk, edamame and shaved green leek in a hearty Thai chicken soup. £4.29.
For an upmarket sarnie Matt and Cat took a seat at Brighton Museum Cafe (catered by Peyton and Byrne, which also provides food at Londons top museums). They were meeting up with Brighton street photographer Darren Baldwin to get his tips on where to eat – and the museum was his choice. With the sort of table service youll find in a fancy hotel, this cafe is a cut above – quite literally if you choose to take a seat on the balcony overlooking the twentieth century design gallery. Cat had salmon and dill sandwich with organic fog tea (around £7).
For the best of Brightons street food, including some outstanding award-winners, head to the Street Diner in Queens Road every Friday. Brighton is a really great place for street food and here it is all gathered in one place. The Brighthelm Garden becomes an avenue of tents and gazebos, each peddling tantalising food. Its not all meaty although youd do well to try the Little Blue Smokehouse pulled pork brioche bun or a Trolls Pantry conservation beef steak burger; Matt and Cat were entertained by the concept of the Beelzebab vegan kebab. With all sorts of international cuisine including Indian, Middle Eastern and Spanish plus sweet honey cakes for afters the only trouble Matt and Cat had was choosing what to eat!
Tea and Cake
Of course, all this foot-slog means that youll need to have a sit down every now and then. And what goes best with a sit down – yes, of course, a nice cup of tea. Matt and Cats usual go-to cakery is Cafe CoHo, now with a branch near the station, though the one in the Lanes has some terrace seating perfect for people-watching. They have a decent range of savouries and also cakes, including gluten free versions which – to be honest – is de rigeur in Brighton just about everywhere. Cats Americano and chocolate and orange gateau (gf) was about £5.50.
Right next to Cafe CoHo in the Lanes is locals secret The Marwood, which Cat discovered by trunking in on two ladies’ chit-chat. A local advisor had already told Matt and Cat “Please, whatever anyone says, don’t go to The Marwood Cafe. All hype, all hipsters, bad service & bad coffee”. But they chose to ignore that. The Marwood’s half-hidden down an alleyway, and once you get inside it’s hard to know exactly what to make of it. It’s possible that Cafe CoHo is going to have to do without Matt and Cat next time they visit as The Marwood is an experience that it’s hard to fully appreciate in one sitting. The usual range of tea, coffee and very nice cakes were on offer; but frankly you don’t come to The Marwood for that, even though it is very prominently billed as ‘Kick-arse coffee and life-changing cake‘ – maybe with a nod to the similarly eccentrically-furnished Bonchurch Inn? The interior was a madman’s assemblage of retro tech trivia affixed to every surface. Star Wars artefacts, ancient Apple computers, defunct video games, a (working) BitCoin machine, photos of all sorts of stuff, structures that may or may not be functional – spray cans, wires, cables… Matt and Cat sat down at a table with a well-thumbed copy of Windows 95 for Dummies open on it, and wondered if the stuffed deer head was real or synthetic. Those eyes looked suspiciously beady – was it about to come to life in a display of Marwood animatronics? Thankfully not – but Matt and Cat will certainly be returning to the Marwood to spend some BitCoin on the kick-arse coffee.
More Brighton reviews coming shortly