Brighton has some interesting facts to boast of; it’s the happiest place to live in the UK, the most popular UK destination for overseas tourists and my personal favorite.. it has the highest percentage of the population claiming Jedi Knight as their religion.. ok, it only 2.6% but that’s still pretty remarkable.
But what about our canine friends? With pet ownership on the decline and the majority of UK establishments not accepting pets on their premises, is the lure of the tourist buck working against our four-legged friends? We went to Brighton with Meg, our somewhat neurotic 20-month-old Border Collie, to find out.
Where to stay?
Assured pets were accepted, we checked in at the Holiday Inn. The car park is conveniently located just behind the hotel but, like the vast majority of parking areas in Brighton, it does come at a cost (£18/24 hours). The room was clean and comfortable plus the doggy treats on reception helped Meg settle in. With its beach-front location, the hotel is also geared up to families with a playground opposite proving very popular. My 6-year-old son, Joseph, made the most of the breakfast facilities with the pancake-making machine proving a huge hit. Conveniently, the restaurant is also a diner serving a wide range of bespoke burgers which were both tasty and very filling. The kid’s menu was superb and Joseph didn’t leave a scrap on his plate.
There is a choice of hotels in Brighton that accept pets and the local tourist board website can provide more information.
What to eat?
Little people (both the 2-legged and 4-legged kind) won’t go hungry. The seafront is rammed with options and we chose the Yellowave cafe. The healthy menu is both enticing and nutritious; no chips being served here! Pets were welcome (with the obligatory dog bowl of water provided), and a large sandpit within the compounds of the cafe was free to use so keeping an eye on children was a doddle.
Deciding to walk off our lunch, we came across Bone Idle, a one-stop-shop for all things canine. Located in the oldest shopping street in Brighton their commitment to canine welfare, through the sourcing of top of the range food and products, was clearly evident. Also on offer are grooming services if your dog needs a cut and blow dry. As with any successful business, it’s the little touches that make the difference and Bone Idle has these in spades. The owners go that extra mile and stock by far the largest variety of dog food (from raw to their own recipe and more) that I have ever seen. They have also established partnerships with local eateries and regularly donate packets of nutritious doggy Sunday dinners so Fido et al have the option of enjoying a Sunday roast alongside their owners.
Once we dragged Meg away from Bone Idol, we went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at the Ginger Pig in Hove. Part of the Gingerman Group which was set up in 1998, the gastro-pub is a gentle 15-minute stroll from the centre of Brighton. Well-renowned for its top-notch food, we were looking forward to a gastronomic adventure and weren’t disappointed.
Getting off to a good start with a Negroni (and the largest ice cubes I’ve seen in a glass), we moved onto the starters. Sharing a magnificent plate of charcuterie (£8.50) and some bread, butter and aoili (£2.50) was a positive start. The bread and choice of butters were delicious and we all tucked in unashamedly. The restaurant was filling up nicely with diners with friends popping in for a drink at their table; the balance being spot-on between refined informality and good professional service.
Onto the mains and we went for the Wild Garlic Arancini (£14) and the Plaice (£16.50) which were both delicious. The garlic dish came with caponata, grilled asparagus and pecorino & salsa verde, and the plaice was served with Jersey Royals, asparagus, samphire, leek & tabasco dauphine with an oyster emulsion. The plaice was sumptuous and voted by our table as one of the best fish dishes tasted.
The star of the show, though, had to be dessert. I plumped for the Espresso Set Custard (£8.50) which came with a hazelnut sponge, espresso tuille & croissant ice cream. The flavour combinations were delicately balanced and the espresso made its presence felt without overpowering the rest of the dish. My other half went for the cheeseboard which was eagerly consumed and washed down with a good glass of Merlot. Meg settled for a bowl of water and lapped up the attention from the fellow diners and members of staff. The lazy stroll back to the hotel was enough to let us settle into a fitful slumber.
Checking out of the hotel, we headed away from the hustle and bustle of Brighton seafront and towards the altogether more refined air of the elegant Grade One listed 18th Century Stanmer House. It is set in splendid Grade Two listed grounds including swathes of parkland; perfect for a quick game of fetch with Meg before lunch. The history is fascinating with the estate having been purchased from the Pelham family by the Brighton Corporation for £225,000 in 1947. In a move that would please many a local environmentalist today, the Corporation bought it to protect the local water supplies and land for the people of Brighton and Hove. Clearly, the Pelham’s loss is our gain.
Inside the grandeur of Stanmer House, we were seated in one of the many rooms laid out for dining. Like the vast majority of country estates, Stanmer House is diversifying and offers a variety of services from one-day yoga retreats through to the all-together more serious business of getting hitched. But we weren’t there for that; food was the order of the day, and once we got our son settled with his free kids drawing pack, we checked out the menu.
Following a field to fork ethos, there was a wide choice of local food. We started with the homemade spiced pork scratchings, which were a bit chewy for my liking, though devoured by the rest of the table. The artisan breads with balsamic and cold-pressed olive oil went down very well. For mains, I went for the most refreshing Superfood Salad which was reasonably priced at £7. This was accompanied by grilled tenderstem broccoli, broad beans, avocado, sweet potato, pomegranate and quinoa with a chilli, mint and citrus dressing. My partner had the Sussex sirloin steak (£11.50) washed down with a glass or two of Chilean Merlot. Pudding was cheese board and coconut parfait with mango puree and chilli syrup. The cheese was delicious and the Parfait was very delicately flavoured with coconut; potentially too delicate for some people’s liking however. The mango puree and chilli syrup was irresistible.
Meg was very well-behaved and was greeted warmly by other 4-legged companions in the dining room. Our son loved his meal of scampi, skinny fries and peas with ice cream to follow; a thumbs-up also went to the outdoor play area which was put to full use in burning off energy before the drive home.
To say Brighton is dog-friendly is an understatement. Our expectations were truly exceeded with many places to stay, eat and entertain with our four-legged friends. Even shops such as the marvellous ladies clothes shop on the sea-front, Elsie & Betts, is named after a pooch. The only potential negative that we noticed was the sea-front noise that interfered initially with Meg’s Border Collie paranoia.. but that soon passed once she settled and she was then in her element. We would not hesitate to take her again should the opportunity arise.