21 August 2014

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Regional Focus - South Coast (Brighton)


Brighton Rocks
With its unique brand of quirky individuality and cosmopolitan cool, the classic seaside city is setting the standard for the regeneration of the south coast

helterskelter.jpg The city may be dubbed ‘London-on-sea’ but Brighton is more of a relaxed bohemian cousin to the stressed-out capital. Since 1750, fashionable London society has been flocking to the seaside resort to ‘take the waters’ and, while the motive may not be so medicinal these days, the city’s appeal is as strong as ever.  Effortlessly sophisticated and laidback, Brighton has plenty to offer event organisers too.

‘We chose Brighton because the city offers a rich blend of conference venues, a vibrant cultural scene and several opportunities to socialise in the many restaurants, clubs and bars,’ explains Dr Keith Perks, chair of the European Marketing Academy Conference, who recently held their conference at the Brighton Centre (see below). Indeed, not only are most of the major venues and attractions within a 10-minute walk of each other, Brighton has more restaurants per capita than anywhere outside of London.

Most of the action on Brighton’s famous seafront takes place between the two piers – the ever-diminishing shell of the old West Pier and the brash new Brighton Pier (tel: 01273 609361) with its money-guzzling funfair rides and entertainment arcades. If you can put up with the mobs of French schoolchildren, the latter is actually worth a visit, if only for the sweeping views of the seafront parade. There are also four event spaces for hire, with capacities going up to 500 and catering options including fish & chips and Champagne.

The city’s largest venues are easy to find – they’re lined up along the seafront. You can’t miss the imposing Victorian façades of the De Vere Grand (tel: 01273 224300), Brighton’s only five-star lodging, with event space for up to 800, and the colossal 334-bedroom Hilton Metropole (tel: 01273 775432), which can host banquets of 800 and conferences for up to 2,000. The Thistle Brighton (tel: 0871 376 9000) cuts a more contemporary figure, its glass frontage capitalising on the uninterrupted sea views and flooding the 500-capacity atrium with sunlight.

Another vast presence on this stretch is the Brighton Centre (tel: 01273 292671), which has held conferences for the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, as well as the annual BBC Showcase event. With 1941sq m of exhibition space, the cavernous Main Hall accommodates 3,500 delegates alongside the 550-capacity Hewison Hall, and, although the venue is a little frayed around the edges, the competitive rates free up plenty of budget for entertainment in the city.

If you’re looking to introduce an active element to events, there are options east of the pier. The indoor golf centre, Golf Addiction (tel: 01273 672198) at Brighton Marina has a conference room of its own, and the entire venue can hold up to 160. The newly developed Marina complex is also the place to head for watersports, with a number of operators such as Lagoon Watersports (tel: 01273 424842) offering yacht charter, sailing, windsurfing and zap cats. Heading back towards Brighton Pier, beach sports venue Yellowave (tel: 01273 672222) comprises of six beach volleyball courts or two five-a-side football or rugby pitches, available for corporate tournaments.

Old Town
Royal_Pavillion_CRED_brightononview.jpg (The Lanes & Squares)

Set back from the seafront, The Lanes is a maze of narrow alleyways following the street pattern of the original fishing village. Browsing its selection of independent shops, which sell clothes, jewellery and antiques, is one of the pleasures of free time in Brighton. It’s also the place to head for restaurants, with classic seafood at the well-loved English’s (tel: 01273 327980), which has first floor private dining rooms for up to 50, and the cosy Champagne and oyster bar at Riddle and Finn’s (tel: 01273 323008). For larger parties and tighter budgets, the city’s two family-run Italian giants, the 400-capacity Ristorante Donatello (tel: 01273 775477) and the four-floor Al Duomo (tel: 01273 326741), which has a number of private rooms, both serve a straight-talking menu of pizzas and pastas that’s perfect for groups.

In comparison to The Lanes’ charms, the Churchill Square shopping centre holds little appeal, but head south and you’ll come across a number of pretty Regency squares. It’s here that Brighton’s guesthouses were originally established, a number of which have now been converted into new-wave boutique hotels. The likes of the design-orientated Hotel Una (tel: 01273 820464) and the way-out Hotel Pelirocco (tel: 01273 327055) have given seaside accommodation a welcome facelift. If you fancy a more structured stroll, Cool City Walks offers downloadable walking tours for MP3 players. Contact VisitBrighton (tel: 01273 292629) for more information.

Cultural Quarter & The North Laine
North of The Lanes, the North Laine has traditionally been the city’s artisan’s quarter. The designers, potters and crafts people remain, but they’ve been joined by avant garde shops, cafés and bars. There’s also plenty to keep visitors entertained, from the nightly line-up of music, comedy and theatre at Komedia (tel: 01273 647100) and the Joogleberry Playhouse (tel: 01273 687171), a cabaret club with an international menu and a programme that hops from jazz to flamenco to comedy.

The new investment in the Cultural Quarter, sandwiched between the North Laine and The Lanes, has brought a shiny myhotel (tel: 01273 900300) offering two sleek event spaces with a maximum capacity of 40 for a reception, and Merkaba, a fabulous ground-floor cocktail bar that has already proved a hit with locals.

However, the most magnificent venues in town are still the oldies. The state rooms of George IV’s Royal Pavilion (tel: 01273 292820) make an unashamedly opulent and delightfully eccentric setting for banquets. A Champagne reception for 90 in the Great Kitchen can be followed by dinner under the glittering dragon chandelier in the Oriental-inspired Banqueting Room.

The Royal Pavilion Estate also takes in the Brighton Dome (tel: 01273 709709), refurbished to the tune of £22m in 2002 and comprising three historic events spaces. There’s the Concert Hall, with its fine art deco interior and tiered auditorium for up to 1872 delegates, as well as the Corn Exchange, a handsome conference and banqueting space, and the Pavilion Theatre, which is available to hire for up to 350 guests.

For more information about venues and events in Brighton, contact the Visit Brighton Convention Bureau on 01273 292629.

Eat - Veggie Central
Vegetarian food shed its lentils-and-sandals image a long time ago in Brighton – every coffee shop serves a soyaccino (coffee with soya milk). At the top of the stack, and consistently voted Britain’s best vegetarian restaurant, Terre a Terre (tel: 01273 729051) has long been championing universally appealing veggie food with an inspiring Mediterranean-leaning menu. This friendly, vibrant venue – a relatively upmarket but still laidback option – is available for private hire for up to 80 or for smaller groups of 40 during the week, fewer at weekends. Nearby in the South Lanes, Food for Friends (tel: 01273 202310), another local institution, serves imaginative, well-presented veggie food at reasonable prices and is available for exclusive hire for parties of up to 70. Although not strictly vegetarian, Bill’s Produce Store (tel: 01273 692894) majors in fresh veggies, so herbivores can expect to be well catered for in this fantastic urban farm shop-cum-café – a food-lover’s paradise.

Three of the Best - Occasion Restaurants
Set in what must be the loveliest location in Brighton, a restored fisherman’s arch on the beach, Due South (tel: 01273 821218) serves imaginative dishes with a commitment to local produce. Don’t bother with the pokey private room at the back – you’ll miss out on the sea views through the arched window of the 50-seater restaurant.
139 Kings Road Arches

Opened by successful local restaurateur Sam Metcalfe in 2001, Seven Dials (tel: 01273 885555) occupies a handsome former Lloyds bank just up the hill from the railway station. Majoring in upmarket British cuisine with influences from further afield, event spaces include the contemporary 55-capacity dining room, the self-contained Vault downstairs for 20 and a sunny outside terrace.
1 Buckingham Place

Tucked away in the basement of this boutique hotel, The Gingerman at Drakes (tel: 01273 696934) has attracted a loyal following with its understated dining room, friendly service and stylish European cooking using prime British ingredients. Expect pretty-as-a-picture starters and hearty mains. The entire restaurant seats 38, plus there’s a 12-person private dining room and a chef’s table too.
44 Marine Parade

VB7320679.jpgWhere to Stay
The large chain hotels occupy prime locations around the seafront:

Alias Hotel Seattle
A bright, modern four-star stretching alongside the marina, the Brighton link in this forward-thinking chain offers stylish bedrooms and lovely waterside views.
Brighton Marina, tel: 01273 679799
BR: 71 FR: 3 M: 150 D: 120 R: 200

De Vere Grand
This luxurious seafront stalwart is Brighton’s only five-star hotel, and top-price suites boast fine views over the beach.
Kings Road, tel: 01273 224300
BR: 200 FR: 10 M: 800 D: 730 R: 1100

Hilton Metropole
Recently refurbished, this four-star giant offers extensive accommodation and event facilities for residential conferences.
Kings Road, tel: 01273 775432
BR: 334 FR: 28 M: 1300 D: 800 R 1300

The Jury’s Inn
With a great city centre location, reasonable rates and simple but well-appointed accommodation, this newly opened property is popular with business travellers.
101 Stroudley Road, tel: 01273 862121
BR: 234 FR: 9 M: 110 D: 80 R: 120

Old Ship Hotel
Originally a 16th-century coaching house, this pleasant four-star hotel is the oldest in Brighton. Premium rooms have sea views.
Kings Road, tel: 01273 329001
BR FR: M: D: R:

Boasting a fine Regency façade, this eager-to-please three-star prides itself on a friendly approach and offering value for money.
Kings Road, tel: 01273 738201
BR: 117 FR: 8 M: 180 D: 140 R: 220

Thistle Brighton
A contemporary property with a good location on the seafront by the Lanes and  unexciting but comfortable rooms.
Kings Road, tel: 0871 3769041
BR: 208 FR: 9 M: 350 D: 360 R: 500

In a city renowned for its individual style, it’s no surprise that great boutique hotels abound:

Drakes Brighton - Drakes_0024.jpgDrakes
Blending Regency elegance and contemporary luxury, over half of the
bright bedrooms have uninterrupted sea views that can be enjoyed from windowside feature baths. Service is always eager to please and there’s also a fantastic restaurant in the basement: The Gingerman at Drakes, serves sparklingly fresh produce in comfortable, understated surrounds.
43-44 Marine Parade, BN2, tel: 01273 696934
BR: 20 FR: 1 M: 12 D: 12 R: 60

Hotel Una
Una’s owner is an architect, and it shows. Each of the hotel’s 19 rooms has been impeccably designed, with the styles ranging from modern and masculine to elegant and traditional. Exposed brickwork and stripped wood floors give the place a warm, homely feel, and prices at the lower end are surprisingly reasonable. The small, friendly spa, open into the evening, is also a great stop-in for express treatments.
55/56 Regency Square, BN1, tel: 01273 820464
BR: 19 FR: 2 M: 30 D: 20 R: 30

The city’s first purpose-built boutique hotel occupies a prime location in a corner of the Cultural Quarter. The sleek simplicity of the 80 capsule-like rooms (designed with a feng shui consultant) does not mean that details have been ignored: toiletries are Aveda, the flat-screen tellies Samsung and there’s a ‘what’s hot’ guide to Brighton in every room. The cocoon-like cocktail bar is a gem.
17 Jubilee Street, tel: 01273 900300
BR: 79 FR: 2 M: 40 D: 40 R: 40

This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Summer 2008.

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