Brighton first disappointed and then overwhelmed me. Coming in with the train from London, the city is not a very exciting site. Office areas and building projects, and the sea were nowhere to be seen. Then, a few blocks down from the train station it all comes jumping at you at once, and I was suddenly in hipster heaven, surrounded by pastel coloured houses, shops selling organic vegetables, little coffee places, vintage shops and art galleries. They say that Brighton is the San Francisco of Britain, but it felt more like I had been thrown in to a episode of Portlandia. It just got a bit too much too fast. And all I wanted to do was finding the street food dinner, a food market that serves street food supposedly at a green areas close to the station. Even though their facebook page had given the impression that the market was widely known in the city no one I asked for the way seemed to know what I was talking about. Finally I found a couple who thought they knew where it might be, and pointed me in the right direction. I got there just before the stalls starting closing down, and it turned out that Saturdays was a much smaller market then Fridays (I think it is Wednesday and Sunday now). It was still nice to experience it, I had some delicious Venezuelan bean stew and a gluten free cake from a nice woman who baked and sold cakes just for this market. It is so nice that people who loves cooking and baking can get a chance to spread what they do, even if they are not chefs or bakers.
One of the reason I wanted to go to Brighton was that there was going to be the Brighton Food and drink festival at the time, but I didn’t have time to see much of that on my first day. Mostly I waited for the couchsurfer I had been in touch with to send me her address and confirm that I could stay there, and searched for hostels with available bed that wasn’t too expensive, stressing about not getting a place to sleep.
I finally heard from her, but at that time I had already booked a bed in a female dorm at a hostel, so the Couchsurfing adventure had to wait until the next day.
Feeling calmed by the fact that I wouldn’t have to sleep at the beach I got out to have a proper look at the town, and started to be more charmed by Brighton. The pier at sunset was a quite amazing site, may be that it is commercial and touristy, but with the sounds of the waves and the carousels, and all the people passing by I could easily had spent a whole night hanging out there.
Kemp town was also fun, with all the bars, pubs, restaurants and different kind of people, but it felt like a place to be in company with someone. Seeing others having fun and enjoy them self’s together always makes your own solitude more obvious. Not that I really felt lonely, I was just happy to go and have a early night at the hostel, writing and reading.
The female dorm turned out not to be so cosy and quite in the night. There was a constant squeak of the beds, people coming in turning on the lights or the beeping from the door lock, that for some reason had a code, making a beeping noise every time someone pressed in the right, or the wrong code. I felt like a grumpy old lady, sighing and feeling like shouting at everyone to just get to bed and be quite. I am really too old for staying at that kind of partying hostels.
The next day, not feeling as tired as I expected, I went out to have a look at the Sussex Farmers Market that was part of the food festival. It was a nice set up, with lots of exciting stalls. I tried samples of a lot of things that I don’t even remember now, ate a overly sweet vegan flapjack and a super hot bean and beer stew, bought some delicious local goat cheese, chatted to a lot of producers and snapping photos. There seem to be so many local food initiatives going on in the city, people setting up a vegetarian super size wok, starting their own vegan catering company or baking a load of cup cakes to take to the market. It really sent the message that food does not have to be bought at the supermarket, or cooked by trained chefs to be delicious.
In the afternoon I met up with my couch surfer host, who took me along to a live jazz performance at a cosy pub that really had a living room feeling, with people in all ages chatting and dancing away. After having some very nice Italian pizza I was more then happy to get to her place and crash on the couch.
The next day I spent inspecting the hipster neighbourhoods called North Laine more closely, and discovered that I liked them as well. When you have walked one street with one interesting and tempting shop next to the other, and then discover that around the corner is the exact same set, up it can be a bit too much, and at some point I felt that even if it is small scale and ordinary people doing something they love, it is still all about spending money. But like I heard someone say, people have to live and I guess its better they do it selling vegetarian food or second hand clothes then slaving away at some office of super market. At the end of the day I was almost at the point of wanting to move to Brighton, or at least sad that I could not take all of it home with me.
The afternoon ended with a visit to the famous vegetarian restaurant Terre à Terre. I decided to only go for a desert, as I wasn’t very hungry and that was what I could afford. I was intrigued by the “Very British berry plate” that I saw someone eat as I walked in, and that’s what I ordered. In came a plate with a mini scone with strawberry and thyme jam, and clotted cream, a lavender meringue with black pepper and lemon curd, strawberry and elderflower jelly and a strawberry and gin granite. All sounding delicious, it was more of a pleasure for the eyes then for the taste buds though. Not that it was bad, but it was just a little bit bland and I didn’t really feel the thyme in the jam or the black pepper in the lemon curd. My favourite thing was probably the granite, where the gin gave it an exciting touch. I thought it was a little bit strange to do everything with strawberries that aren’t really in season anymore, it would have been more fun to use blackberries or gooseberries for example. All in all I am glad I went, and I got a lot of good ideas for new dishes flicking through the Terre à terre cookbook that they had a display copy of.
Before I went on the train to London the next morning I had to have some bircher muesli from the organic oat food truck outside the station. It just felt so typical Brighton.