Although it’s all too easy to think of jetting of for a cheeky weekend away in Europe, there’s a huge amount to be enjoyed right here on our doorstep in Sussex, writes Nick Mosley.
I seem to find myself in Eastbourne quite a lot nowadays. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m preferring the somewhat more genteel and cleaner seafront with its always stunningly bright and cheery flower beds and palm trees, or whether the hospitality offering is getting pretty darned good.
I didn’t need asking twice when I had the offer to jump on the train for the 40 minute journey from Brighton to see what fun and games (and food) I could cram into a 24-hour mid-week staycation in our neighbouring town.
First stop was obviously Eastbourne Pier, which although pretty to look at is also – I’m afraid –pretty miserable to walk on. I’d like to say that can be blamed on the pandemic but if I’m honest in all the years I’ve been to Eastbourne its always been dull as old boots although I note that the shop selling old ladies cardigans and slippers appears to have closed down so that’s a win.
Anyway, if you start at the bottom then things can only get better as you rise to the top – and they most certainly did as I wandered eastward along the beach to my first stop for brunch. I’ll hold my hands-up on this one – and I’m rather embarrassed to say having worked in Sussex food and drink promotion for nearly 20 years – but I didn’t know Eastbourne had such as extensive on-shore fishing fleet. It was a genuine revelation to skip along the beach past mound after mound of crab and lobster pots, with the sun on my face and a slight whiff of fish in my nose!
Destination one was the Perch group’s Eastbourne offering. These guys are on a roll at the moment with their unique café format – and spin-offs such as the new Perch Pizza in Worthing – rolling out across the Sussex coast. The Perch in the Park restaurant in Prince’s Park is well worth the walk along the beach eastward from the town centre. As with most of the green spaces in Eastbourne, the colourful and well-maintained planting alongside an expansive boating lake really make the surrounding park a beautiful place to take time to wander and enjoy.
The café itself overlooks the water, with big picture windows and a sun-drenched outside terrace. Whilst the food offering isn’t going to change your world – think breakfast options, burgers, sandwiches, salads – it’s high quality, creatively plated, generously portioned and never fails to deliver. I always go for one of their deliciously exciting salads that are piled high with great quality ingredients and look like works of art. Although I hate to flip from dining to toilets in the same paragraph, their disco ball loos are Instagramably hilarious.
I don’t think any visit to Eastbourne would be complete without a visit to The Grand Hotel, the only five star hotel on the Sussex coastline. ‘The White Palace’ as it’s affectionally known, offers impeccable service from their well-trained team, an impressive spa with indoor and outdoor swimming pools and an excellent choice of food and drink options. The two AA rosette Mirabelle is a personal favourite of mine for a leisurely lunch but it was their classic afternoon tea with Champagne that we enjoyed on this visit.
To the delicate tinkling of ivories, we plied our way through tier after tier of homemade sandwiches, pastries and the all-important scones smothered with strawberry jam and clotted cream. It’s a truly indulgent experience and – in my humble opinion – head-and-shoulders above the afternoon teas found elsewhere in Sussex. Incidentally they also have a fantastic cocktail bar where you can always get a perfectly mixed drink – I can whole-heartedly recommend a martini made with their new in-house The Grand Gin.
Although Eastbourne will likely never – and perhaps thankfully – reach the heady-heights of Brighton’s insane nightlife, the Boom Battle Bar on the top floor of the Beacon shopping centre my not sound like everyone’s cup of tea but it’s quite a giggle. This vast space offers a host of games – from the more pedestrian bar pool to very crazy, crazy golf – all under one sparkly neon-lit roof. We had a ball with the axe-throwing – yes, you read that right – although as you have to sign a disclaimer this particular activity is best done before you head to the bar for a cocktail or beer.
Following all the energy expended chucking heavy bits of metal around, it was time for a refuel and much needed vino. Head chef Amy Stone and restaurant manager Marina Stone only opened Journeys Wine Bar and Restaurant near Eastbourne station in December, but it’s already at the top of the hospitality game in the town. The duo have an impressive pedigree having worked for numerous AA rosette and Michelin-starred restaurants in Kent and London, and the skill and creativity of dishes coming out of the kitchen alongside the impeccably professional and friendly front of house service is unquestionable.
Pop in for snacky small plates or a sharing board with bottle of organic wine, or enjoy a menu with matched wine flight. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed – I can’t recommend it highly enough as one of the best – and well-priced – dining destinations in Sussex and definitely one to watch over the coming months and years.
Now I have to admit I didn’t have the energy to see a show – I needed to lay down and rub my fat tummy – but Eastbourne isn’t short of entertainment either with an impressive theatre and music offering at their family of Eastbourne Theatres. Big name musicals including The Rocky Horror Show (13-17 June) and Blood Brothers (25-29 July) performing at the Congress Theatre alongside popular plays including Mike Leigh’s biting Abigail’s Party (6-10 June) and thrilling Gaslight (6-15 July) at the Devonshire Park.
My overnight check-in was The Port Hotel on Royal Parade, a beautifully restored Victorian townhouse that now offers 19 modern bedrooms and restaurant-bar. I visited The Port with a colleague during the Eastbourne Airshow last year and enjoyed a – very literally – roaring lunch watching the planes go by so I had a good idea of what to expect.
The rooms are stunning – whether the more bijou cosy ‘cabin’ rooms that start at a very good value £85 per night for two sharing – or the feature rooms offering spectacular views of the English Channel.
Every last detail of my room – number six – had been considered by the trio of owners from piles of interesting books and magazines through to a record player with a stack of well-chosen retro LPs. As I melted into a hot bath overlooking the beach with a glass of wine and the pleasing crackle of Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb in the background I felt a wave of peace and relaxation wash over me. So much so that I was tucked up in bed, shrouded in a cloud of soft linens, and asleep by 9pm… and didn’t wake up until 9am. In my mind, that’s the kind of snoozing that money can’t buy.
I’m not a big breakfast eater but the temptation of the full English was too good to miss. Delicious as it was, my eyes were definitely too big for my belly, however it was hearty and packed with locally sourced ingredients. Its safe to say that this property really cares about working with Sussex suppliers – whether farmers and fishers or winemakers and distillers. The passion really shows not only in the produce but also the detail and service.
Alas, my 24 hours was up – and I had to get back to the real world although feeling somewhat more ‘zen’ than when I’d arrived. I’ve no doubt I’ll be back on that train to Eastbourne soon.