Like so many vaunted developments in Brighton, Soho House has been in a metaphorical ‘wlll they, won’t they’ tug-of-war for years. I when I say years, I really mean it; this was all on the cards 7-8 years ago but then nothing. Then suddenly – shazam – during the lockdown work began and as if by magic the Brighton Beach House has appeared, opening in style with a party around a month ago featuring a live set from the UK’s Eurovision runner-up Sam Ryder.
Now I of all people know that there are always going to be detractors and moaning minnies for what is no doubt deemed by some as an elitist members-only venue, and there’s very little I can say to change that mindset other than reflect that the investment has seriously improved an important section of Brighton’s beachside shopfront and will – without doubt – attract a new demographic that wants to live, work, visit and play in the city. That can only have a positive knock-on effect for all of us and the much-needed wider regeneration and financial viability of the Madeira Terraces.
So, what’s it all about? Soho House was founded in the mid-90s in – yes, you guessed it – Soho, just up the line in the Big Smoke, as a private members club for those working in the cultural industries and general movers-and-shakers. Over the past 20-odd years, the brand’s portfolio of properties has expanded with over 30 full houses in key cities around the globe each offering lounges, dining areas, work and meeting zones, hotel accommodation and leisure spaces including gyms, spas, cinemas and pools. With a global membership in the region of 130,000, its clearly a slick model and a familiar home-from-home for those who travel regularly for work and pleasure.
Having worked at the coal-face of Sussex food and drink for more years than I care to remember, my recent visit to the new Brighton Beach House quite literally knocked my socks off. Slap-bang next to Brighton Palace Pier, the endless flow of various lounge spaces, terraces with postcard-perfect views, event spaces and – of course – the restaurant, made me – for a moment or two – a little giddy. Was I really in Brighton? If nothing else, the level of friendly and professional service, was a bit of a shock to the system.
But to the point, the purpose of my visit wasn’t to check out thread count on the cushions or the finish of the toilets – lovely as they are – but to cast a professional eye over their members’ restaurant, Cecconi’s.
As the name suggests, it’s got Italian kitchen roots but the menu offers much more than just pasta and pizza. It takes into account that Soho House regulars very much view the properties as homes-from-home and want to eat accordingly.
Thus, what might perhaps come as a surprise, is that the signature restaurant isn’t serving up particularly fancy food: its good food, using well-sourced ingredients that is simply cooked well.
To start, we enjoyed deep fried squid with red chillis and a simple, yet delicious, tuna and quails egg small plate that took me back to kicked-back lunches somewhere, once upon a time, in Italy. Our mains were pretty straightforward veal cannelloni and a spatchcock chicken with rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes and balsamic. All beautifully plated and tasty but simple and honest fayre.
Dessert was a shared tiramisu which – bizarrely – could’ve literally fed a table of four. Again, practically perfect in every way, but not exactly earth-shattering.
Whilst patrons obviously need to be members, the restaurant’s pricing isn’t going to break the bank. Equally the lounge bar is pretty reasonable by Brighton standards – with cocktails from £10. I can think of dozens of venues in the city that are charging significantly more for lesser drinks. I’m personally happy to see that the bar has embraced local with both Brighton Gin Pavilion and Seaside Strength gins available and a decent selection of English wines from Albourne, Ambriel and Wiston in Sussex alongside Gusbourne from Kent.
I won’t get into the membership fees – you can Google that at your own leisure – but there are lots of soon-to-be-announced pocket-friendly yearly packages including their Soho Works office space access for creative entrepreneurs and their Soho Friends membership which allows pre-booking for the restaurant, events and forthcoming accommodation. A little birdie also tells me that there will be a food outlet open to the wider public too but details are still being worked through.
It’s hard to think of a comparable hospitality experience along England’s south coast, never mind in Sussex itself. At the end of the day, it’s not an experience that many readers of this column will get the chance to sample in its entirety. But if you want fine dining – or chef-auteurs who push the boundaries – then there are Michelin bibs and AA rosettes aplenty to choose from in the city and wider Sussex. What Soho House’s Brighton property is offering is an unmatched and fully-rounded hospitably experience. And that obviously comes with a price.
Will the Brighton Beach House be a success? Undoubtably. This is a game-changer as to how those outside of Brighton’s echo-chamber will perceive and interact with the city. The opening of Soho House puts our little corner of the world on the map.