Brighton Best 2023

It’s when Brighton foodies refresh their Instagram feed, ready to pounce on Open Table and book the top 20 restaurants in the city, as voted by ‘those who know’. It’s that time when Brighton cab
drivers high five each other, knowing that we’ll all be going out to eat more, taking confidence from the recommendations of Brighton’s Best.

As founder of the Juicy Guide and Awards back in the early 2000s, I’ve witnessed the influence of a gong. Judged by a panel of the city’s most well-fed foodies, the Top 20 will be announced at Brighton’s Best 2023 on March 20. But Euan MacDonald, one of the four founders of the awards which has been rating Brighton and Hove’s favourite restaurants for the last eight years, told me that it’s its autumnal sister, October Best which can give the most interesting indicators of what the public choose. The annual of feasting at £25 per head at any one of that year’s crop has become a bit of bun fight, with the public voting with their wallets; the clear favourites are sold out within an hour of release, or in the case of Bincho Yakitori within minutes…

‘We had 60,000 people visit the site in the first hour’ Euan told me, ‘and that’s predominantly from within Brighton and Hove. It’s like the public poll.’ Less 64 Degrees and more Chilli Pickle is what ticks the local box. 

So where else among the BB top 20, other than Bincho, did Brighton and Hove food fans go for last year?  ‘Well, I think Namo (Eats) had a really interesting October Best. We had so many people who didn’t know them, but she put on a terrific value menu. I think it was 25 quid for two. And we know that with it was chefs who were ordering her takeaway auction last year more than anyone else.’ 

It’s part of Brighton’s Best’s mission to support indie restaurants in Brighton and Hove, and Namo Eats is a great example of how it works. Another is Halisco.  ‘As they’re next door to Bincho, I think people who couldn’t get in there went, “Well, let’s just see what Halisco’s doing. They put on a mix of both menu and events, including a charity night to raise money’, Euan told me. ‘They had cocktails as part of their package,  so they had a brilliant October Best!’

It’s also a great way to reach new diners even for those we think of as booked up all year round.  ‘Dave from Bincho used to use October Best as his main marketing strategy’ said Euan. ‘He’d lose money in October because it was his way to go out and meet loads of new customers and get them on his books. The Set had a fantastically popular October Best because they were raffling tables off. And so they were able to accrue a huge amount of new followers to their Instagram stuff.’

But what does it say about the way that people are eating out in Brighton now? A city once leading the way in sustainable choices – Terre a Terre was scooping up the national awards decades ago; the vegan Happy Maki was born here – is now less interested in where its meat and fish comes from than a climate conscious foodie in more, let’s say food literate cities might be. In short, Brighton and Hove food fans are perhaps more into their Instagram stories than the unfolding drama of soil health and climate change. 

‘Well, I think that food literacy had a peak’ said Euan, stepping out of BB’s shoes for a moment and into his food consultant’s. ‘Dan Kenny (The Set) is a great example. Whatever Dan does, I know he won’t sell himself short on that type of thing. 

“But what we’ve got at the minute is a lot of people who are conscious of overheads, and so conscious of costs. So what can they do? They ask themselves what they’re prepared to trade off. Brighton has never wanted to spend huge amounts on eating out. We’re so close to London, but we just have never had the pockets.’

Part of the problem in Brighton’s sustainable food scene is the tourist; 
Euan says that post-pandemic,
many restarateurs just can’t prioritise
ethical choices when the tourist pound
is so integral to their survival.  ‘Really,
I  don’t think it’s something that is front of mind for a lot of the owners and operators’, Euan told me. ‘What a lot of visitors to Brighton do in a way that you might not do
in London is they’ll try and go to three places in a night. If they’re down for a weekend, they want to see as much of it as they can. So if

they’re not keen on the price, they’ll jump somewhere else. And that’s a real worry for restaurants at the moment.’

More worryingly for the planet is that Brighton diners don’t care much either. ‘It never comes into it’ said Euan, when I asked if Brighton’s Best is ‘marked’ on its sustainable sourcing. ‘It’s about the dining experience. And that has never been raised in any feedback. I would say it’s not front of mind for a lot of people.’

So what should we look out for in 2023 in Brighton and Hove restaurants?  ‘The year was split into two hubs for most restaurateurs’, Euan told me. ‘First is: are we still going to be here at Easter? I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as people thought it was. But I know that at the tail end of last year, a lot of people were very worried about the first six months of this year. So first of all, I think everyone will just do what they got to do to stay where they are. So that doesn’t breed a lot of innovation unless you’ve got deep pocket backers behind you.  

‘The fact that the whole industry had to be supported during the pandemic has changed the way investors will look at opening restaurants at the minute. And so, what you’re looking at is something which then starts to talk to that entire night out, rather than just the meal. So, keeping people under a roof for cocktails, accommodation. There’s a massive hotel being built on Middle Street. It’s operating more like a Soho House or a club that keeps you in.  I’m not saying it’ll be club membership by any stretch, but the prices will reflect that I’m sure. 

‘The Albert Schloss group which has venues across the North has looked at Brighton. The food’s actually really good; they lean towards the sort of schnitzel side of things. But they are about getting you in and keeping you in for music, for food for everything. And I think Brighton’s missing that at the minute.’

And there are plenty of opportunities for investors. The development of The Hippodrome is ‘up for grabs’; Churchill Square’s food offering is expanding very soon, which Euan says will look to keep people across three floors of drinks and food. That’s going to be the challenge for the smaller operators,’ he warned. ‘Whereas at the minute, I’ll go to a couple of bars and I’ll go to Bincho or I’ll go to Chilli Pickle, that’s going to change for most people’

It’s a depressing vision of Brighton’s next food chapter. What we need is something new in Brighton, Euan tells me, and for him, Palmito, the Latin-Indo collaboration between Curry Leaf chef, Kanthi Thamma and his pal from his Chilli Pickle days, Diego Ricaurte  is it. ‘I’m absolutely in love with Palmito. It’s just food you haven’t had before. And for that reason alone, it’s just so exciting.’

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