Nicholas Lezard – April-May 2023

I write this at four o’clock; and I would like to go to Belchers for double egg and chips; but Belchers is shut. But thank goodness, it opens tomorrow; it just shut6s at two. Yet its survival is something of an anomaly; thank God it is still here.

As a Brighton resident, I get quite a few targeted ads to do with the place; as I imagine you do, too. The best one was for a tatty phone repair shop with branches in Kemptown and Preston Street; one of the comments beneath the ad was from a highly disappointed customer, which somehow added to the charm.

But the worst ad was the other day, and it was for “the twenty best restaurants in Brighton”. I scrolled through the list. The usual suspects: Riddler and Finns, the Salt Whatever It Is, you know the thing. Every photo was of a plate upon which lurked, shamefully, in portions so minuscule they were almost invisible, some confection of leaves and jus which you just knew that they cost, at a bare minimum, the thick end of twenty quid.

Now the best restaurant in Brighton is, as everybody knows, the Regency, which charges you about a half as much for its oysters as R & F. Why? They’re the same oysters. Its whitebait is a triumph. But there are times when you don’t want whitebait, however well-cooked; you want double egg and chips with a mug of dark brown tea, red and brown sauce bottles on the table. (Brown for me, thanks.) You also want it in a cafe that has been unchanged for decades; the kind of place that would not have looked out of place in an episode of, say, The Sweeney. Not that there is an undercurrent of violence in Belchers; indeed, the atmosphere inside is hushed, reverent, as people eat their all-day breakfasts and sip their tea. Right now, as I write, it is raining; I know that were it open, its windows, in its dining space the size of a small living room, would be slightly steamed up. (Ed: I’ve got to take you to Mac’s Cafe over Kemptown way. So old school there are Granadas and Capris parked – well, stopped – outside).

Belchers is now in its fifth decade, as is its proprietor and head chef, Jane. (Not that she looks it.) I don’t go there as often as I would like; in common with many these days, I have to watch the pennies. That said, six quid and change for a cup of tea and the double egg and chips is really not a bad deal.

It is, admittedly, a bit of a shlepp from West Hill; there was a decent cafe on Dyke Road but its food is now abominable. Beetroot has been involved. But Belchers is the true, the echt, the unimprovable. There’s a phrase used in the Michelin Guide, in which Belchers will never feature, for restaurants which are worth making an effort to go to: vaut le détour. Belchers falls very much into that category. 

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