Mark Bibby Jackson checks into The Grand Brighton and really does have a grand time in the Palace by the Sea.
The Grand Brighton hotel has always been a place I have wished to stay. Many a time have I walked along Brighton’s promenade looked up at its colossal frontage and thought wouldn’t it be grand to stay there, but I never have. Well, not until now that is.
History of The Grand Brighton
When it opened on 21 July 1864, The Grand was declared the ‘Palace By The Sea’. Designed by architect John Whichcord Jr, it was not just the hotel’s grand façade that made it stand out. It was renowned for its ornate interiors and excellent service, as well as the first UK lift outside of London – apparently then they were called “vertical omnibuses”.
Now, The Grand Brighton has 201 rooms and suites across its seven floors as well as the Cyan Brighton restaurant, the Victoria Bar & Lounge and the Victoria Terrace. It also has the most amazing staircase should you not wish to take the vertical omnibus.
Judging by my seamless check-in, the hotel’s reputation for fine service has not dimmed in the near 170 years. It is great to have my car valet parked in the hotel’s private car park, although I do have visions of the man to whom I hand my keys driving off with my vehicle just like Daniel Craig in Casino Royal.
My third floor junior suite room is tastefully decorated in a contemporary style with earthen colours as well as black and white photographs of architectural details. It also has amazing views across the road to the beach and the now derelict West Pier. As the sun sets the birds congregate en masse above the waters. It is quite blissful.
Despite my luxurious digs I do not have sufficient time to linger as I have a thirst to try a couple of Brighton’s great pubs in The Lanes. This concludes with a great pint of Harvey’s Best – when in Brighton … – accompanied by an excellent choice of music.
Dining at the Grand Hotel Brighton
Brighton has a great range of restaurants, but I am booked in for dinner at The Grand’s Cyan restaurant.
The bartender suggests I start with a Kerry Sour while digesting the menu. Well, I guess she would as she has created the concoction. A mix of Chambord, blue curaçao, cranberry juice and lots of lemon, I wonder whether it might be too sweet for me. Initially, I suspect the sweetness slightly overshadows the sherbet froth surface. However, as I delve deeper the balance between sweet and sour tips more to my liking. I discover the bartender is not called Kerry but Lucy, nor does she come from the west coast of Ireland, but the name is inspired by a friend of hers. I wonder whether I will ever have a cocktail named after me.
I order some olives to accompany Kelly’s friend’s cocktail. The dark green colour reassures me these are just right. Perhaps on reflection, it was when I started tasting the olives that the cocktail improved – I really recommend the combo.
Lucy escorts my olives from the bar to the terrace restaurant area of Cyan, while the lyrical music of Heaven by Mitski plays.
I have to confess to being rather partial to halibut. It is a principle of mine – I have few – to order the most meaty of fish wherever possible.
In anticipation I skip the starter, dining on the olives, and instead order a bottle of Chateau Puygueraud Lucy recommends. A merlot, cabernet franc and malbec mix it has a softness which compliments the fish, and in truth goes down a little too easily.
The halibut is perfectly seasoned and cooked allowing all the flavour of the fatty fish to come through. The serving consists of two large steaks, justifying my earlier decision to skip the starter.
One of the problems of being a food critic is that your expectations rise with experience. You know how food should be cooked and so often it disappoints. The halibut does not. Simply, it is divine. I conclude with five cheeses, of which the two cheddars, one aged, are exceptional.
Cocktail in the Victoria Bar and Lounge
After dinner I retire to the Victoria bar, which exudes a timeless elegance with its wonderful wood panelling.
If all this makes you think The Grand Brighton has aged well, you would be right. It has also reinvented itself. This is not a place that my grandmother would have come for tea, but it is somewhere where I think my 2020s grandmother doppelgänger would have really enjoyed herself. Fun without being disrespectful to the past that is The Grand Brighton.
A Stroll Around Brighton
The following morning, I wake to find the sea still outside my balcony. Early bathers are baring the cold waters. I discover my shower to be extremely refreshing but perhaps not as much as a dip in the Channel in late October.
One of the advantages of staying at The Grand Brighton is its excellent location. Not only is it opposite the beach and close to West Pier and The Lanes, but also a short stroll to the Grade I listed Royal Pavilion and Garden, and Brighton Palace Pier.
After a satisfying breakfast, I take a stroll along the beach in the direction of the pier, popping into the Brighton Fishing Museum on my way. This contains a real fishing boat, as well as interesting information about the West Pier, which was destroyed by storm and fires in 2003 and 2004. There is also a mention of the Brighton Swimming Club which was formed in the 1860s. Maybe these were the foolhardy folks I saw from my balcony.
The Brighton Palace Pier is closed during my visit so I head away from the beach through the Old Steine Gardens to the Royal Pavilion. This most unusual building was designed by John Nash in the Indian style and opened in 1823. Nash also designed the gardens. Th Royal Pavilion was used as a hospital for Indian soldiers in 1915.
Heading back to The Grand, I discover I still have plenty of time before departing for my evening flight from Gatwick, so I order a pot of white tea which is served impeccably in silverware in the Victoria Lounge. The Grand may have changed with the tides, but some things remain eternal. This is something of which my grandmother would have approved, although I fear she might have wanted lemon in her tea. Whatever it’s past, I firmly believe that this Brighton hotel still has a grand future ahead of it.
Seasonal Events at The Grand Brighton
Festive Party Nights
The Grand will host a series of festive party nights in the Empress Suite, including a three-course meal, coffee and wine for £75 per person (minimum group of eight on 8, 9, 15 and 16 December. Reservations can be made at 01273 224300.
New Year’s Eve Getaway Package
Bid adieu to 2023 in style with The Grand’s New Year’s Eve party package including a five-course tasting menu in the Empress Suite with glass of Champagne, followed by dancing and live music by RadioAction. Recuperate with breakfast before heading home. The New Year’s Eve Getaway Package starts from £600 for two.
Festive Afternoon Tea
Festive Afternoon Tea is priced at £38 per person, and reservations are now open with early booking advised.
The Grand Brighton
97-99 Kings Rd, Brighton and Hove, Brighton BN1 2FW
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