- March 26, 2018
Brighton Palace Pier is iconic, it’s the pier that comes to mind whenever the word ‘pier’ is uttered, it’s the sign that you are home when flying home over the south coast, and it’s the go-to attraction for both visitors and residents here in Brighton and Hove. Others might be older or taller, but are they as much fun?
Since it opened back in 1899, the pier has been a Mecca for everything that is good about seaside entertainment. Back in the day, Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin played the end of the pier theatre. It has appeared on screen in more films and TV ads than perhaps any other structure in the UK, well maybe that other palace in London tops it. But there’s little doubt that Brighton’s Palace Pier is a national and even international treasure.
Brighton’s Palace Pier is a national and even international treasure
It’s as relevant today as it was 119 years ago. The pier is home to the very best of seaside fun, great rides and amusements, quality food and drinks and without doubt the very best views of the city’s famous seafront. The newly refurbished Palm Court restaurant now takes advantage of those views, with windows looking out across the sea to the city. It has been returned to its former glory, a bright and light place to meet friends for a meal or – should you be in the market for a wedding – that very special occasion. Parties are just so special when you are in such a wonderful location.
Horatio’s Bar has undertaken a radical transformation too. An interior that would not be out of place in trendy Shoreditch, a beautiful terrace overlooking the Madeira Terraces, great food at sensible prices and a well stocked bar that is equally well priced now feature. Again a brilliant place to party!
As we move into spring and summer look out for a new programme of entertainment, live music, comedy and Brighton’s very own Treason Show will be there sparking laughter as the nights get lighter.
A place in history
The story of Brighton’s piers is at the heart of Brighton’s history, and the Brighton Palace Pier takes care to preserve its heritage, with old photographs and history displayed on the pier as well as on its website, brightonpier.co.uk
Brighton’s first pier, The Chain Pier was destroyed by a huge storm in 1889 which led to the building of the Palace Pier. On 20 May 1899 the Brighton Marine Palace & Pier opened with a grand ceremony. The pier cost £27,000 to build (£2 million in today’s money) and 3,000 lightbulbs illuminated the pier (67,000 today). Early machines on the pier included ‘The Lady Palmist’ and ‘Punch Ball’ machine. In 1907, the Brighton Pier Concert Hall opened, on the site where the current Palm Court sits.
Captain Weeks was the longest serving pier master, presiding over the pier from 1928 to 1955. In 1940 the war office forced the pier to close to prevent the pier from being used for sea-borne invasion.
With Grade II listing, new style arcade machines and new rides, the pier has evolved over the decades to respond to the tourism needs of the city. New management in 1984 made the pier free to visit, with free deckchairs and new food outlets including fish and chips.
Heston Blumenthal declared that Brighton Pier is the “spiritual home of fish and chips”, and fish and chips have moved up in the world in their new home at Palm Court.
Brighton Pier now employs 400 people from around the world and secures Brighton’s place as a top tourist city in the UK and across the world.
CATCH OF THE DAY
Latest 7’s food editor Andrew Kay enjoys a taste of tradition in a palace of fun
I’m unapologetically northern and proud of it. Despite having written about food and drink now for over 25 years I am also not ashamed to reveal that in the top five of my list of food favourites comes fish and chips. Yes, I know regular readers think that I live on a diet of caviar and foie gras but nothing could be further from the truth. Fish and chips is a treat but one that does not come at a high price. It still remains one of the most affordable dining options, available to all, and don’t ever dare to tell me this is fast food. No indeed, good fish and chips take time and love and patience.
Brighton Palace Pier is the perfect place to enjoy a great plate of fish and chips, and now that the Brighton Marine Palace Pier company has invested a huge amount of money in re-inventing its Palm Court restaurant at the centre of the historic structure it is better than ever!
In a normal review, if I waffle on about the interior, it can be a sign that I found little to report on the food. Well this time nothing could be further from the truth. The new format, the interior setting, the décor and detail, from seating to lighting, cutlery to ambience – they have pulled out all the stops.
It looks good, as good as any fashionable London eatery, smart and modern in one sense but at the same time nodding to and respecting the history of this great building.
As for the food, well here we go. I was joined by fish and chip aficionado Mrs M, long battered and fried. We started with a plate of whitebait and a plate of calamari, one traditional and one modern in terms of seaside fare. Both generous, both piping hot and both tasty. I love squid and this was crisp and tender, the whitebait crunchy outside and soft within. When I return I could be easily tempted to order both again just for me and move straight on to dessert.
This is a great place to sit and eat and take in the beautiful views of our fabulous city by the sea
Ms M is a lover of plaice and was delighted by hers, although I was somewhat shocked by her choice of coleslaw, creamy mash and salad as side orders – she was clearly bucking tradition, but it all put a big smile on her face.
I went with both tradition and a guilty secret. Being from Lancashire my first choice of fried fish has to be haddock and I could not have been happier. The fish was perfectly cooked, the batter – crisp and golden – had created that all essential seal around the fish that means it is steamed rather than fried, evidence that the oil was at the right temperature. My chips, clearly freshly cut and not some ersatz frozen product, were golden too and piping hot.
I had mushy peas, proper mushy peas and not the softy-southerner version of squished frozen peas, and hooray for that. Oh yes, my guilty secret, curry sauce! Yes I know, it does not taste like the curries that we have come to love and I am sure my Indian chef friends would baulk at the thought, but I love this weird retro delicacy, dipping chips into the pale and slightly spicy gravy, and yes, this was the retro dish, not re-invented for modern tastes but just like the memory from my childhood.
So, the secret out, we moved on to puddings. Yes, we simply went the whole three courses for your reading. Ms M chose a peach melba torte, a delight that she wolfed down with a big grin. I felt obliged to go the route of a sundae and in doing so opted for the Brighton Palace Pier special. My eyes may have been bigger than my belly, as my grandmother would have said, but I too scoffed the lot – from the candy floss cap through the jam doughnuts, cream and Brighton rock ice-cream down to the jammy bottom of my sundae glass. I loved it. It was a trip down memory lane, a sweet and sticky treat that had me waddling home with a huge smile on my face. Only one thing could have made me smile more and that would have been a traditional long stemmed sundae spoon, but I was thrilled to see that my main course came appropriately with a proper fish knife. I may well be an old fashioned kind of guy, but when it’s done well I really want to celebrate it, and this is a great place to sit and eat and take in the beautiful views of our fabulous city by the sea.