In a place long ago (before Facebook) when I started properly dating, a meal out involved a kebab from a van after the pub had shut. Restaurants were for people with more money and better manners than us.
By the time my girlfriend and I had graduated and found jobs, things had barely improved. A meal at a beautiful restaurant in Bath is seared in my memory for all the wrong reasons. We were spending a long weekend in the city and the restaurant was packed to the gunwales and as quiet as the tomb. The menu was in French. When I asked the (also French) waiter for a translation he looked at me as if I has told him the Eiffel Tower had been moved to Worthing.
You might think that eating out in Brighton has always been an informal affair but it is not so. In common with the rest of the country, until relatively recently, Pinkie, the malevolent protagonist in the 1930s version of Brighton Rock, and his poor girlfriend Rose would have felt at home with the options – cheap and cheerful or superb but stuffy.
How heartening then to witness the culinary explosion in the London Road area. Carlito Burrito, the brainchild of Andrew Barlow and Carlos Riestra, offers Mexican street food which is rapidly becoming the flavour of the month (I expect a branch of Los Pollas Hermanos to pop up in Churchill Square any day now).
It’s a short rhumba down York Place to Meat Liquor (pictured above) where another duo, Yianni Papoutsis and Scott Collins, are experiencing the sort of overnight success that only comes with years of perfecting your craft. Their burgers are juicy, messy and delicious and if the experience overall is reminiscent of life inside a Marvel comic strip it is a million times more preferable to being served by the cast of Downton Abbey.
Walking London Road at night used to be a cheerless experience and, in truth, the rough edges have not been entirely smoothed over. You are still more likely to bump into a street sleeper looking for your loose change than a celebrity on the loose from the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame. No matter – some of my friends say this give the area edgy appeal and who am I to disagree?
The misfortunes of Preston Street on the other side of the city have been highlighted recently. The argument goes that the area needs major investment and a jaw dropping attraction to pull in the punters.
Perhaps the traders could take a leaf out of London Road’s book. Spruce up the shopfront and offer the kind of things – burgers, sushi, tacos – that people actually want to eat.
Now there’s food for thought.