The Grand Hotel, Brighton, is the most beautiful hotel in England. It is bright and shiny like Simon Cowell’s teeth, surrounded by something very ugly, like Simon Cowell’s face. It even managed to look beautiful when the IRA blew a cartoon hole in it, from which Margaret Thatcher emerged covered in dust and more dangerous than ever, like Grendel’s mother. Maybe it is the memory of all that adultery, but the Grand is a happy place, the hotel that Londoners flee to, have bad sex and look out the window at the English Channel, a stretch of water so boring it looks more like paint than water. The English Channel is a disgrace and it knows it; it doesn’t even try to be a sea.
Inside, the hotel does its best but all these old seaside hotels are fraying since the rise of easyJet; they are made of nylon and ennui and could live, full-sized, in Ian McEwan’s head. It is a prole palace now, full of mad carpets and people screaming for your credit card details. What is it with English hotels and mad carpets? Are we using them to emote? What was wrong with football?
Anyway, the Grand has a restaurant and here we are, on a damp Saturday night, when even the cutlery is raining. It is called the King’s Restaurant but I can see no kings, merely a collection of arthritic partygoers, silently eating in that weird way that English people are always silent in public, in case they make a mistake and say something interesting; the dark side to all this silence, of course, is drinking, screaming and smashing up Casualty, which they are also capable of.
I have never been to the Grand outside party conference season and it is strange not to be groped by a gnomish political columnist in the lift, because he thought you were somebody else, or that you mattered, or that you cared. But I can imagine the royal family liking it. It is their kind of place.
It is a restaurant in two parts. There is the gloomy Victorian salon, policed by a bouncing maître d’, barely lit by a Murano chandelier and guarded by columns. They are brown, but who cares? There is also a conservatory, which has been stuck on and carpeted, in the mad swirls; even so, when we sit down, it feels slightly like eating outside. The view is of a man holding a balloon, because this is Brighton and counter-culture is enforced in Brighton, almost fascistically. Many a Brighton father has had to eat cannabis cookies to get on the PTA, or at least that is how I dream it. A grille to my right, at waist height, belches dust and heat. The windows are filthy and covered with a blind, which may be from Ikea, or worse. The website calls it glamorous, but it isn’t. It is more interesting than that.
The Tory party conference may have left but the menu endures, willing them back. It is pleasingly conservative — soup, scallops, lobster, pigeon, sea bass, duck, pork, ham. I would call it an Enid Blyton novel on a plate and it is, thankfully, deader than the fiction. The food is mainly local and excellent. The cheese ravioli melts into its own happy puddle. The potato and watercress soup is fine until the trout kicks in with a muddy little kick, but we forgive it: there are so few fish left, after all. The meats — we had pork and lamb — were obediently pink and soft, on a bed of warm vegetables, and the puddings — apple crumble, panna cotta — were blameless. I like this restaurant. Here, in the land of the Green Party, manageable drug abuse and the sex people (all the sex people live in Brighton, doing yoga) the King’s Restaurant feels like a muted last stand.
The Grand, 97–99 King’s Road, Brighton, BN1 2FW, tel: 01273 224300.