With Christmas just around the corner it was time to escape the frenzy of the shops and indulge in some cycling with a well planned tea stop en route. Half an hour’s bike ride away is Shoreham airport along Sustrans route 2, winding its way through Portslade, Southwick and then Shoreham. The Adur was at high tide as I crossed over the Old Toll Bridge then turned south onto the airport perimeter road. The bright orange wind sock was showing a strong south-westerly wind though I knew that already on cycling the five or six miles to get here.
The airport cafe was reinvented as the Hummingbird some time ago, bringing out all the best of its art deco features with the huge windows overlooking the airfield being the prime ones. You get wonderful views out towards the South Downs with Lancing College in the foreground with merry clouds scudding across the wintry blue sky.
It’s a huge roomy space with light oak flooring and chalky walls offset by the dark wood tables and chairs. There’s a touch of greenery from the huge sprouting pot plants and there’s even a mini grand piano with a programme of live music to look out for.
Given the season there was the ubiquitous sparkling tree and uplifting Michael Buble soundtrack of all the festive hits. It’s a place for families, friends and work colleagues to meet up, it’s got a bustle and an air of conviviality about it.
As it’s Truffles Bakery who are the new operators, the freshly backed scones and cakes make a terrific spread and are very keenly priced. My pot of tea and delicious fruit scone came to just £2.80. Lunches are tasty too and they were doing a brisk trade. The friendly staff are kitted out in black with the white hummingbird logo and were busy keeping their customers happy.
Shoreham Airport has stacks of history surrounding it with the first flight taken by Harold Piffard on his self-built Hummingbird bi-plane on the 10th July 1910.
On the way back I cycled over the new Adur pedestrian and cyclists bridge and now with a bit of a tail wind behind me the homeward journey was a bit easier.
My daughter arrived back home for Christmas later in the day so it was business as usual with loud music blaring from her room and racket as she and her friend stumbled back in the small hours after clubbing. Or so she told me. I slept through it all, sound asleep after my blustery cycle ride to the Hummingbird.
The Meeting Place has a scruffy sort of charm about it. Only a short bike ride for me along the seafront cycle path, I’ve been coming here for years attracted by its promenade location. Being completely outdoors, in the summer the cafe has hordes of tables and chairs spread around its terrace. When it’s cooler, like now near the the winter solstice, then it’s the hardy few who venture here well wrapped up to grab a beach side table. Its bold, canary yellow wind breakers give shelter from the breeze. Pigeons and seagulls abound here so you can’t be too squeamish about them coming close daring to scavenge a few morsels of your food.
Some years ago the cafe was demolished and reborn a few yards further east along the seafront, significant in that those few yards now mean that you can buy your tea or coffee in Brighton and drink it sitting in Hove. The Angel Peace statue also straddles the boundary between the two towns and heralds this popular cafe.
All the staff are Polish, friendly and eager to practice their English. The cafe is open 365 days a year from dawn serving breakfasts and hot drinks to the dog walkers, joggers and early risers in general to dusk where it catches those reluctant to tear themselves away from the beach. It’s even open on Christmas day and I’ve seen the queues stretching back in their masses with customers seemingly impervious to the long wait. There are so many food and drink deals they are too many to mention but if it’s no nonsense fillers and home baked cakes you’re looking for then this is your place.
Christmas is nearly upon us again and it seems to come around quicker and quicker each year.The early setting sun was transforming the watery blue of the sky into a peachy glow while the skeletal West Pier slumbered peacefully on the calm December sea. At least down here by the The Meeting Place Cafe you can take some time out, swapping the demands of last minute present buying at the shops for breathing in the fresh air and wonderful seascape for the price of a cuppa.
There are some cafes that are recommended to me by friends, others I just happen to spot as I cycle around town and a few that I hear about on the grapevine. Joe’s is one that I’ve been meaning to visit for some time now with friends and family raving about its charm and great food. In between house visits, as part of my new property copywriting venture, I deduced that Joe’s was equidistant between my last appointment of the afternoon and home. Unless you’re familiar with the streets around the Port Hall area of Brighton the cafe is is a bit tucked away but it is definitely one worth seeking out.
I was told that Joe is no longer and the new owners are a family combo of Dan and Jane who are husband and wife along with Lynsey who is Dan’s sister. They sensibly decided to keep the original cafe name as it had such a strong following.
The bold turquoise walls set off well the reclaimed wooden tables and chairs reminiscent of those in my primary school dinner hall. There’s a profusion of fresh herbs growing in zinc pots around the room and stacks of old wooden crates filled with all sorts of goodies. Breakfasts are still the principal item on the menu and at £5 including tea or coffee sounds a good deal.There are plans to make use of the patio garden area out at the back which would be a great spot to sample one of their famed breakfasts.
The new owners are keen to use local suppliers of top quality sourcing their bread from the Real Patisserie, sausages, black pudding & bacon from Natural Farm, free range eggs from Holmansbridge Farm, juice from the award-winning Wobbleggate, pies from Magnificent Magpies Pies and cakes from the wonderful Brighton Cakery.
I was too late for the breakfast menu but thoroughly enjoyed my warming bowl of home made tomato and basil soup with fresh bread. Afterwards the spread of cakes caught my eye and I opted for the banana and walnut muffin which went down a treat with a mug of tea.
Miles Franklin an Australian writer titled her autobiography ‘ My Brilliant Career’ swiftly followed by ‘My Career Goes Bung’. Sometimes I feel as if I go through this process in one week, sometimes in the course of one day, so bountiful are the peaks and troughs as I carve out my new line of work. The trajectory is on the whole upwards so I should keep the faith. For the new cafe owners Dan, Jane and Lynsey I wish them all the best for success in their new business and if there is any justice Joes’s Cafe should continue to do very well indeed.
You don’t have to cycle to the new Velo Cafe but it does seem a very appropriate way to journey there. This is Brighton’s first bike themed cafe and a new community hub for commuters, Brightonians, visitors and cyclists of all persuasions. The whole Level area has been redeveloped recently with an imaginative new children’s play area, landscaped fountains, a popular skate park for the teens and this fabulous new cafe. The wooden single storey structure comes with loads of sustainability credentials from the green wildlife friendly roof and solar panels to its rain water harvesting system.
Outside there’s an abundance of south facing seating on the terrace to catch the sun and plenty of bold red bike parking. You can spot the Velo banner flapping in the breeze with the ubiquitous logo ‘Eat Drink Ride’. Inside there’s a buzz about the place and its not just for cyclists with young families, laptop workers and curious passers by all taking a look. Queuing up for my coffee I admired Velo’s distinctive red and white logo emblazoned across their coffee machine and the cups and mugs with cyclists on bikes design. The open kitchen lets you see some of the delicious looking food being prepared. Breakfasts are served until 11.30 then it’s toasted sandwiches, burgers and salads. Velo pride themselves on using local artisan producers including Small Batch Coffee and Flour Pot Bakery. The cakes on display certainly looked enticing as was the display of red and white cyclists’ water bottles and other cycling paraphernalia that every cyclist likes to check out.
Being a bright autumn day there was tons of light flooding in with glass windows on three sides of the building as well as along the apex of the roof. A large flat screen shows a loop of great cycling moments from history and I can imagine that this will be a popular spot for cycling fans to gather when the Tour de France and other cycle races are taking place. There’s an open workshop to the back where you can get your bike serviced or even get that infuriating puncture repaired where the price includes a tea or coffee. So it’s all very civilized and puts the ease back into cycling.
The web based Velo Strava Club allows Velo regulars to tot up and publish their miles, altitude and time taken for journeys ridden. Being a keen cyclist myself it’s wonderful to see the symbiosis of cycling and cafes come together with such conviction. Maybe there will be some osmosis with the non cycling customers imbibing some of the cycling vibe down on the Level and deciding to have a go themselves. And where better to start than at Velo.
Blaker’s Park is set on a tiny handkerchief patch of land up at Fiveways. Its sloping angle catching the sun. For a small park it crams in plenty of goodies like tennis courts, kids play area and even a cafe. I’d cycled up to this part of town to visit a friend whose daughter has just had a new baby and to see the newborn Saphia for the first time. The park was strangely quiet for a warm August afternoon. Just a few tennis players and some kids playing around with their bikes.
Trees are abundant here, tall and well rooted in full foliage giving shade where its needed. There’s an impressive clock tower painted in the City Council’s trademark green topped off with a golden fish weather vane balancing on top. At a quarter to three it was most definitely tea time. So a mug of Redbush and a slice of fruit and seed flapjack later I was sitting by one of the tables set on the grass in front of the small cafe building. The cafe, originally the tennis clubhouse, faces south-west to best catch the summer sun and there are tables and seating on the small decking area too. Sited directly next to the tennis courts, the thwack of tennis balls is a pleasing background rhythm to time spent here.
August, for me, has been one of those months where other peoples lives have touched on my own. It’s a joy when it’s birthdays you’re celebrating or when a child has been born healthy. But other personal dramas playing out around you can be a bit more challenging to address. Recently a friend’s parent died after a long illness and another friend’s new relationship broke up rather brutally. I sought some advice from a friend who is training to be a therapist and counsellor as to how best to handle these sort of situations after showing initial empathy. ‘It’s all about reflecting back what the talker feels. It’s important to show these good listening skills while at the same time moving the conversation forward.’ Insightful, helpful advice and worth remembering when I’m next called upon in a crisis.
Even when the sun is shining it doesn’t always imply that lives are going according to plan. Hopefully I’ll be more prepared next time for when real life intervenes. Meanwhile life goes on; births, deaths and everything in-between. And the cafe at Blaker’s Park is a good a place as any to ponder over life’s celebratory moments as well as its uncertainties.
There is something special about getting up that little bit earlier and getting a taste of early morning. Just A gentle bike ride along the seafront cycle path and I am at Morrocco’s in just a few minutes. The ice cream counter is what first welcomes you on entering. A chilled cabinet with a rainbow of rich colours representing around two dozen different flavours of their home made ice cream to choose from. Over the years I’ve tried most with the chilli chocolate being a favourite.
The sun is getting quite strong already but with cup of tea in hand I’m lucky enough to get a seat on the small front terrace which is still in the shade. I love the musicality of the Italian language and hearing the banter of the staff as they get set up for a day’s trading. Having studied Italian at school I can usually pick up a few words here and there but unfortunately that’s about all.
Watching the cyclists pedalling by on the cycle path directly in front of the terrace. I hear the whir of chains turning and the bur of rubber on tarmac. I wonder how long it will be until I spot someone I know. Only about ten minutes as it turns out. The sea is just a few yards away and the sound of the waves on the shore blend with the hissing of the coffee machine behind me and the chatter of the nearby customers. A couple of yachts are sailing on the horizon on a calm and clement sea. Breakfasts, seems to be what everyone is ordering to set them up for the day ahead.
I’ve been coming to Marrocco’s for years now since I first moved down to Brighton & Hove. The original couple who established the cafe in the late 60’s have since passed the business on to their son, Peter Marrocco, to run. Marrocco’s describe themselves as bringing a touch of Naples to Hove. So, in the summer it is not unknown for queues to stretch right along the block for the famous Marrocco’s ice cream with people waiting up to half an hour for their choice of flavour. The cafe is mainly known though for its Italian seafood, pizza and pasta but you can just as easily pop in for a coffee or tea. Now open till 11pm at night it’s a honeypot for late night cafe and ice cream lovers. When I’m cycling home late in the evening after a night out it’s cheering to see Marrocco’s lit up and still buzzing with life.
In Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts in the movie, Elizabeth goes to Rome on the first stage of her voyage of self discovery and indulges in the local pasta and ice-cream. I’d venture you wouldn’t need to go as far as that. Just cycle down to Hove promenade to savour a little bit of Italy and ponder on life while watching the world go by.
It’s all change again in my household with my teenage daughter back home again after her first successful year at University. I have to adjust to having a teenager around and she has to adjust too to living in a family home rather that in halls amongst her newly made friends. Teenagers are known for their ability to sleep long and sound. So by mid morning, after being up a couple of hours myself, I left a sleeping daughter behind to cycle further into Hove.
At the corner of Pembroke Gardens and New Church Road sits Hove Museum and Gallery. Their tearoom has had a bit of a makeover since my last visit so while I had a look at the menu I took time to see what changes have been made to this classically traditional favourite.
There are still some lovely oil paintings from the museum’s collection hanging on the walls. Chosen and positioned with some care to reflect the tearoom surroundings and overlooking the museum’s gardens. There are some food still lifes and picnic scenes portraits as well as some Sussex landscapes. There are also collections of decorative teapots, jugs and teacups and saucers in glass display cases around the room.
Immediately I recognised the blue colour on the walls as being the same hue as that of my hallway at home. It was a colour inherited on purchase of the house and one we’ve kept as there seemed no reason to change it. I was told by the waitress that the paint colours used are Farrow & Ball Cook’s Blue and Cooking Apple Green. With the dual south and west aspect there’s loads of natural light and the colours work really well to give a warm yet fresh feel.
The shaker style counter is artfully topped with ceramic cake stands laden with a tempting range of cakes and cookies which seemed different from other selections available in local cafes. My tea comes served in an unusual black cast iron teapot with integral strainer chosen from a large selection of loose leaves. The selection of teas include Snow Queen White tea, Pu’erh 9 year, Green Jade Pear amongst many so this is a stop for the tea connoisseur. Other drinks are sourced too from artisan producers like the Chapel Down Curious Brew Lager and the Dittsham Plum Fruit Liqueur.
Looking onto the Museum Gardens through the large windows in this quiet and leafy suburb of Hove, I noticed that the absence of music also contributed to the relaxed feel and allowed a rare appreciation of the sounds around instead.
On my return home my student daughter was up and ready to go out with friends. Staying at my home now for her is just a transitory phase until she returns to her University town. So Farrow & Ball paint colours in the hallway or not, there’s not a lot to entice her to hang around for long. And that was something we’re both just starting to get used to.