‘Down From London’-ers or DFLs is a term coined by born-and-bred Brightonians in response to the onslaught of city folk seeking the seaside idyll. And I admit, when I first moved here I felt a bit of a cliché – an ex-Londoner ditching the streets Dick Whittington risked life and limb to reach for a blissful life at the beach. But the road between London and Brighton has been a well-worn route since Regency times when party boy, George IV, rocked up from the city and built the Royal Pavilion. Over the past few years, we’ve seeing more and more big names emerging from their London-centric cocoon and popping up here on the coast.
MEATliquor, the graffiti-strewn burger joint, which started life in 2010 knocking out fabulously dirty burgers from a van in a Peckham car park. It rapidly expanded throughout the capital then headed to Brighton in 2013 where they’ve been sating hangovers ever since. Scottish craft brewery, Brewdog, soon followed suit and after conquering the Big Smoke, opened up their boozy saloon here in 2015. In the last six months we’ve seen Patterns, the hip club from the Hoxton-grown Mothership Group open up on the seafront, and Polpo, Russell Norman’s popular chain of Venetian Bàcaros, dust off their Speedoes and headed to the seaside. And the trend shows no sign of slowing down.
When Wahaca Brighton first opened its doors in April, I shamelessly elbowed the competition out the way to be the first in the queue for their signature pork pibil tacos, sweet potato taquitos and oh-so limey margaritas. Wahaca launched in London in 2007. Inspired by co-founder and 2005 MasterChef champion Thomasina Miers’ travels around Mexico, it’s been taking Britain by storm for almost a decade. “I love Brighton,” says Thomasina on opening night. “It’s such a great city; I’ve got lots of family down here and they’ve been pestering me to open up a branch for ages, so I’m really excited about it.”
Bagging a prime corner spot between North and New Roads near the Theatre Royal, North Laine and the Lanes, this cavernous cantina has a Cancun cabana-style décor – think lush palm foliage and hot pink-and-mint furnishings – enhanced by beautiful murals by Mexican street artist, Mazatl. What I really liked about the place (bar the baja fried cheese you can add to pretty much anything) is its utter flexibility. Small plates or big plates, you can come and gorge on fat burritos and saucy enchiladas, or just nip in for a plate of fried churros or a warming chilli chocolate tequila toddy.
Within weeks of Wahaca opening, around the corner on Church Street another London favourite announced its imminent arrival. Franco Manca, the sourdough pizza giants that have been blazing through the capital since a modest opening in Brixton Market in 2008. Bright, cheap and wholly appealing, Franco Manca is a welcome addition to our dining scene. It’s super-cheap (pizzas start from £4.50) and it’s fast – the pizzas take around 45 seconds to cook – and by the looks of the packed dining room on a leisurely Monday lunchtime, we Brightonians are lapping it up.
Next year, legendary celeb haunt, Soho House, will open their new private members’ club in a prime art deco building on Madeira Drive on the seafront. The initial plans show it will have a sun deck with a bar and a plunge pool, plus a fancy fish restaurant, cementing Brighton’s long-reigning reputation as London-by-the-sea.
Ready to join the Down from London crowd? Take a look at our Brighton hotels.