Brighton: Chocolate, cocktails and a most brilliant bath by the sea
Her childhood stomping ground has changed, but mostly for the better, says Nicola Brady.
Set the mood
The rain has, thankfully, called it quits. Despite the winds howling around me, I've come to Brighton Pier to drink in a brief moment of sunshine at the day's end.
To my right is the West Pier, long ravaged by fires and storms. Years ago, it would have been as grand as the one on which I stand; now it's a haunting, skeletal silhouette, set against battering waves.
This is perhaps one of my favourite sights in the world, and has been since I was a child. I grew up near Brighton, you see - a town that has since traded seaside kitsch for hipster bars and a dizzyingly vibrant arts scene. I walked its pebbled beach and rambling side streets as a teen, and I'm back to see why you should too.
When I was growing up, the chocolate shop Choccywoccydoodah (choccywoccydoodah.com) was our real-life Wonka Wonderland. Its windows were filled with sculptures of beasts and statues that would have been impressive were they made of brass, but were all pure chocolate.
The shop, subject of its own reality TV show, has since moved to a new location in the Lanes district (think Harry Potter's Diagon Alley, only with more antique stores), and is now home to a cosy chocolate café found up a rickety set of stairs. I can't resist an afternoon treat, so I ordered a slab of popcorn smothered in gooey melting chocolate and caramel. What your dentist doesn't know won't hurt them...
The Coal Shed, Brighton
Brighton has seen a surge in restaurant openings, and it's essential to book them in advance. Try The Coal Shed (coalshed-restaurant.co.uk), a carnivore's dreamland doling up charred cuts of meat with beef-dripping chips and truffle macaroni cheese.
If you're blessed with a bit of sunshine, make like a local and take a picnic to the grounds of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton's answer to the Taj Mahal. Call into Pom Poko (pompokobrighton.blogspot.ie) a Japanese hole-in-the-wall where you can pick up donburi rice bowls and hearty snacks for just a few pounds. Try the plump gyozas, stuffed with chicken and vegetables (€3.80) or the sticky, succulent Yakitori chicken skewers (€3.40).
drakes of Brighton
Drakes of Brighton is a fabulous Georgian townhouse hotel right on the seafront, with incredible views over the piers. I stayed in a sea-facing circular room, with one of the finest baths I've ever sunk into. On a platform in the bedroom itself, the deep tub sits right into the bay window, so you can watch the waves as you soak. In lieu of a minibar, a member of staff will bring you up a tipple from the cocktail bar (go for the Royal Mojito, with rum, lime, mint, champagne and rosemary).
Brighton has long been known as London-by-the-sea, but locals bemoan the fact that it's fast becoming a distant suburb of the capital... with prices to match. In combination with a weak euro, the costs can quickly escalate.
Get me there
Fly to Gatwick from Dublin and Knock with Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com).
The easiest way to get to the city is by train - journeys take 30 minutes with trains running directly from the terminal from €12 (nationalrail.co.uk). Rooms at drakes of Brighton (drakesofbrighton.com) start at €170, with a sea-facing circular room from €326. For more info and event listings, see visitbrighton.com.