There is something very beautiful, and reassuring about going into a restaurant that one knows, to share food and talk with friends, in ones home City. There is something great about knowing that the food is prepared with love, the space is nurtured by people who have a sense of belonging, and visited by those that either know it, or are drawn to it because of its authenticity and excellence – it’s about love. Eating in a local restaurant like Estia or Terre a Terre or The Gingerman are experiences of intimacy and fun that are a privilege to be able to enjoy, and to know the talents and enthusiasms of the people who run them and work in them.
As a society we eat out a lot now, but a lot of the eating is done in places where we seem to have lost contact – lost contact with the provenance of the food, lost contact with the people who work there, lost contact with the aims of running a restaurant or café, lost contact with everything to do with people, and place, and maybe in some cases… even human values. For this reason when I list eating places that have lost contact, yet still serve food, I am obliged to give you names that stretch from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wagamama and KFC, to the eating places created by celebrity chefs, who know so much about greed — Jamie Oliver and his holy stuffing gazebos, Gordon Ramsey’s unholy stuffing places, Marco Pierre White’s fluffy football clubbo, Oliver Peyton’s teahouse and pot noodle. For me there is not a lot of difference between one kind of eating empire and another, once the money is out there, the golden carrot is tied to a stick, the visitors follow, and bingo, they’ve hit the mazuma button!
I wish I wasn’t quite so intolerant… It’s just that good people visit our wonderful City because of its difference, not because it looks like the shopping mall in Milton Keynes or Basingstoke. Brighton has signed petitions and fought against chain stores, and continues to do so. Brighton and Hove is the home of Infinity Foods, which despite its massive success resists selling to supermarkets, it’s also the home to the UK’s only Green MP, and for the moment a Green Council, and, deary me, we have just lost the coveted title of vegan capital of the empire, oooh er. Brighton is different, its shops and restaurants are still run by independent traders, battling against chains and internet cut price trading, and it’s the difference that makes people come here, and we thank them. But we are also victim of our own success, and the chain stores, the chain restaurants and the corporates want a share of our unique style.
Were it not for the super-tourists, and their fear of venturing into the unknown, Starbucks would not be able to trade, because it’s mostly the local population that supports the indigenous outlets. It’s local places, like the fabulous Jane Bom-Bane’s that make us special. Who on earth would go into Starbucks when one can have an eating or drinking experience in Bom-Bane’s? So long as corporate clout prevails, I do wonder for how long our local businesses will continue to shine, our beautiful eating places survive, and yet when the good locals go, sucked dry by the corporate leeches, the leeches will surely
move on, searching for another host to bleed dry, for that is their way.