I’m not a sentimental sort, but when Harry’s English Restaurant of Hove closed down a couple of years back after being my local for more than a decade, I felt as though a part of my heart had turned to hardened bubble-and-squeak forevermore.
Harry’s wasn’t just a restaurant – it really was one of those dream joints you generally only see on American TV sit-coms, where everybody knows both your name and your brand of bourbon. (Personally, I find the latter more flattering.) But then Le Nantais Bistro opened on the hallowed site last year, and I never looked back. Harry? He can go and DO ONE, with Tom and Dick!
The food at Nantais is gorgeous (like the staff, who are that glorious breed of beautiful people who don’t behave as if they know they’re beautiful) starting with the astoundingly varied and tasty breakfasts (everything from Eggs Benedict to sweet Chantilly crepe) right through to the eye-watering Assiette de Gourmand. But my favourite thing to do there is drink with a bunch of broads and listen in to the various neighbouring conversations.
Gorgeous boy to gorgeous boy: ‘It was the strangest thing I’ve ever come across in my life – I just didn’t know how to deal with! I tried SPITTING on it, but THAT didn’t help…’
Pretty girl to pretty girl: ‘I saw a fit boy wearing a T-shirt saying BITE ME – if I had, and he’d reported me, could I have had him done under that Trades Prescription Act?’
Pretty girl to gorgeous boy: ‘But do you love me? Like, REALLY love me?’ – ‘I do you every day, don’t I? So what do you reckon?’
Unusually for the Bermuda Square that is Palmeira for restaurants generally, the paying public are always fair pouring in at Nantais, from early in the morning till late at night. (I believe the word ‘bistro’ is psychologically savvy, taking away any trepidation that one may be set upon and offered a whole suckling pig when one was only in search of an espresso.)
Ladies of a certain age dining alone or in pairs, business lunchers, gossiping media whores like me – though it’s such a smart establishment (harpist on a Tuesday night – get you!) it’s somehow impossible not to feel at home there. Both airy and cosy, which is quite a hard act, it’s equally alluring for all seasons, with outside tables at the front and a garden at the back.
Hove used to be a byword for hearing aids and incontinence mattress covers, but Le Nantais more than any other place I know makes the trek into hectic, hen-party-heavy Brighton seem somewhat wearisome.
Sitting at a window table on a Friday night – Lobster Night! – drinking two-for-one cocktails (Sexy Alligators? Japanese Slippers? Painkillers? Two of each, please!) and scoffing the king of crustaceans washed down with Picpoul de Pinet, gazing at the church opposite and vowing to be A Better Person while eavesdropping like a fiend, you really will wonder why we ever fought with the French in the first place. C’est la vie!