ANOTHER August bank holiday has come and gone in Brighton, with trainloads of Londoners descending on the seafront like the Night King’s army of the undead (Game of Thrones reference for anyone who has lived under a rock for the last few months).

It is a weekend of excess – rampant hens, spilt ice creams and charred back fat as far as the eye can see. And come Monday evening, as the sun set over the squalid seafront, there was only one Brightonian looking wearier than we felt – our waiter. This week we are slipping on the flipflops for an al fresco meal at Lucky Beach café.

Lucky Beach is sandwiched between Coalition nightclub and the strapping young gents at Brighton Watersports. With the sun shining, we take a seat in the covered, outdoor seating area. Inside the café has echoes of its sister establishment – the oh so glossy Redroaster/Pike and Pine in St James’s Street, complete with jungle effect patterns and the neon signage. There’s also an upstairs seating space for the chillier months.

Many have recommended Lucky Beach in recent months and Twitter tells us they have just been shortlisted in the Food Made Good, People’s Choice Award. But today they are a harrowed, heaving lot. The service is sloppy, the fish has run out – at one point we overhear our waiter sending some diners up the road to Riddle and Finns.

But let’s start with the good bits and the drinks menu, an area where Lucky Beach excels. Plenty of the weird and wonderful to pique your interest – beetroot lemonade anyone? But also plenty of classics done well. A tall, icy glass of Rock shandy is topped with plenty of fresh lime and angostura bitters. From the boozier options, there’s a hearty selection of local beers and ciders as well as dedicated list of gin and tonic and mojito varieties.

There’s a separate brunch menu available until midday and it’s a tempting mash up of fry-ups and fusion. Think deep fried chicken with kimchi waffles and poached eggs with yuzu curd.

But there’s still plenty that catches the eye from the daytime offering. The menu is divided up by fairly standard café fare – sandwiches, burgers and salads – but every dish comes with a twist. In lieu of a classic starter-main-pud set up, we order a selection from each.

All six dishes arrive at once, barely ten minutes after ordering. It is a miraculous turn around for such a busy establishment. Or at least it would be on the basis of food being cooked to order. We can’t know for sure but there are signs ours was not.

The hot fish tacos are barely luke warm. The calamari filling is pleasant, delicately battered and fried, without any rubbery or overly chewy texture. And while the slaw accompaniment was light and crunchy, gravity hadn’t done the dish any favours. A pool of liquid had collected at the bottom of the taco, leaving the bread shell unpleasantly soft and doughy.

A side of fries was cold enough to send back. It might surprise readers to know that the Gourmand rarely complains about food – much better to be stoic and miserable about it. But these soft, anaemic little batons were worthy of an exchange. Their replacements were indeed piping hot, but lacked the crunch and texture of a chip worth dredging in the smokey garlic mayo dipping side.

The salad was intriguingly one of the most expensive dishes on the menu. At nearly £12 a pop, it unites the holy trinity of on trend ingredients, bringing together halloumi, quinoa and falafel. It’s a generous portion, with plenty of hot squidgy halloumi, nestled among sweet potatoes, charred tomatoes, mange tout and plenty of obligatory sprouting things. There’s a scattering of artfully torn falafel chunks, which are moist, but lacking in any memorable flavour.

Lucky Beach has received much hype over the years and there’s a wonderfully Willy Wonka flair of experimentation to the menu. One of their burgers come with “pig candy, umami butter and ketchup leather”.

But in the end it’s one of their newest offerings that catches our eye – the K-pop, a Korean inspired chicken burger. The deep fried whole breast is cooked well, soft and tender to the bite and lathered in a tangy red chilli paste. The slaw adds a pleasant crunch and freshness, but the whole dish is crying out for a wack of heat or twang of citrus.

There aren’t any puddings advertised, but on enquiry our waiter mentions a chocolate brownie with an apologetic shrug. He needn’t have worried – it’s one of the hottest dishes to come out of the kitchen all evening. The shell is crispy, giving way to a gooey interior. And if the chef could just lay off the decorative flower garnishes and instead opt for a dollop of good quality vanilla ice cream, they would be on to a winning formula.

It is a sweet ending to an otherwise bland sort of evening. Is it unfair to judge a restaurant by how it performs on potentially the busiest day of the year? Maybe. But if the kitchen is open for business and the seats are waiting to be filled, quality ought to be maintained, whether you’re the first or the hundredth patron through the doors.

l The Gourmand always pays for his meals.


Food: HHH

Atmosphere: HHH

Service: HHH


Firebird beer: £4.30

Rock shandy: £2.45

Hot fish tacos: £8.20

Lucky Beach fries £3.40

K-pop chicken burger: £8.90

Halloumi and falafel salad £11.90

Chocolate brownie: £2.45