The food and drink scene of Hove has seen a renaissance in recent years. Nick Mosley talks to some of the movers and shakers who have helped turned Hove into a quality gastronomic destination

When it comes to food, Hove has always been seen as the poorer cousin of Brighton, which is no surprise when the core of the city welcomes more than 9.5 million tourists a year.

While it has been easy to get a pizza or takeaway from one of Hove’s many outlets, a quality dining experience has traditionally been restricted to a handful of gastropubs.

In recent years, established restaurants in Hove have been joined by a glut of restaurants, cafés, bars and food retailers who are offering not only a quality dining experience, but also ones that are accessible to every budget and taste.

Kate Alleston, co-owner of Market Restaurant and Bar in Western Road, has operated a restaurant in Hove for more than a decade with her business partner Neil Mannifield and has experienced the ups and downs of trading in the area over the years.

Kate said: “I think people really enjoy going out in a neighbourhood these days, as opposed to being in the midst of the hectic city.

“It has led to more and more forward-thinking independent businesses to pick Hove. Hove now boasts the city’s two three AA rosette restaurants – Etch and The Little Fish Market – as well as a number of really good, high quality modern restaurants, and the odd great bar too, so people can enjoy a quality night out in a nice environment.”

Lisa Green of Treacle and Ginger café in Church Road agrees.

She said: “The growth of the city has meant that Hove has a more mixed demographic and has become a more vibrant interesting place to live.

“Businesses now feel more confident that the area can sustain them, and consumers are looking for greater choice and quality in the local area.”

Customer loyalty and retention is a key benefit of trading in Hove, said Louise Tamadon-Nejad of The Flour Pot Bakery: “We have a hugely loyal following of regular customers, which offers opportunities for word-of-mouth endorsements.”

The expansion of the Hove food scene has been heavily influenced by the pressures on commercial space in Brighton.

James Thomson of recently opened Wild Flor on Church Road reflects that the current poor state of the high street in central Brighton was a strong reason for him to choose Hove for his new venture.

He said: “There are so many empty units in the centre of town, which when combined with ever-increasing rents, made that location very unappealing to us when we were looking to open Wild Flor.

“Duke Street is the worst example of this currently with – at times – over a dozen closed units. Also outside of the city centre, there are larger spaces for dining rooms allowing ground floor dining, rather than splitting over several floors or rooms.”

Sam Pryor of Fourth and Church agrees that the cost of operating on a busy high street is prohibitive to restaurants. Liquor licensing is also a problem for quality restaurateurs, in terms of profitability.

Sam said: “Licensing laws have been relaxed and there has been an acknowledgement that they need to evolve if the high street is to survive.

“People with more money and cosmopolitan dining habits are moving down from London. Hove is a quieter and calmer place with an older and wealthier demographic and that is more conducive to quality.”

Louise from The Flour Pot Bakery also thinks liquor licensing is a factor in new businesses opening in Hove rather than central Brighton.

For award-winning chef and restaurateur Steven Edwards of Etch, Hove was the ideal location.

He said: “Opening in Hove was about space and having a separate delivery entrance and being more accessible for guests to come from – potentially – outside of the city.

“Parking is also a lot easier and less expensive. Being in Hove we also get the positives of a city with good deliveries and companies to choose from, and still be relatively accessible for guests.”

Steven also highlighted the challenges for hospitality and retail businesses in the city centre being another factor that gives Hove the edge.

Businesses in Hove feel a great sense of loyalty from their customers, which is reflected in repeat business.

Mat Hudson of The Connaught in Hove Street thinks that in terms of on-going trade, Hove is definitely the place to be.

He said: “The challenge of being in Hove, rather than Brighton, is also a benefit. We don’t need to rely on passing trade and the unpredictable weather. The locals keep the community vibrant.”

Kate Alleston of Market Restaurant and Bar agrees.

She said: “We’ve definitely felt quite forgotten about at times, as if Hove doesn’t somehow exist. Now we feel like being in Hove is the best to place to be. It’s quite a turnaround.

“I think the greatest benefit has always been, and will always be, the lovely clientele that you get to know so well, and often become friends with. It’s what’s always been the thing that has been most fulfilling for me.”

Hove’s restaurateurs are very supportive of each other, and understand that what is good for one is good for all.

Restaurateurs are, however, critical of the way that Hove is marketed by the city’s tourism department.

Kate said: “I still feel that the media is very much focused on Brighton which means tourists continue to flock to the city centre, unless they’ve really done their homework.

“Hove is still thought of as being on the outskirts by too many, not as part of the city’s whole, which – of course – it is.”

James from Wild Flor thinks that with structural changes to the tourism economy of Hove, the knock-on effect for restaurants will only be positive.

He said: “I think what Hove is missing is another couple of really good hotels – The Ginger Pig hotel rooms are some of the best in the city but there isn’t much else in Hove.

“With quality accommodation, Hove will really become its own destination.”

Without doubt, there is an overriding sense of positivity from hospitality businesses in Hove right now. The area is maturing and food businesses are cautiously positive about the future and the collectively supporting each other.

Summarise Hove’s food and drink scene in three words

James Thomson, Wild Flor: Finally executed professionally

Lisa Green, Treacle & Ginger: Quality, individual, delicious

David Deaves, La Cave à Fromage: Emerging, diverse, quality

Louise Tamadon-Nejad, The Flour Pot Bakery: Up and coming

Mat Hudson, The Connaught: Inviting, relaxed, authentic 

Sam Pryor, Fourth & Church: Relaxed, specialised, vibrant

Kate Alleston, Market Restaurant and Bar: Exciting, modern, welcoming

Steven Edwards, Etch: Better than Brighton