Brighton is the place to be when the sun shines and it’s considered one of the UK’s best cities for food and drink. In recent years, the seaside resort has reclaimed its place as a chic weekend destination, rekindling a cultural and holistic heritage that can be traced back to the 18th century when it was known as the “Queen of Watering Places”, coveted for its restorative sea air and mild microclimate.
Embracing this long and colourful legacy, is the DoubleTree by Hilton Brighton Metropole which has just completed an extensive refurbishment that celebrates the building’s glamorous past and eye-catching period design.
A little history
Characterised by its bold red-brick structure, the Metropole is the odd one out in a row of stuccoed Regency buildings on Brighton’s seafront. The hotel was designed by prolific Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse, who was also responsible for London’s Natural History Museum and Manchester Town Hall. Opened in July 1890, the Metropole was Brighton’s dazzling grande dame, equipped with a huge 500-seat dining hall and 700 lavish bedrooms decorated by Maples & Co., a furniture and upholstery company noted for its royal connections. Along with Turkish baths in the basement, the hotel boasted a beautiful Italian garden with its own clock tower.
In 1941, the building was requisitioned by the government when it became an aircrew holding unit for the RAF and later a base for the Royal Australian Air Force. It narrowly avoided major damage during the Second World War and in 1947 Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine dined at the hotel after he received the Freedom of the Borough of Brighton. In fact, the Churchills’s signed menu is available to view in the hotel’s library suite, citing seafood terrine, roast pheasant and chocolate gateau with whipped cream as his indulgent repast.
In the mid-1950s, the hotel underwent a series of renovations and enjoyed a revival in the 1960s as a VIP hotspot attracting the likes of Shirley Bassey, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Margaret, Margot Fonteyn and Ian Fleming, all of whom were drawn to its continental-style casino, the first of its kind in the UK. Indeed, at the height of its popularity in the 1960s, the casino attracted up to 800 guests a night.
But Brighton’s glitz and glamour eventually dwindled, and by the early 1990s, the Metropole shifted style – the casino was relocated and the establishment changed from luxurious getaway to affordable family bolthole, with decent, no-frills bedrooms, relying mainly on its large capacity, pretty coastal views and central location to inveigle guests. Unsurprisingly, the maintenance for such a large hotel proved to be difficult and at the turn of the millennium, the Metrople was struggling to cling onto her fading beauty.
Renovation and rebirth
In 2020, the Hilton group came good by pledging a £26m renovation budget which has funded the complete refurbishment of the hotel’s 321 rooms, as well as its public areas, lobby, restaurant and bar. The interior designers have capitalised on the generosity of the space to let the architecture breathe, with an open, uncluttered style that evokes “Victorian elegance with modern convenience”. Thanks to this reductive approach, the hotel’s grand lobby has a sweeping, aristocratic feel, drawing the eye towards its authentic 18th century ceiling, tiered crystal chandelier and original twin staircase decorated with wrought ironwork.
This area sets the tone for an elegantly streamlined overhaul, channelling a chic and unfussy aesthetic that feels both warm and authentic. For example, the restored dining room, 1890 at the Met – which hosts breakfast, dinner and a three-course Sunday carvery – offers unbeatable sea views through arched windows and feels very much like a luxury tea salon, complete with a peachy flock-patterned carpet that echoes the room’s many moulded panels and cornices.
The reimagined Metropole Bar & Terrace is a light and airy space with equally impressive views of the Channel and Brighton’s West Pier. With its majestic, mirrored bar fitted with a sprawling, white stone counter, surrounded by leafy plants and navy/neutral furnishings, the watering hole is distinctly maritime in flavour, designed to make you feel like you’ve stepped into a bar on a luxury ocean liner. Serving high tea, as well as a bottomless brunch on Sundays, this is a very pleasant place to unwind and watch the sea sparkle.
Interiors throughout the hotel are the handiwork of London-based studio Atellior, whose team has drawn from Brighton’s vibrant art scene, as well as the hotel’s historic past, to create bedrooms and suites that exude a sense of refined elegance with pops of pattern and colour. Best described as understatedly plush with minimal furniture, all of the 321 rooms were deliberately designed to make the most of each high ceilinged space.
Nothing is over-thought or overly complicated, with simple tone-on-tone furnishings and functional desks and tables that do exactly what you expect them to do, following a charming and breezy Scandi-like style that is happily free of ornamentation and unnecessary fiddly stuff. This goes for the bathrooms too, all of which are spacious and unfussy.
Eating and drinking
This is Brighton so expect some culinary surprises. Currently the hotel is hosting an animated and immersive dining adventure called “Le Petit Chef” which has pop-ups all over the world. This is a two-hour experience in which guests are taken through a five-course set menu with “The World’s Smallest Chef”.
Each dish is presented as a playful visual chapter: the little cartoon chef is projected onto diners’ plates as he magically prepares your food, getting into all sorts of mischief as he tackles a lively octopus or plunges unwittingly into a pool of tasty jus – think Mr Bean only much cuter. It’s not for everyone, but the food is beautifully presented and the courses are well balanced using fresh seasonal and local produce. While it’s not haute gastronomy, it is fine brasserie fare and heaps of fun.
For fish lovers, there’s the Hilton-owned Salt Room next door, a classic seafood grill room, described by Jay Rayner in The Observer as “a very good thing indeed”, and by Damian Barr in The Times as “a palimpsest of Brighton past and future” with a “progressive-not-pretentious” menu that “celebrates the sea”. Delicious specialities include coal roasted scallops and grilled Dover sole with Swiss chard, puffed rice and lobster croqueta.
Things to do
The Lanes, Palace Pier and the Brighton i360 viewing tower are all a short stroll away, as is Brighton Watersports, which offers year-round paddle board and kayak lessons. If you don’t fancy braving the cold waters, head to the Metropole’s basement pool and spa. Split between supporting pillars, the pool has the unusual and charming look of an ancient thermal bath.
Alexandra Zagalsky was a guest of DoubleTree by Hilton Brighton Metropole. Room rates start from £130 per night including breakfast. Kings Road, Brighton, BN1 2FU; hilton.com