We never need an excuse for a trip to Brighton, but when a friend of ours lands a part in a play at the famous Theatre Royal we know we have to be there for opening night, and since we’re invited to the cast party we decide to make a night of it and stay over. A quick look online turns up The Neo, which appears to tick all the right boxes.
It takes us 15 minutes to walk to The Neo from Brighton station, which is just outside the city centre.
On the way we pass colourful fruit and veg stalls, a stern statue of Queen Victoria, and a myraid of quirky boutiques. It's all so marvellously British, and sums up the eccentricity of this lovely seaside resort.
And so it continues inside The Neo - the first thing we see when we enter is a huge stag’s head mounted on the wall – we love a bit of taxidermy!
As we check-in, we're surprised to be told that The Neo’s unstaffed between 9.00pm and 8.30am, but we are given our own front door key and we can come and go as we please.
We’re shown up to our room - No. 5, a well-proportioned double on the second floor.
A feature wall is papered in a striking black and metallic Japanese floral pattern, complementing black Chinese furniture, and the bed has a dramatic headboard in pale suede. Sash windows let abundant daylight in and the overall effect’s very smart and inviting.
It’s a hot day so we decide to freshen up in the minimally-chic, black mosaic-tiled shower. The shower head’s a bit loose and leaky but with some contortions we both manage a good hot soaking.
There’s no faulting the big fluffy towels though, and we like the waffle bathrobes too. We’re also impressed by the huge double-ended bath – taps in the middle! – surely designed with deux messieurs in mind.
Glad-rags on, we head out for a bite to eat. A ten minute stroll along the prom takes us to the Brighton branch of Little Bay, one of our favourite London mini-chains.
We’re shown up a staircase to a fabulous cantilevered balcony where our table awaits. We sip cocktails – my Margarita is excellent – while we wait for our food to come. Little Bay's prices are incredibly low – except for a few specials - starters are under £3 and main courses under £6 – but there’s no compromising on quality.
My goat’s cheese in filo pastry starter is wonderful; but with his sirloin steak and goose fat chips Monsieur 2 has the better main course - my plaice fillet stuffed with crab is good but needs seasoning.
There's a good choice of wines by the glass, and our bill for two with drinks and a tip is under £40! If only we’d left time for dessert, but the theatre beckons...
Show over, we head off to the cast party at stylish cabaret pub 112 Church Street (we love its little patio garden) before hitting the gay scene. Most of Brighton’s most popular bars are along the seafront, and we end up in bar/club Legends until the wee small hours.
Stumbling happily back to The Neo, we collapse into the splendidly comfortable 5’ bed. It’s been a long night and we need our sleep!
Waking bleary-eyed we head down to elegant sun-filled breakfast room ready for a fry-up. But disaster – we had been told, but had forgotten, that breakfast’s only served until 9.30, which strikes us as rather early especially for somewhere aimed firmly at holiday-makers rather than early-rising business people. A waitress takes pity on us and manages to rustle us up some granola, orange juice and a pot of coffee. Phew.
Back in room 5 we decide that a long soak in that giant tub will put us right. We can't remember when check out is and no-one’s answering the phone at reception so we take a gamble on it being around 11 o’clock (it's actually 11.30) and relax and splash around until it’s nearly time to go. Perfect!
Waved on our way by the receptionist we head for the train; walking along Queen’s Road, the main route up from the seafront to the station, we spot Cocoa, a lovely French cafe-patisserie where we enjoy wonderful coffee and some ham and cheese croissants - oh how we needed that carbs-and-fat fix. We also can’t resist taking away a few of their incredible macaroons which are the best we’ve tasted anywhere, including France!
We're smiling as the train pulls out of Brighton; we’ve had a great time in one of our favourite places, and even if The Neo wasn’t quite as plush and the service not quite as attentive as it is in some places we’ve stayed, it was a good-value base for a night, we’d be glad to recommend.
N: The Neo Hotel (Bed and Breakfast)
T: 01273 711 104
A: 19 Oriental Place, Brighton, BN1 2LL
Our rating: ***+