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Pavilion Gardens Cafe History Tour
Published on Monday, 13 May 2013

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3 stars

Pavilion Gardens Café (venue website)
10, 19, 24, 26 May, 2:00pm-3:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

I love the Pavilion Gardens Café. I really love the Pavilion Gardens Café. I love the Pavilion Gardens Café so much, that I’m thrilled by the very thought of a 90-minute Pavilion Gardens Café Tour. So I joined current proprietor David Sewell, accompanied by noted local tour guide Geoffrey Mead, for this quirky historical walk – whose very existence has amused and intrigued me ever since it first appeared in the Brighton Fringe programme a couple of years ago.

Let’s dispense with the obvious joke to begin with: no, you don’t spend an hour and a half wandering round the eponymous kiosk’s kitchens.  Slightly disappointingly, you don’t actually get to go inside at all.  What you do get is a walk round the sites previously occupied by the Sewell family’s cafés, and a story of the changes in Brighton which brought their establishment to its present art-deco home.  Along the way, Mead takes the opportunity to share some of the city’s wider history, with the Pavilion and the sea-front both proving interesting ports of call.

On occasion, it did feel a little like I was taking part in a promenade advertisement – not just for the café itself, but for various other eating establishments we passed along the way.  In reality, Mead was simply trying to structure his walkabout around a theme of refreshment and dining, an angle he occasionally pursued with slightly too much diligence.  It worked well, though, when we visited the fishing quarter, a recently-revived sector of the coast which Mead evocatively recalled in its heyday.  And the insights into Brighton’s changing geography were interesting too; I’d heard the old chestnut about the Royal Pavilion originally being a farmhouse, but I hadn’t realised quite how out-of-town this bustling corner of Brighton would once have seemed.

Sewell, for his part, had brought along the family snaps, and there’s an undeniable fascination in stepping back through time to watch his particular corners of Brighton evolve.  Local history’s often most interesting when you study its effect on individuals – and hearing, for example, how his grandfather was displaced from his beach-front kiosk brings a new perspective to the story of the city at war.

Needless to say, the journey ends back at the café itself, for afternoon tea and some of its famous rock cakes – made to a jealously-guarded family recipe.  This is, in the end, a mixed bag of a tour, and its undeniably idiosyncratic theme might be quite perplexing to those who aren’t tuned into the café culture of Brighton.  But as a regular visitor to this fine establishment, I’m glad I took the Pavilion Gardens Café Historical Tour.  It does exactly what it says on the coffee tin.

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