For decades the English seaside resort of Brighton was London's guilty pleasure. Cheeky, liberal and bohemian, it was where Londoners escaped to for a "dirty weekend" of seafront strolls, candy floss and takeaway fish and chips.
Then property prices in the capital sky-rocketed and people started relocating there in droves. Predictably, restaurant chains followed. Over the last five years there's been an invasion of notable eateries, bringing a welcome dose of sophistication to London-by-the-sea.
The most exciting debut is an outpost of London celebrity magnet The Ivy, which opened last year in The Lanes, a riddle of narrow alleyways near Brighton seafront. Housed in a grade II-listed former post office, it's a what-should-I-photograph-first riot of colourful murals, elegant banquettes and glass chandeliers.
Offering a surprisingly affordable all-day menu, it's been so popular that it was still clogging Instagram feeds six months after opening. Food-wise you'll find traditional crowd-pleasers such as shepherd's pie alongside more adventurous options like blackened cod fillet and monkfish and prawn curry. Dessert fans will weep over the decadent chocolate bombe and I've been assured it's worth a visit just to see the women's bathroom, which is a selfie hotspot of Versailles-like opulence.
For something a little less breathless, head around the corner to Polpo, the first outpost of the popular London chain of Venetian small plate eateries. Located on a busy pedestrianised thoroughfare opposite the Taj Mahal-esque Royal Pavilion, it serves tasty Italian sharing plates in a relaxed timber-floored space.
Highlights during my visit include the pizzette, a thin, crispy flatbread smothered in melted mozzarella, tomato and basil, and the beef and pork meatballs, which come in a rich tomato sauce dusted with tangy parmesan.
Don't want a full meal? Park yourself at the bar with an Aperol spritz and graze on bite-sized "cicheti" such as potato croquettes and anchovy and chickpea crostini.
London has been gripped by burger mania for years so it was only a matter of time before the trend headed south. MEATliquor was the first London chain to open in Brighton and its signature Dead Hippie burger is a juicy, grip-testing tower of mustard fried beef patties, cheese, onion and thick cut pickles. Served cutlery-free in a loud, graffitied, neon-lit space, it's a messy, indulgent feast more suited to mates than dates.
The latest arrival is Patty & Bun, which has secured a prime spot in The Lanes near The Ivy. Famous for its pun-laced menu (Whoopi Goldburger anyone?), the chain uses fresh British ingredients and offers a decadent range of sides. The burger was a touch salty for my palate but I'd go back for the fries dusted with chicken salt and the sinful triple chocolate shake.
If you like your food with a little more bite, check out the Brighton outpost of Wahaca, a Mexican street food chain offering tasty treats such as salmon sashimi tostadas and poblana pepper tacos. In 2016, it became the first UK restaurant group to be certified carbon neutral.
For Londoners, these new arrivals provide a reassuring dose of familiarity. For Brightonians, they've brought a dash of big city glamour to a place that already had a thriving independent restaurant scene. Enjoy the London imports but also check out local favourites such as Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient 64 Degrees, innovative vegetarian restaurant Terre a Terre and seafood specialist The Little Fish Market. It's quirky offerings like these that lured Londoners down in the first place.
Popular with celebs including Woody Allen and Kylie Minogue, Drakes is a stylish 20-room boutique hotel with sweeping sea views and an award-winning on-site restaurant. Rates from £120. See drakesofbrighton.com
Rob McFarland was a guest of The Ivy in The Lanes, Polpo and Patty & Bun.