Within 400 metres of Palmeira Square you will find a flurry of French restaurants and French-inspired catering establishments.
Let’s start with the nearest: Le Bistrot Nantais, owned and run by Pascal Benamari.
In 2006, Pascal told Le Parisien newspaper that, after a difficult early childhood, when he was 10,
Maman m’a acheté un petit tablier de cuisine en toile cirée décoré d’un chef. On est tous les deux et elle m’apprend à faire la mayonnaise.
[Mum bought me a little waxed apron with a chef on it. There were just the two of us and she taught me how to make mayonnaise.]
After gaining catering qualifications at a lycée professionnel (technical college) he started his career in Canada, but he found that « Là-bas, c’est tout blanc. Je suis au bout du monde et j’ai la trouille. »
[Over there, everything was white. I was at the ends of the earth and I was scared to death.]
When Pascal came to England, he felt he had found his salvation. He became chef at Brighton’s La Fourchette, where, Le Parisien reports Pascal as saying:
Le critique gastronomique de l’« Observer », l’un des plus grands quotidiens anglais, plutôt connu pour sa retenue, se lâche en ces termes : « C’est orgasmique, c’est français et c’est sur la côte ! » C’est vrai que j’ai tout amené de France, confirme en riant celui que les Anglais surnomment affectueusement le French Frog, les cuisses de grenouilles, le foie gras, les escargots, la totale !
[“The food critic of the Observer, one of the best English daily newspapers, and which is better known for its restraint, let rip with the following: ‘It orgasmic, it’s French and it’s on the coast!’ “I did indeed bring everything from France,” the man they affectionately call the French Frog, “the frogs’ legs, the snails, the whole lot!”]
Pascal opened his own restaurant in 2007 and today owns Le Bistrot Nantais at 41 Church Road, Hove, the nearest French establishment to La Place Palmeira.
Which brings us back to La Fourchette at 6 Queens Place which has been described as “La petite France in Hove”. The chef-patron [owner and head chef] is Pascal Madjoudj. And what a beautiful Victorian mews building in which to house a restaurant.
Next is Pâtisserie Valerie at 87 Western Road, Hove, a chain of patisseries of set up (according to their website) in London in 1926 by ‘Belgian-born Madam (sic) Valerie’. The pedigree of this building is even more varied than that of Queens Place. Originally a private home until the late 1880s, the property has since hosted such various shops as William Hill’s Costume, millinery and flower showroom (early 20th century), Little Folk Ltd (fancy drapers) and then in the 1950s, Winton’s Baby Carriages. The beautifully delicate shop windows have thankfully survived from a more elegant age and, despite having been adapted in the early 20th century, they are Grade II listed by Historic England.
At 34-35 Western Road, Hove is an Aladdin’s cave of cheese. However, the name La Cave à Fromage has nothing to do with caves. It is a reference to the fact that the affinage [ripening] of cheese is often best done in the cheesemaker’s cellars.
In the early 20th century, No. 35 was for very many years a fishmonger’s premises. Its neighbour was a chemist’s in the 1860s, a dairy in the 1880s, a salesroom for Singer sewing machines in the 1920s and more recently, in the 1950s, a furriers’.
Further east is Real Pâtisserie at 25 Western Road. It has a fine pedigree in the catering profession. As early as 1848 Mr Salter was running his baker’s and confectioner’s shop on this site. He had several successors in the bakery business until the baton was passed to the Cutress family who opened a branch of their Forfars chain on the site. The shop closed in 2015. For an excellent history of the Forfar bakery see Judy Middleton’s website, Hove in the Past
And finally, few doors along at No. 21 Western Road is le pub called the Paris House. Originally listed as a private house in the earliest directories of the 1840s, by 1848 Edmund Fellows was retailing beer on the premises. Before you could say sacré bleu (namely the early 1860s) Daniel Dawson had elevated the beer shop into the Western Tavern which he ran until 1877 when a Mr Hornsey elevated the pub yet again to become the Western Hotel. It retained the business name until the late 20th century. In her ’Brighton Bits blog, Delia Ives points out that despite several name changes over the last few years, the words “Western Hotel” can still be seen emblazoned between the first and second floor windows.