There are few more depressing thoughts than the prospect of having to eat at a transport hub. Airports, train stations and motorway services are a culinary black hole and a national health epidemic waiting to happen. The one exception is the holy grail of an M&S supermarket, these are not always guaranteed and when travelling beggars can’t be choosers.
I have eaten more than my fair share of pre-packaged egg and bacon sandwiches, once a major guilty pleasure of mine, in motorway service stations with a Boost for “dessert” to know that this is no way to live. More recently I was forced to endure the unpleasantness that airlines claim to be food. My ham and cheese toasted sandwich resembling a microwaved damp sponge that had been used to clean the feet of someone with an unpleasant fungal issue.
Train station pubs are often similarly unsavoury. Frequented by unsavoury characters and poor unfortunate souls with nowhere else to turn, they are the nicotine stained waiting rooms for people wishing they could be anywhere else.
Now that I have painted a fairly bleak image it is time to spread a little sunshine. Things are improving, and Brighton station is home to a pub that is staking a claim to be the best platform pub in the UK.
The Cyclist is a pub that wants to be a lot more than just a waiting room that serves beer. It has been open for a few years offering Brighton’s commuters and visitors a much better station experience. The “quirky” décor, inspired by its former life as a lost luggage office, and bright airy interior is a pleasant place to sit. There is a great selection of drinks and a full breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menu as well.
The menu features a fairly solid array of burgers, pub classics and sandwiches which, whilst perhaps not something to get excited about, is actually the sort of food I would want in this setting. There are also daily specials and it is from here that I choose a starter of spiced celeriac soup (£5) to kick things off. We go for the sausage and chorizo lentil casserole (£8) also from the specials board and their smoked salmon and cod fish cakes (£10) as the mains.
The food arrives promptly and it looks very appealing with a proper homemade comfort food feel about it. The soup is thick, practically a puree, and nicely spiced with a peppery edge that I enjoy. It is a very generous bowlful and would have served as a decent lunch with bread.
The lentil casserole with sausage and chorizo continues the comfort food feel and is a proper winter warmer of a dish. The lentils are cooked perfectly without any graininess and the meaty sausage and spiced chorizo add the interesting elements making this a hearty dish for a weary traveller.
The second main of fishcakes is an impressively proportioned plate of food, served with a poached egg and four cheese sauce. I was feeling a little full before tucking into these and they were a daunting sight. The cheese sauce went perfectly with the chunky mash filled fishcakes. Not the most refined dish in the world, but it tasted good and would’ve kept me satisfied all the way to Great Malvern if necessary.
Our host then took it upon himself to place one of their scotch eggs in front of me. Roughly the size of a shot putt, you can pick these up to go for just £4 making them great value and tasty to boot.
Desserts were going to be a struggle and so I opted for a classic lemon posset made by their dessert chef Sophie. My friend went for the salted caramel brownie and there was also a pear cake to try as well. I love a lemon posset and this was spot on as far as I am concerned. It may not be the most technical dessert but when it is done properly that doesn’t matter.
The brownie was sweeter than a basket full of kittens, in a good way, and I had to pass on the cake as I could feel diabetes starting to take hold, it looked pretty good though.
Train stations are fairly depressing places to spend time, and you inevitably will be given the current train situation, and The Cyclist certainly makes for a nicer place to wait. The food isn’t going to set the world alight but it tastes pretty good and is fantastic value given the size of the portions. They have an excellent selection of beers that are competitively priced and it is actually a decent place to while away some time. Next time I arrive 45 minutes early for my train, as I inevitably do, I will certainly pop in there for a beer.
Brighton Train Station
This review first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent. The meal was complimentary and I was invited to review. This had no bearing on my opinion of the food.