I’ve enjoyed watching football for as long as I can remember. From getting my first pair of shin pads in my Christmas stocking, to captaining the girls’ team at school, it has always been a big part of my life. So much so that when I found out that the 2014 World Cup would be taking place in Brazil, I didn’t need much persuading to jump on the plane and enter the land of sandy beaches, caipirinhas and gorgeous men and women. It was a predictably mad experience; from crowds stampeding along Copacabana beach away from the sound of gunshots, to near-riots when Brazil lost in that fateful game against Germany. However, even with all that drama it exemplified all the reasons I love football – the surging adrenalin, the sense of unity and the sheer beauty of the game. So being asked to go to The Amex and attend the Albion Matchday Experience – a part of the exclusive 1901 club – was like being asked to go and attend a feast when you’re really hungry.
We arrived on a gorgeously sunny Saturday and by-passed the usual entrance to make our way round the side of the stadium to the 1901 club. Having previously been the winners of Matchday Hospitality Awards and multiple stadium awards my expectations were high, and as we excitedly marched towards the HB’s restaurant we were greeted with smiles and shown to a lovely table. It is absolutely impossible to ignore the massive windows that give a frankly stunning view of the pitch. The stylish yet relaxed décor complemented the smart-casual dress code perfectly. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly excitable as tables laughed and chatted about the forthcoming game and I picked at the nibbles and drank a glass of very nice Prosecco as I scanned the menu. It was a well-chosen and seasonal affair, with three options for each course. I opted for the Cod Brandade served with a poached quail egg and gribiche dressing for my starter. The flaky and well-seasoned cod was encased in a crunchy spherical outer while the tangy gribiche dressing, laced with mustard and capers, really lifted the subtle fish. The perfectly runny, rich little quail egg was a welcome addition and the whole course was immensely satisfying. Our server Andrew, who was incredibly cheerful and proficient brought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to our table which was crisp, dry and refreshing as we soaked up the atmosphere and awaited our mains.
In the interim between courses the legendary Andy Rollings who played with Albion for six years gave his thoughts on what the game would hold and an optimistic prediction of a 3-1 Seagulls win. I loved that a part of Albion’s past came and mingled with the fans of Albion’s present and I found myself grinning widely as my rather spectacular main was placed in front of me. As a super-fan of all things bovine I, unsurprisingly, decided upon the braised rump of English beef with dauphinoise potatoes, honey-glazed chanteney carrots, buttered kale and slow-roasted shallot jus. The beef fell apart at the merest touch from the fork and melted in the mouth, while the carrots were flavoursome and cooked with real skill. The buttered kale was moreish and the dauphinoise, while having a beautifully creamy taste, remained light. The man-of-my-culinary-match, however, was the phenomenal tasting jus that positively burst with meat juices and shallots, doing a great job of binding the dish together. Another glass of the wine later it was time for dessert. I went for the strawberry mousse with macerated strawberries, strawberry coulis and granola. It arrived like the cup at the end of the season: the fluffy mousse tasted of ripe and juicy strawberries while the macerated ones were luscious, syrupy orbs. Well-fed without feeling too full (a hard balance to strike) I ordered a drink to be served at half time and we made our way to the perfectly appointed seats and got ready to enjoy the game.
Brighton effortlessly glided into dominating Barnsley from the off, and it was only 12 minutes into the first half before striker Glenn Murray tapped in a goal that sent the stands into rapturous cheering and applause. A comfortable lead continued and as the whistle signalling the end of the first half sounded. I wandered back to the HB’s Lounge knowing that my drink and a warm coffee was waiting for me. After a lovely re-fuel we were back to our seats and had to wait hardly any time at all before before witnessing another confident Murray goal, which incited applause and cheering once again from an excellent Brighton crowd. After the game ended with an easy 2-0 Brighton win, it was back up to the lounge, another drink and a slice of sweet, spongey carrot cake. Tom, the brilliantly friendly manager came over and talked to us about how proud they all were to have the HB’s Lounge, and how successful the Hospitality Matchday packages had been. He beamed with pride at the Brighton win and it was hard not to beam with him after experiencing such a fantastic day. The VIP package comes in at £137 +VAT and includes house wine and beer from 12.30-6.30pm, a reserved table, three course meal, match day programme, West Stand seating, post-match refreshments and car parking. I know how much I normally spend on a night out drinking and getting food in Brighton, so for me the price represents really good value for money and sheer levels of atmosphere and pleasure. I can’t remember a day I’ve enjoyed so much for quite some time.
The HB’s Restaurant is at the American Express Community Stadium, Village Way, Brighton, BN1 9BL
By Lucy Hallett