Ever been to Brighton in the winter?
It’s a memorable experience. Winds whipping up to eighty miles an hour and above, icicle rain from who knows where, all soundtracked by the thunderous waves crashing against the surf.
It’s fair to say that the city’s charms are best enjoyed in the summer. Good news, then, that one of Brighton’s most popular seafront bars, Patterns, has undergone a cosy winter makeover.
Inspired by the magical winter world of Narnia, Tales from Woodlandia is Patterns’ attempt to transform the bitterness of the season into something more welcoming. Walk in through the main entrance and come face to face with racks of fur coats, as though you’ve just walked in to a wardrobe.
Inside, silver birch trees and tree-stump seats bring the feel of a forest to the bar. Meshes of leaves create natural alcoves and nooks for privacy and conversation.
But this is more than just a token nod to C.S. Lewis. Artist Thomas Buckley, a University of Brighton graduate, has created an immersive digital experience, in an attempt to bring the bar to life in a whole new way.
Look closely and you’ll see forest pathways digitally projected onto the walls. Snowfall covers the sheets hanging from the ceiling, giving everything a mysterious glow.
It’s an immersive experience, and one that rewards exploration. Venture round the back of the bar to see the silhouettes of birds projected onto a white screen. Look carefully and you’ll spot reindeer rushing past the trees. It’s all lightly done, creating the atmosphere of a fairytale without shoving it down your throat.
Speaking of shoving things down your throat, Patterns have designed a special menu for Woodlandia. Try a Turkish Delight Martini, made with Lanique rose liquor, rose water, a splash of grenadine, a shot of vodka, chocolate liquor and chocolate bitters. It’s uncannily reminiscent of the Victorian treat, tasting exactly as saccharine as Turkish delight should.
Given that Narnia is ruled by the cold, it makes sense that the food is all about warmth and comfort. That’s what you want in a forest – food that wraps its arms around you and brings back childhood.
Hot dogs do this. Pick from a selection of souped-up hot dogs, from the Hot Mess (extra long, spicy, covered in jalapeños and sour cream) to the Sticky Duck (pulled duck in a sticky plum sauce with caramelised spiced apples).
My Dog a L’Orange, which I choose solely because of the name, is tastier than it sounds – a vegetarian sausage crowned with just-melting goats’ cheese and tart little slices of mandarin. It’s gone in seconds.
Of course, what you really want in a forest is a hot chocolate. Woodlandia is no ordinary forest, and their hot chocolate is beyond what you’d expect too. There’s a dark chocolate ‘Black Forest’ with bourbon and cherry liquor, adorned with berries sitting atop a mound of whipped cream. Or for more exotic tastes, there’s the Mexican Milk – a brave, possibly foolhardy combo of milk hot chocolate, Nutella and a dash of tequila. Of course.
I go for the Snow Light: white hot chocolate with a dash of coconut, almond milk and coconut rum. There’s a sledgehammer of white chocolate for dipping, too, which I manage to get more of on my lips and cheeks than in my mouth. Still, at least I’m blending in with the creatures of the forest.
Woodlandia is a lovely little winter retreat, bringing the magic of the forest to the warmth of a good bar. And they’re maximising their space with events throughout the winter. Give forest yoga a go without going outside (3 Dec and 17 Dec) or learn to weave some woodland wreaths (3rd December).
And, for the unashamedly booze-oriented, there’s an urban foraging cocktail workshop (25th Feb), which promises to show you how to turn edible woodland grub into cocktails.
It’s almost enough to make you forget the storm ravaging Brighton outside.
Words: Chris Zacharia
Tales from Woodlandia at Patterns will be open until the end of February 2017