Din With Your Dinner?

There’s a restaurant in central Brighton, which I used to go to a lot. The food’s great, the service is good and the atmosphere is convivial. What more could you ask for? Well, to be able to hear yourself speak and what others are saying for starters. And less of the general clatter generated by industrial surfaces and hard wood floor for mains, please.

There are several restaurants I can think of (and I won’t single any out) where the food is excellent, really excellent, but where you have to raise your voice to near shouting levels if you want conversation with your ceviche.

Trying to find somewhere to take my increasingly hard of hearing parents is almost impossible but it’s also an issue for friends with perfect hearing. 24 St Georges in Kemptown [now closed, June 2017] is good both for food and acoustics and The Coach House in Middle St, with its unusual layout that cuts you off from a lot of the noise, while the Bali Brasserie in Hove, which still favours carpets, plush seating and tablecloths over stripped floorboards and other highly resonating features.

The Bali Brasserie, Restaurant, Hove, Malaysian, Indonesian
Bali Brasserie, Hove

Hear And Be Heard

My other half is a former musician and blames headphones without limiters for ignoring a lot of what I say. It may be that I’m simply boring him, but if I really want him to listen we head for the Lion and Lobster, Sillwood St, Hotel du Vin, Middle St or Semolina on Baker St, all places where you can hear and be heard.

One of my journo friends is deaf in one ear and eating out generally begins with a game of musical chairs, as we adjust ourselves to the layout of the room, making sure his deaf ear is to the room and I am on the side of the good one. He favors Sabai Thai, Princes Place and Sawadee on St James St along with restaurants with booths like Little Bay on the King’s Road.

Hotel Du Vin Restaurant, Brighton, Bistro Du Vin, French inspired restaurant, Brighton
Hotel Du Vin, Brighton

Upstairs at Sunbirds on the London Road is also quiet and Fishy Fishy on East St plus and “any of the Gingers” (Dog, Pig, Duck pubs), according a friend who, before the acquisition of bilateral hearing aids, claimed to rarely eat anywhere else.

The Lombard Affect

If you look at TripAdvisor, poor acoustics are often cited as one of the top five reasons that a diner would not return to a restaurant. The trend for modern restaurants discard carpets, table cloths and heavy curtains in favor of bare tables, stripped floors and open kitchens restaurants means noise is reflected from surface to surface, forcing people to raise their voices above the ambient noise level, which in turn raises the ambient noise level. This is known as the Lombard Effect or “really annoying,” when you’re forking out for a good meal and your dinner comes with a side servicing of din.

The solution doesn’t necessarily mean a return to hessian walls, plush seating and thick gravy stained carpets. There are companies out there who specialise in acoustic solutions for restaurants and other businesses, which want to combine sleek design with a comfortable ambience.

Semolina, Baker Street
Semolina, Baker Street

Resonics

Resonics is one that has been responsible for the installation of sound absorption products in restaurants and kitchens across the UK. Its Brighton piece de resistance is the City College café. Filled with students, bare surfaces and clattery trays and cutlery, it’s the kind of place you’d expect to have to shout, but sound absorption panels on walls and ceilings render it surprisingly peaceful.

“Our products can cut the reverberation time, “ says Resonics’ Jeremy Luscombe. “That is the time it takes for an initial sound to die. If someone clatters a fork in the kitchen and people try to talk over that, then the people on the next-door table try to talk over you and on it goes. We can reduce this reverberation time from five or six seconds to less than one, which makes a big difference.”

Coffee in Brighton, perfect flat white, taylor st baristas, Queens Rd
Do you want some flat white with that music?

Elsewhere minor details make the difference. Emporium with its minimal kitchen, leather sofas and spacious surroundings is a great place to have coffee with my hard of hearing friends, as is Redwoods on Trafalgar St and sister cafes Marwoods and Presuming Ed. Hove Museum teashop is quiet enough to hear a pin drop and the books in the Waterstones café act as literary sound absorbers. All the above serve food minus music.

The cafes that pipe it are becoming no go areas for the audio challenged.

Breakfast, Coach House, Brighton. Middle Street
Coach House Interior, Middle Street

How Can You Tell?

It’s not always easy to tell from the outside if a restaurant or café is going to be somewhere you can hear. You can peruse the menu in the window and read the reviews but by the time you’ve been seated and given the menu, it often feels to late to get up a and go.

In 1998, The San Francisco Chronicle introduced a noise rating system to its restaurant reviews and the newspaper’s restaurant critics continue to dine with small sound measuring devices, which they use to rate noise levels from one bell (“pleasantly quiet”) to five bells (“too noisy”).

Perhaps it’s time for us to start making a bit of a noise about noise too?

What Next?