Wednesday, 23 November 2016

THE ROYAL OAK - East Lavant

We had no particular plan of action this week, so we jumped in the car and let the pub Gods dictate our fate. We headed towards Chichester, deciding that we would enter the first pub brave enough to make itself known. The wheel of chance landed on The Royal Oak in Lavant. We had of course visited here before, but it had been a while, so we parked up and headed inside to see if anything had changed since our last visit.

On first glance things seemed as we had left them. Upon ordering a Coke/Pepsi, it also turned out that the soft drink situation remained the same. It is not possible to acquire draft Coke/Pepsi here. You are instead offered small bottles, each of which will cost you around £3. Baring in mind one of these small bottles wouldn't satiate a Womble, Dad ordered two for each of us, thus spending near enough £12 for two pints of Coke/Pepsi. That in our books is not good enough, and neither is it a good way to start your lunch.

An average meal here will set you back between £16 and £18. Now that sounds expensive, but we don't like to judge until the food has been sampled. Nothing much on the menu was jumping out at me, so Dad went to explore the specials board. He reported back that turbot with a new potato cake and sea spinach was on offer. That sounded pretty good to me, though I had no idea what sea spinach was. At this stage I would urge you to sit down and hold on tight. It wasn't until we had left that Dad informed me of the price of this turbot and friends. It cost, deep breath, £23. It should go without saying that if I had known this at the time, I wouldn't have ordered it.

We are then already well invested in our time at The Royal Oak, so it was now down to the food to blow our minds and make it all worthwhile. Dad ordered pork loin, which might not have been priced in the same postcode as my fish, but it was still in touching distance of £20. Now, we were both under the impression that nouvelle cuisine was no more, but one look at Dad's plate would make you question this assumption. Two small pieces of pork were kept company by a solitary and small croquette, and that was it. Not a vegetable to be found. I don't care how good a piece of pork and a potato croquette taste, there's something gone seriously amiss there. My meal was at least of adult size. The fish was cooked well, the potato cake was okay, and the sea spinach was interesting. Did it make me feel any better after finding out the price? The answer to that is a simple one, no.

This is a nice pub, and it is certainly a nice place to spend some time. The food is cooked well, and they are doing things the right way when it comes to preparation and ingredients. Where it all comes crashing down is the price and ultimately what appears on the plate. My Dad's meal could have been saved with the addition of another croquette and a few baby carrots. Frankly it astonished me that there was no thought to add a vegetable to the dish. We always find it hard to mark pubs like this. On one hand there is so much good, but then there is also the bad. If affluence is your middle name, perhaps you don't mind. But I certainly won't be recommending a meeting with friends or family here any time soon.

Atmosphere          7
Service                          7
Food                    7.5
Value                   5
Verdict                          3.5*

Older review:

I thought we'd been to this pub several years ago, Dad didn't remember it, so we went there today to clear things up. Turns out that neither of us remember it and I  made the whole thing up in my head.

You would be forgiven for thinking this is a pub. It's got a good old pub name, it looks like a pub and does all the things that pubs usually do, yet The Royal Oak website talks as their establishment as more of a restaurant with rooms to rent. For the sake of this review, and to make things clearer as we progress, we shall refer to The Royal Oak as a pub, it even has a bar and an open fire.

It's a lovely looking pub, inside and out. It's an old building, serving the roll of pub or restaurant for over 200 years. When we entered, the door was left open. Being a rather cold November day, I was starting to worry that common sense had been locked in the cellar and that we were to be exposed to the frigid air whilst trying to enjoy our lunch. Luckily, the cellar door must have been opened, as I noticed it suddenly warming up, and low, the door was closed. The fire now at least had a sporting chance of heating up the cosy little pub.

We've noticed there seems to be a distinct lack of draft Coke/Pepsi/cola in Chichester. It is however available in very small bottles which cost about the same as a pint. So unless you are a Smurf or of comparable size, you may require two bottles, there by incurring substantial costs. This was the fate which befell our parched throats, perhaps just the tap water next time. Menus and drinks were delivered to our table though. This is where the fun began. We really don't want to bang on about prices all the time, but let's face it, it's something you'd want to know about, so here we go. Starters between £5 and £7, main courses between £16 and £18, deserts from £5 to £9, cheese boards being more, £14 if you want to share one. Now baring in mind this is a pub, whatever anyone says, and that is way out of touch, approximately 30% over. Let's put some context to this. I ordered fish and chips. Yes the chips were apparently triple cooked and hand cut, yes the peas were crushed and the tartar sauce homemade. But would you pay £16 for fish and chips in a pub? Dad had the ox cheek pie, which also came in at £16. Even more of a shock when you find out that said pie arrived with no potato based friends, just vegetables.

Let's forget the price for a minute and concentrate on the food. My fish was beautiful. A top quality peace of fish with a perfect crunchy batter. The peas and sauce were both delicious. The chips were okay. They were better than your average chip, but we are well aware of the triple cooked chip phenomenon, the whole point being that you end up with a perfect and crisp chip. Without the menu, I wouldn't have identified these as chips from the triple cooked family. Dad's pie wasn't bad, neither was it a revelation, and as good as vegetables can be, I think most people would be expecting a potato based accompaniment. I should also mention that we started off with a bread basket (£2.25 for four small slices). It was however incredibly good bread, slightly let down by the fact it was delivered with unsalted butter, don't get me started on unsalted butter.

Every meal has a price. That price is of course up for deliberation, but as nomads of the pub world, I feel we are fairly well qualified to judge that price validity. If you have an amazing pub which sells amazing food, prepared by a highly skilled chef who uses the finest ingredients, you can charge more than Weather spoons, but there is still a limit. Once you get to a certain point, you're starting to compete with fine dining restaurants, then you aren't a pub any more. So perhaps I was wrong, maybe this isn't a pub. You go and judge for yourselves, but be aware, there are plenty of amazing pubs nearby, that sell amazing food and they'll do it for less than £16.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 7
Food                    8
Value                   5
Verdict                 4*


Monday, 21 November 2016

THE DEAN - West Dean, Chichester

We drove past this pub several weeks ago whilst on our way to another of the numerous gastro pubs which litter the outskirts of Chichester. It had to wait its turn, but this week, The Dean had its chance to shine for us.

This is a much bigger pub than it seems at first glance, unless your glance is more like a long lingering stare which includes a touch of reconnaissance around the perimeter, all S.A.S. like. There is a bar area and a separate restaurant, including an extension to the rear of the building. The pub is warmed by log fires, although on a very cold day they could probably do with a little help to get that real cosy atmosphere going.

After some fundamental enquiries, we were informed that we could choose a table in the restaurant area, where our drinks and menu's would be brought through to us. We like it when that happens, it gets you off to a good start and makes you feel a little bit special. It was evident after a quick look at the menu, that this was another classy gastro pub. There were plenty of imaginative additions to the average pub meals, and that was also reflected in the price. Not to say that it was very expensive, but there is now a clear divide between what a pub charges for good food, (Around the £10 mark), and what a very good pub charges for very good food, (In this case between £12 and £14). We are more than happy with this pricing, but as always, it is relative to the quality of food, the skill needed to prepare the food, and to some extent, even the surroundings.

I went for the sweet potato and coriander burger with hand cut chips, coleslaw and blue cheese mayo. Dad was rather more adventurous, opting for braised ox cheek with mash. It wasn't until we were talking and waiting for our food that I truly realised just how big this pub is. We aren't talking endless Weather spoons monster, but certainly bigger than your average country pub. Dad also pointed out that it could have been a touch warmer.

Funnily enough, I had just been asking Dad what his thoughts were about food being served on boards and other strange means of presentation, when low and behold, my burger appeared, gliding towards me on its very own wooden board. For the record, we don't mind boards for burgers or sandwiches, but not fish and chips, or anything which is likely to end up messy. My chips came in their own little basket, as seems the chip zeitgeist at present. My coleslaw and blue cheese mayo also had their own homes in the form of small square pots. After surreptitiously removing the biggest slice of tomato I've ever come across, I tucked in. The burger was beautiful, although it did get a little messy towards the end. The chips were delicious, I promise not to go off on one about the benefits of homemade chips again. Even the coleslaw and mayo were impressive. It may have cost one or two pounds more than a burger in your standard pub, but I know which I'd rather have. Now, let's get to Dad's experience. He wouldn't say this lightly, so it is important to take note of. He said, and I quote, "I think that was the best pub food I've ever had." Now, bearing in mind we've found some very good pubs lately, I think that my Dad's sentiments speak more than anything I can put down.

If you are looking for a good food pub just outside of Chichester, to be honest, you are spoilt for choice, probably more than any other area we've come across, but don't miss The Dean out. It's a quality pub with welcoming staff. It also sells some of the best food we've found and what we would consider a fair price. There are some pubs that sell good food, but get a bit carried away with their mark up, not here though, they've discovered the beauty of Goldilocks pricing.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 8
Food                    9
Value                   9
Verdict                 5*

Sunday, 13 November 2016

THE RICHMOND ARMS - Mill Rd, Chichester

This week we continued our exploration of the outskirts of Chichester with a trip to the recently recommended Richmond Arms. We were once again blessed with a sunny and unseasonably mild afternoon as we set off in search of the finest pub food.

After the usual greetings, drinks orders and collection of menus, we took a table in the corner and got down to business. This is where I shall raise two important points. Firstly, this may have been the best sounding menu we've come across. It was packed full of intrigue, imagination and many things that you simply wouldn't find in your average pub. It was immediately clear that this is no standard gastro pub, in fact it's more like a restaurant masquerading as a pub.
Second point to get in early, the prices are very much above the average pub menu. A main here will set you back between £16 and £18, which leads us in to the age old question. Is the food worth the money? That's a tricky one, and of course largely personal. But let's get back to that later.

I chose the salmon with crispy skin served with cauliflower and a sweet corn fritter. Dad went for the sticky, Smokey, slow cooked brisket. This came with winter slaw and dripping chips. For those of a vegetarian persuasion, rapeseed fried chips are also available. Everything was delicious and perfectly cooked, Dad was even kind enough to offer me one of his chips, they were dark, golden and crisp, just like a chip should be. We both even agreed to go as far as saying, this was some of the best, if not the best food we've eaten over our pub odyssey. Which leads us nicely back to the question of price. Considering that you would struggle to find better food, there is an argument that the high price is justified, but on the other hand, can a plate of pub food ever be worth £18? I think that's a choice that each customer has to decide on the merits of their own experience.

This is without question a lovely pub, well attired and peddling food of the highest standard. We wouldn't say the welcome and service were of quite the same order, but neither were they cold. Speaking of which, it could have been a few degrees warmer inside. There was however a nice bit of mellow jazz tinkling along in the background, while the atmosphere was pretty good, the bustle of a fairly busy lunchtime crowd adding to the homely feel.

If cost were no issue, we would insist that each and every one of you take a trip to The Richmond Arms, but price must always be a consideration, especially if you are a family of four or more and you don't want a heart attack when the bill comes. We feel the best course of action is to think of this as a restaurant, perhaps to be first explored on a special occasion, but if you get the chance to visit, don't pass it up.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 7
Food                    9
Value                   8
Verdict                 5*