Nestling in the rolling Sussex countryside, Chilgrove may be a few miles from the sea but dive into any of the dishes on the menu at the Fish House and your taste-buds will tell you otherwise. Diane Lane reports.
The Fish House is the reincarnation of the White Horse, transformed into a restaurant, hotel and bar by former Catey winner David Barnard with a £4m conversion. Barnard, previously the man behind the Crab at Chieveley, has taken great pains to ensure his new venue has plenty of pulling power for well-heeled locals, visitors from further afield and corporate clientele alike.
The interior offers a choice of two dining areas - an elegant 40-seat restaurant and a more informal fish bar seating 60. Confirming the fish theme is a series of fish aquaria built into the wall separating the dining area from the kitchen. Outside, the grounds have been landscaped and include six hot tubs, each set in its own pagoda complete with TV and Champagne fridge.
In the kitchen, head chef Alan Gleeson, previously of Hambleton Hall in Rutland, heads up a seven-strong brigade. While Gleeson acknowledges his Michelin-starred background has given him discipline and a classical grounding, he is relishing the opportunity to practise a simpler cuisine style here.
Six months after opening, business is growing, thanks in part to 95% occupancy on the 15 rooms. Corporate overnight business brings in single diners during weekday evenings while the grey market, parents visiting nearby university students and corporate events, contribute to the lunchtime crowd, among whom the attractively priced set menu - £19.50 for two courses, £22.50 for three - is popular. The set menu also makes a brief appearance from 6-7pm for the early evening crowd.
The à la carte offering has undergone a change in recent weeks. The separate fish bar menu and restaurant tasting menu in place at the launch have merged to create a comprehensive listing of dishes available in both dining areas. Pricing, too, has been revised in sympathy with the economic climate. Starters come in between £8 to £13, mains hover about the £19 mark and desserts close out the meal at about £7.
One hundred lobsters - native or Canadian depending on availability - come through the kitchen door each week and appear on the menu in several different incarnations, including thermidor (whole £29.50, half £15.50). Some rub shoulders with crab, diced through lemon mayonnaise and accompanied by a Granny Smith apple sorbet (£12.50) which provides a crisp contrast to the rich creaminess, while others give a princely edge to the Royal fish pie (£18.50).
On a fruits de mer platter for two (£38.50), they share the stage with a cast of crab, prawns, shrimps, clams, whelks, oysters and mussels, which is "great to plough into with a bottle of Muscadet," Gleeson says.
Unsurprisingly, fish and chips with crushed peas and tartare sauce (£15) is a firm favourite with diners and consists of pollack, hake or cod in a light beer batter. Gleeson's personal favourite in the fish stakes is turbot. "It is without doubt the best fish - meaty with a firm texture and so robust it will stand up to anything you partner it with," he says.
Currently he serves a two-and-a-half pound wild turbot, quite simply brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with rock salt and black pepper and baked in the combi-oven, and accompanied by new potatoes and beurre blanc (£47.50 for two). He's also partial to oily fish, such as mackerel, which is presented as a smoked mackerel pâté with toasted sourdough (£7.50).
Smattered throughout the menu is an indication of Gleeson's self-confessed chilli addiction, developed during 10 months in Hong Kong. The experience ignited a passion for eastern flavours which lends a global feel to his menu by way of dishes such as wok-fried bream with chilli, garlic, spring onions, ginger and soy, served with a glass noodle salad (£17.50).
While the menu is 80% fish, carnivores are by no means left out in the cold. The Aberdeen Angus rib steak with French fries and béarnaise (£22.50) is always a popular choice and seasonality has brought in partridge and venison offerings. Roast West Dean partridge is served with squash, spinach and Emmental risotto (£15.50) and the venison is a loin of fallow deer served with celeriac purée and braised red cabbage (£18.50).
When it comes to desserts, Gleeson likes to keep things straightforward with familiar favourites such as apple tarte tatin with crème anglaise (£6.95). Popular with diners is a spin on a traditional cranachan which makes use of local plums, cooked down with vanilla to provide a deep, ruby-red compote for layering with panna cotta in a latte glass (£6.95).
The Fish House, Chilgrove, Chichester, West Sussex PO18 9HX. Tel: 01243 519444.
WHAT'S ON THE MENU
- Tiger prawns, crayfish and shrimp cocktail, £9.50
- King scallops, Gruyère, garlic and lemon, £13.50
- Sweet chilli squid salad, £8.50
- Pan-fried sea bass, vine tomato tart, £22.50
- Skate wing, baked mash, caper beurre noisette, £16.50
- Butter-roast Label Anglais chicken, leeks, morels, Gewürztraminer sauce, £18.50
- Espresso semifredo, sambuca foam, biscotti, £6.95
- Tropical fruit compress, pink grapefruit granite, £6.95
- Iced peanut parfait, salted caramel, £6.95