Crab & Lobster, restaurant review: A masterclass in comfort food

 

I remember being baffled by a London Transport advertisement from my teenage years, encouraging people to use buses. It appeared on hoardings and bus shelters all over the metropolis, and showed a wretched-looking couple shielding themselves from a downpour at a bus stop while, in the distance, the Number 74 (or whatever) hove into view, lights blazing and driver beaming. The message on the poster read: 'A Welcome Sight on a Dark Night!'.

What puzzled me was this: at whom was the advertisement aimed? Was it trying to encourage people who normally walked everywhere, especially in the dark and the pouring rain, to try this newfangled mode of transport? Was it an attempt to wean taxi passengers away from their warm and pampered mode of travel by recommending they try standing in the open air straining to see a large red object lumbering towards them?

I thought of the LT advert the day we discovered the Crab & Lobster. It was early January. We'd been driving on the south coast, near Selsey, on the rainiest afternoon in history, and were starving. The dog in the back of the car was bored and needed a walk, so we looked for open country, got lost, and found ourselves in Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve. The dog loved the tidal mudflats. We were less keen. Walking around a sodden marsh in howling wind and screeching rain soon lost its charm for me... Then, down a narrow side-road, I saw a vision of loveliness: an elegant old pub, ablaze with lights in every window, with an indefinable air of bonhomie about it. A very Welcome Sight on a Horrible Afternoon.

There was hardly anyone in the place at 5pm, but they readily agreed to serve us dinner. We took in the flagstoned floor, the black roof-beams, the log fire, the exposed brickwork, the soft leather sofa, Mark the welcoming maître d', the candlelight that made the glasses gleam... There was, we agreed, no obvious reason why we should ever leave.

The Crab & Lobster was an inn in the 17th century and, after 350 years, it's been renovated to the tune of £3m. One look at the menu tells you it's shed any ideas about being just a pub. The starters take some very English ingredients for a walk in exotic lands: crispy fried squid with roquette and chorizo salad, for instance, or poached salmon rillettes with deep-fried mussels and pickled cucumber with black caviar dressing.

What surprised us was the minimalist sophistication. The seared scallops with pork belly came in dolls'-house portions but were exquisite, the crispness of the pork balancing the supple fleshiness of the seafood, accessorised with golden raisins with a bite of cider vinegar. Crab cakes from nearby Selsey were deliciously textured, served with mango and sesame jam with a chilli kick. Pan-seared pigeon breast was another miniature triumph, served with tiny slices of Madeira-poached apples, wilted kale and wild mushroom. The kale was over-salted but the combination of floppy game with apple was a big hit.

After this bonsai opener, it was another surprise to find the main courses were substantial, tough-guy fare, as if the chef, Clyde Hollett (he's from Bournemouth, and learnt his skills with the Marriott Hotel group) had suddenly become bored with dinky nouvelle cuisine and bought a copy of Simon Cave's Manly Food.

Angie's fish and chips – sorry, Fresh Loin of Hake in a Light Beer Batter and chips – was served with wit, the fish in a newspaper, the fries in a deep-fat-fryer basket. The hake was thick and flakey, the batter thin and crispy, and the tartare sauce, served in a jar, both creamy and vinegary. Albert's Scotch rib-eye steak was properly charred and nubbly outside, a bright and sexy rare vermilion within, and was devoured within seconds.

I couldn't resist the prospect of Southdown lamb done two ways: roasted rump, soft and delicate, sliced over black cabbage, and a shepherd's pie made from confit shoulder, which came in a copper saucepan. A pedant might complain that you can't call it shepherd's pie if the lamb isn't minced. But since it had been roasted for seven hours, and was falling-apart soft and richly delicious, I held my tongue.

The puddings were the gastronomic equivalent of being tucked up in bed by your food-loving aunt. Could you resist chocolate, whisky and brioche bread and butter pudding with toffee custard? Neither could we. (The brioche was a brainwave – so much sweeter and fluffier than using sliced bread.) The plum tarte tatin, with plum and cinnamon compote and clotted cream ice-cream, was fabulous, intensely fruity, sublimely caramelised. And with the coffee came a plate of mini-Christmas-pudding petits fours. The whole meal was a masterclass in comfort food, constantly surprising, inventive and flavoursome. Honestly, it's even worth sloshing through the Sussex mudflats to encounter such a multifarious treat.

Food ****
Ambience  ****
Service  ****

Crab & Lobster, Mill Lane, Sidlesham, West Sussex (01243 641233). About £120 for two, with wine

News
people
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
tech
News
people
Life and Style
tech Manband spurn Spotify to stream album exclusively with Google
News
Irradiated turkey and freeze dried mash potato will be on the menu this thanksgiving
video
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Manager - Global Leisure Business

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in their fiel...

    Investigo: Senior Finance Analyst - Global Leisure Business

    £45000 - £52000 per annum + bonus+bens : Investigo: My client, a global leader...

    Investigo: Financial reporting Accountant

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: One of the fastest growing g...

    Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luton – £25k

    25,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: CRM Executive – Global Travel Brand – Luto...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?