Warmth and wonderful food at the Crab & Lobster, Sidlesham
Dating back to the 17th century, the Crab & Lobster was once a humble inn and its exterior – a pristine, plastered white cottage that sits long and low divided by a strong black beam and pretty sets of square windows – although spruced up, still puts you in mind of its 350-year history. The interior is a different matter altogether, however. A brilliant blend of old meets new, the current owners have sympathetically renovated the ‘restaurant with rooms’ to the rumoured tune of £3 million, elevating it from modest to magnificent. Polly Humphris tried the new menu and was not disappointed.
It was a sunny day when we arrived at the Crab & Lobster. Based in Sidlesham, a small village about three miles south of Chichester, the restaurant sits at the convergence of two idyllic country lanes right next to the Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve, and I almost wished it had of been a drearier day when we visited. Perhaps it’s the romantic in me, but Pagham Harbour, a marshland of tidal inlets that teem with birdlife, has more than a touch of Wuthering Heights about it – the Crab & Lobster is a welcoming sight in the spring sunshine anyway, but I can imagine after a windswept walk in the rain, its warm glow must draw passers by in with an even more irresistible pull.
Warmth is absolutely the word here too. The interior – flagstone flooring, exposed beams, open log fires and soft furnishings in brown and purple – is one that draws you in and envelopes you in the comforting way that only a sofa can after a long, hard day. It’s homely and chic, simultaneously; not an easy trick to pull. The second thing that hits you is the incredible smell of food being cooked in the kitchen that sits just behind the lovely little three-seater bar.
I’d already heard great things about the food at the Crab & Lobster, but was doubly excited to try the new menu. “The ideas behind a new menu generally come from the changing of the seasons,” head chef, Clyde Hollett, told me. “It’s a team effort and we spend a lot of time developing ideas until we are happy with them. I’m very proud of all of our new dishes, but a couple that really stick out for me are the Selsey crab and tiger prawn cocktail, and from the mains, the roast rump of lamb with Pommes Anna, baby leeks, butternut squash and a Madeira jus.”
No prizes for guessing which two dishes I opted for. The crab and prawn cocktail was so beautifully presented, I hesitated before eating it, but then on spying a perfect quenelle of pinkish brown crab amid an edible garden of bitter chicory, peppery radish and crisp baby gem lettuce, of course I dived straight in. The prawns were juicy and sweet, balanced by salty hits of caviar, and the crab cocktail tasted of the sea – exactly as it should. My dining partner opted for scallops, which were served with slow-braised oxtail fritters; a rich, meaty match made in heaven for the smooth, buttery fish.
As its name indicates, the Crab & Lobster is famed for just that, but I couldn’t resist the roast rump of lamb. Tender and packed full of flavor, the meat was the undoubted star of the plate; paired up with soft, buttery Pommes Anna and a deliciously sweet butternut squash puree, it was all bought together by a Madeira jus that could win awards on its own. “I’m a firm believer in good quality sauces to accompany the main elements on any dish and I’m particularly proud of our Madeira sauce,” Clyde told me. “It’s made from a basic veal jus that we flavour with the trimmings from the lamb rumps, reduced Madeira and lots of garlic, thyme and rosemary, which is then left to infuse for an hour, so the flavour from the lamb comes through.” Clyde’s pride is not misplaced; the whole dish was utterly delicious.
Many people seem to stumble across the Crab & Lobster on the off chance, perhaps because it’s tucked away on the banks of a nature reserve, but do make the effort to go. It’s an astounding restaurant in a beautiful location – come rain or shine.
Crab & Lobster, Mill Lane, Sidlesham, Chichester PO20 7NB