It is perfectly possible that all there is to be said about the Crab & Lobster at Sidlesham, West Sussex has already been said – if so I’ll make my apology at the start. However for those unfamiliar with the unspoiled Pagham Harbour location of this 350 year old converted pub/restaurant with rooms and its exquisite seafood, you are in for a treat.
Not all reviewers have been uncritical as a cursory glance at Trip Adviser will confirm, but here at Cloud Howe Media we speak as we find and what we found was outstanding – it’s the whole experience that counts and that includes of course the accommodation, the food, the wine, the service, the atmospherics and the location.
Our recent stay during that wet, windy and bitterly cold spell towards the end of March was not a first for Mrs Burns and me – we stayed at the Crab & Lobster two years previously and we have lunched there (without staying) a couple of times too. That may not make us habitués but it does give us a sense of perspective and, I hope, some balance – we have not been let down so far.
I should tell you that there were two things that made our most recent visit especially enjoyable. First we had been given a Crab & Lobster voucher as a Xmas present by my sister June; second we managed to get booked-in just before their generous Spring offer came to an end!
This certainly took the sting out of paying the bill – the Crab & Lobster is not cheap, but then when ever did you find top quality service and food in a superb location that was?
The tiny hamlet of Sidlesham lies directly south of Chichester off the B 2145 and a well signed turn-off takes you right to the edge of Pagham Harbour, a designated Nature Reserve and Sight of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
By the way, don’t expect bobbing boats and yachty-types – you’ll want Itchenor and Bosham for that – but what you do get are unspoiled mudflats, salt-marshes and sea forming a natural harbour that is an acknowledged haven for wading birds, including some over-wintering rarities. The Crab & Lobster is literally perched on the banks of the harbour.
We checked-in late-afternoon and after dumping our bags made straight for the bar and the welcoming open-fire – just what was needed to take the chill off that biting wind. We were helped to the wine menu by the attentive lunch-time waitress who thoughtfully pointed us to the 37cl carafe options.
It did not take long to spot the Camillo de Lellis Biferno Reserva – this wine had recently been the subject of a blog from yours truly under the title ‘A Warming Bargain from Italy’ and it would, as they say, have been churlish not to order some. It was one of those available in a 37cl carafe, which was perfect and exactly the kind of hearty red that the occasion called for.
We passed a very pleasant hour chatting to our young waitress, flicking through the wide range of up-to-date magazines and travel books whilst sipping our wine.
Outside, the howling wind was swinging the traditional pub-sign with the creak of old ships’ timbers, which certainly added to the atmosphere – we almost expected Long John Silver to come lurching through the door!
As Mrs Burns prefers not to eat too late we booked our table in the restaurant for 19.30 and we arrived more or less on time; the fact that we did not sit down to order until almost 20.45 was not entirely our fault. The truth is we were befriended by a loquacious couple already seated at the bar when we presented ourselves for pre-prandials – I put it down to Mrs B’s youthful good-looks and charm. It rarely if ever happens when I’m on my own!
Our new friends – Edwin and Dawn – were not eating, at least not at the C&L and unsurprisingly were in no hurry to get to their table – but they were good company and generous too, which meant we had a couple of drinks before dinner rather than ‘just the one’.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking he must have been half-cut by the time he ate his dinner, no wonder he enjoyed it so much – and I did. But that would not be fair and I’m not denying that the happy state ‘twixt sobriety and inebriation makes for a warm sense of contentment and well-being. But having enjoyed a long and successful career at the bar I can, as they say, hold my own. And so it proved.
We had made a careful study of the ‘specials’ earlier in the day, so it did not take long for us to make up our minds. Mrs Burns opted for the potted shrimps and whole plaice stuffed with crayfish; I also went for the potted shrimps followed by poached bream on a bed of wild mushroom risotto with accompanying green salad.
It has been unkindly suggested in the past that I choose the wine on the basis of price, i.e. the most expensive. That is simply not true and to prove it, to accompany our fish-supper I ordered a young, light white wine from northern Spain, the Vall Major, Granaxta Blanc, which happened to be the house white and the least expensive on the menu.
It was exactly what was required; should there be any surprise at that – none whatever! House wine is often mistakenly underrated, but you have to ask, why would a specialist restaurant with a reputation to maintain serve its customers with cheap and nasty house wine? Clearly it doesn’t make sense and consequently there are some real bargains to be had amongst house wines – give it a go, you can spend what you save on a nice desert or digestive!
So what of the food? Well, we are talking about a very good standard of cooking using fresh, local ingredients in an imaginative and ambitious way that demonstrates high technical skill together with balanced flavours. In my experience you have to go a long way to achieve that combination.
Personally I think the ‘3’ awarded by the Good Food Guide is on the mean side and fails to do justice to Malcolm Goble and his team in the kitchen nor does it give adequate recognition to the always helpful, friendly and unfussy service in the restaurant led by Sophie.
All of which meant we had a lovely meal served by unhurried but always professional staff in a warm and smart dining room where we were made to feel just that little bit special.
And it did not stop there; we rolled down at a leisurely hour for breakfast the next morning; as you would expect freshly squeezed orange juice, toast, croissant, jams, yoghurt and cereals were all waiting for us to make our choice. Tea and coffee arrived promptly and we both ordered the smoked haddock and poached eggs for the cooked breakfast.
We both love smoked haddock – the proper un-dyed kind of course – but what clinched it was the poached eggs. I mean, when was the last time you made a poached egg at home, more to the point, when was the last time you made an edible one – round in shape, cooked on the outside with a hot runny yolk on the inside? In my case the answer is never! (I don’t count those done in the silly little ‘frying-pans’ with the lid that steams the eggs, that’s cheating!)
After our wholesome breakfast we were ready to brave the Siberian wind and venture out along the footpath that borders the west side of Pagham Harbour. This was not a first; we’ve trodden this easy but often very muddy route more than once so we knew what we were looking for – essentially, wading birds. But they were in short supply; sensibly the birds were keeping out of the cold.
It was not until we got to the RSPB hide at Ferry Pool that we got to enjoy the rich wildlife that defines this landscape and natural bird reserve – and boy, were we rewarded. First of all we were lucky enough to be joined in the hide by Peter and Barbara who were on holiday from Derby. They were serious bird watchers – you can tell straight-away when they come armed with one of those tripod telescopes wrapped in camouflage padding!
Not only did they have impressive kit, but they knew a thing or two about the wading birds of Pagham Harbour, Derby or no Derby. It wasn’t long before Peter was pointing out Pintails, Avocets, Shovelers (pictured above), Tufted Ducks plus Lapwings and Wigeons and we were oohing and ahhing.
Despite the biting cold we lingered much longer than anticipated but like all good things it had to come to an end …. as does this blog, so if you have been, thanks for staying with it this far.
28th March 2013