Carol is unimpressed by the latest food offerings from the newly rebuilt Chichester Festival Theatre.
A £22 million rebuild has launched Chichester Festival Theatre into an exhilarating new era.
The much-loved theatre, where I’ve spent decades as a dedicated theatre lover, put on its first much-anticipated production this year after closure during the restructure.
The Grade II-listed theatre re-opened in July with Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus starring the formidable Rupert Everett as Salieri. Musical Guys and Dolls is also among the new season’s offerings.
Not only is the acting a tour-de-force but the management and artistic directorship too with Alan Finch and Jonathan Church overseeing the popular theatre’s renaissance.
The pair have appointed new caterers Caper and Berry who are also in charge of the restaurants and lounge across the way in the Minerva and have opened a new café in the theatre itself.
I ate at the Minerva Lounge prior to Amadeus. The décor remains the same as before the rebuild but the configuration has slightly changed with more sofa seating and cacti plants lining the picture windows overlooking the main theatre.
The ‘grazing’ menu looks enticing with its sharing platters (British, fish or charcuterie boards for two from £17.95) and nibbles: marinated olives – £2.95; roasted butternut squash and pecorino risotto balls with basil aiöli – £3.95; little sausages rolled in sage and maple – £3.50; crostini – prosciutto, goat’s cheese mousse and fresh figs – £4.95; jamon and manchego croquettes with fresh tomato salsa and basil aiöli – £4.95 or chilli nuts served in a little kilner jar – £2.95.
For those not in pairs or more, the menu diminishes to nibbles only – the kitchen apparently unable or unwilling to do smaller boards for the likes of us solo theatre goers. .
The risotto balls (pretend arancini) were tasteless, claggy and mayo-heavy. The croquettes also tasted surprisingly similar to the risotto with similar mayo while brick- hard, stale crostini shattered when cut into and was abandoned. The figs and salsa were weary-looking and the prosciutto was thin on the ground with the only enlivening taste coming from the strong cheese. An excellent glass of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc also brought some pleasure to the table. The meal came to a whopping £21.06 with service charge.
Service, although polite and by smartly dressed staff, was immensely slow and sparse in numbers. One waitress wandered around with the wrong food for each table and some theatregoers left with only minutes to spare to nip across for Amadeus.
As only thermos coffee is available during the interval rather than a wished-for espresso, I returned the next day to the café with its striking modern looks and lovely smart black and red wire seating.
Choices here are attractively packaged but dull-looking with DIY salads and large, flat-wrapped paninis plus a few types of cake and croissants on offer.
An excellent espresso and an unevenly baked brownie set this theatregoer back by £4.70.
Amadeus was a triumphant, vibrant, astonishingly acted and directed five star play which coupled with the wine and coffee were defining highlights of my visit. Caper and Berry need to do more to match these and the winning return to theatre glory that is Chichester Festival Theatre.
Minerva Lounge, The Café, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, PO19 6AP. Call 01243 782219.
Pre-show and post-show dining open to all in the Minerva Lounge. Call the box office for times and bookings.
Disabled access: Both fine. Lift to Lounge or stairs.
How to get there: follow the signs to the Chichester Festival Theatre from the A27, large pay car park adjacent.