What do you do when you sell your highly successful Georgian Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms? Take a break from business or dive right back into the dining fray?
Rowland and Mary Leach, recent owners of West Stoke House, decided on Chichester city centre to ply their exceptional wares again, but in a very different guise. Amelie and Friends, the name of the deli/restaurant, carries on their smart, minimalist approach but you won’t be offered the likes of tranches of caramelised foie gras or quail cooked two ways.
Walk through the Georgian doors, but leave the 18th century behind. Spare is the name of the game here with wooden floors, white walls, lighting fashioned out of outside lamps on a wall grid system and tables painted Palomino-style (white and brown). There’s a deli at the beautiful white-tiled entrance and a garden which has had a splendid makeover. The mainly French music (an accordion-free zone) is nothing short of great.
The no-compromise grub is all made daily on the premises - no packets are allowed to pass the threshold. It includes breads (rosemary, olive, rye and sourdough) fashioned by an Aussie pastry chef who is no slouch judging by the many on-view pastries.
Mirroring the minimalist look, the menu is microscopic. Breakfast has eggs Benedict (£7.95), dried fruit and brown sugar porridge (£3.95) and Amelie’s fry-up. Good to see porridge making an outing. The lunch/dinner menu is Lilliputian: choose either two or three salads from a short list of six (£6.50/8.50) and add additions (£3.45): Coronation chicken, smoked bacon, artichoke and egg tart, lamb kofta with tzatziki dressing or Roquefort and leek quiche. Three hot dishes, including curried cauliflower soup and mussels with clams with toasted bread and tapenade (£8.50), are also offered. Small menu, quality grub is the message. Applause please. But let’s find out if it delivers.
A lemon couscous with caramelised plum tomatoes, homemade labneh (soft Middle Eastern cheese) and tarragon joined forces with my second-choice salad, roast beetroot with lamb’s leaf, goat’s cheese and toasted sunflower seed alongside an additional kofta.
The kitchen needs to go back to the drawing board with the couscous, as it was a very dull version of this fine, simple dish, The labneh was good but the beetroot, although excellent and at room temperature, looked a mess. Two exceptionally dense kofta meatballs were wonderfully spicy, but could have done with more of the cucumber and yoghurt sauce.
Sourdough (£2.50) was delivered in a bread-baking tin - a nice touch, but it didn’t quite make the mark, more just good white bread. No tangy taste, no chewy texture.
A made-on-the-premises meringue (£1.30) showed what the kitchen can do pastry-wise, but why serve it on a tiny side plate? Meringue shards covered the table.
Prices are very reasonable, but the bill mounts up. Mine came to £18.50 including an excellent Sauvignon Blanc. This aesthetic crowd-pleaser is already making its unstuffy mark for daytime grazers, with Mary and Rowland cleverly creating a stunning venue. A kitchen tweak or two and service tightening could cause queues around the block.
Amelie and Friends, 31 North Street, Chichester PO19 1LY
Open from 9am–7pm Tues–Sat and 10am-2pm last orders Sun
Food: Three (out of five)
Disabled access: Steps at the entrance may deter wheelchair users, but plenty of space inside.
How to get there: Follow the signs for the Chichester Festival Theatre once off the A27 at Chichester. North Street is the third exit at Northgate roundabout. Park either on-street with a paid voucher bought in nearby shops or at the Northgate car park.