The Good Pub Guide 2014, published last week, points to the demise of at least 4,000 pubs. And the reason? According to the editors, it’s because of pubs being stuck in the 1980s with indifferent food, drink, service and atmosphere.
Where does The Dean, the latest pub to open in the Chichester area, stand in this cutthroat market?
Once the Selsey Arms at West Dean, it was taken over last year by the people who run Chichester’s George & Dragon and totally refurbished.
Now in its fourth month of trading, it sports a vast baronial hall complete with wrought iron chandeliers and silver antlers’ heads.
Two 1950s-type brick fireplaces bookend the hall and bar, the décor kept to a bare minimum. It’s all pretty soulless and un-country pub-like. And virtually empty.
Service was non-existent when I visited.
I stood around, as did another couple, but we could see two voluble chefs in the on-view kitchen as they shouted above the air extractor, ignoring us. Finally, a waitress appeared, not welcoming nor friendly. Were we intruding?
The specials board offered a menu of soup; scallops; pot roast chicken; duck confit; lamb shank and rib rack. The menu itself had sandwiches; ploughman’s; beer-battered mushrooms and mayo; tempura-battered prawns; home-smoked salmon with homemade rye bread; cod and chips; burger and chips; salads. All lunch choices range from £4–£6.50 for starters, £8.50 for mains and £24 for a fillet steak.
The evening menu extended to chicken liver pâté; smoked Caesar salad with smoked Parmesan; pork three ways; seabass with fennel, dill, scallops and mussels; wild mushroom, chestnut and spinach risotto with smoked Parmesan and vegetable curry or steaks. Prices? From £5 to £11.50, £17.50 and upwards for steaks.
I ordered the duck confit with red cabbage and sautéd new potatoes. The leg was lukewarm, tough, stringy and tasteless. None of the basics for this Gascony speciality were apparent.
The cabbage was overly sweet, the potatoes also disappointing. The confit was yesterday’s, the better of the two waitresses told me when it was removed as inedible.
Pot roast chicken replaced it. It was flabby and didn’t taste as if it had been roasted.
The spinach was a hit, but made the cream and mushroom sauce watery. I had to get more cutlery to replace the removed cutlery, something the waitress should have noticed when placing the dish down.
Desserts (£5.95), all homemade I was told, included apricot-glazed bread and butter pudding; spotted dick (billed as ale cake) with golden syrup; cheeses, none of which were local but run-of-the mill at £7.
I endured an undercooked brownie with good chocolate sauce and a few raspberries. A glass of Sauvignon Blanc from a pricy 38-strong wine list brought the damage to £22.45.
This was a very disappointing new opening, but The Dean may still be finding its feet – let’s hope the cooking and sourcing improve as well as service.
Indifference is regrettably the current message coming from this newcomer. A great shame to me and countless others who love pubs and wish only for their success. At least there’s no muzak.
The Dean, West Dean, West Sussex PO18 OQX. 01243 811465. Open 12pm–3pm and from 5.30pm–9.30pm Mon–Sat. 12pm-6pm Sun.
Disabled access: Fine, possibly the best for wheelchair space in the area.
How to get there: Follow the A27 going east to Chichester. Follow the A286 signs to Lavant, the pub is in West Dean on the right. Large car park.
Ratings (maximum *****)