Sam and Janet Mahoney of Field & Fork have enterprisingly spread their wings since opening a tiny eatery in a small courtyard in central Chichester a few years ago.
After a successful move to Pallant House Gallery’s destination restaurant, the Roux-trained couple packed their culinary bags again to star at the Chichester Festival Theatre before finding a long-term home at a small, delightful restaurant in the back streets of the city by Priory Park.
The couple also run Southend Barn’s wildly successful catering operation. But at Field & Fork on Guildhall Street, chef Sam can once again be master of an upmarket restaurant oozing style.
Chichester, in common with most British towns these days, has a distinct lack of independent restaurants as chains have taken over on a grand scale. The return of such independence is welcomed with open arms by those who dislike identikit food, service and upselling.
Formerly Clinch’s restaurant, Sam and Janet have completely overhauled the charming space including hunting for antiques.
Janet has re-upholstered more than 50 antique dining chairs with smart, modern plaid resulting in a relaxed, inclusive and welcoming look. The culinary couple have not allowed the over-design loved by too many restaurateurs to detract from their raison d’etre; food, service and atmosphere. Muzak haters please note: there is none.
Sam’s light touch includes sautéd scallops, citrus marinated fennel and broad bean and sorrel dressing.
On the à la carte menu you can find maple-glazed slow-roasted pork belly, smoked eel, ginger jus; rabbit terrine, black pepper brioche and dandelion salad.
Move on to Szechuan peppered crispy shoulder of lamb, wild garlic and ricotta gnocchi and bouillabaisse of local seafood with saffron potatoes.
There’s also a table d’hôte from lunch until 6.30pm, which includes Indian spiced red bean fritters, wild garlic and ricotta gnocchi and blanquette of rabbit.
We enjoyed asparagus, duck egg and Parma ham starters and cured fillet of sea trout with Japanese leaf salad and sweet miso dressing.
Both dishes demonstrated Sam’s remarkable ability to match and cook ingredients to savour long after the plates have been cleared.
These triumphs were followed up with three more; lamb, pigeon and my choice of veal chop with spring vegetables and cocotte potatoes. Rarely have I had a more perfect veal dish, – it oozed flavour and tenderness.
For dessert there are more classical yet modern combos: rhubarb and custard tart with toasted soft meringue, lime and basil pannacotta and local strawberries with poppy seed tuille.
We opted for peppermint tea to finish off the superb meal and a splendid Fleurie (£16.50, glasses from £4.20) from the small but perfectly formed wine list.
Starters like those above start at £6.50 and rise to £9.95, mains from £14.95, most in the £16 range bar the veal, a pushing-the-boat-out-but -worth-it £25. Desserts are around £6.50 and the table d’hôte is a bargain at £17.95 for two courses (£23.50 for three).
On top of all this, service is friendly and polished – just as it should be.
Welcome back, Field & Fork. There’s nothing like you in this neck of the woods.
Our bill came to just more than £35 a head.
Field & Fork, 4 Guildhall Street, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1NJ
Call: 01243 789915
Open Tuesdays–Saturdays from 11.30am.
Disabled access: Narrow but manageable.
How to get there: Take A27 to Chichester and follow theatre signs to Northgate roundabout. Take North Street and turn left on to Guildhall Street. Park on-street.
Ratings (maximum *****)