Carol Godsmark reviews Clinchs in Chichester

Clinchs restaurant in Guildhall Street, Chichester. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131298-225)
Clinchs restaurant in Guildhall Street, Chichester. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (131298-225)
Wymering Manor

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Clinchs, a long-standing café in the centre of Chichester by Priory Park, was taken over recently. The new owners offer an extensive menu during the day and a more refined one from Thursday to Saturday evening.

The old building backs on to a small courtyard garden and conservatory. In the front part, by the very narrow entrance, is a counter displaying carbohydrate snacks. Despite its change of ownership, the 1980s décor remains the same. The look is tired and dark. A sign on the original outside brick wall offers Mother’s Day Lunch on March 10 (it’s mid-May). It doesn’t say much about the management.

Service, to be kind about it, is casual in the extreme. ‘Sit anywhere,’ with a wave of a disinterested hand and no eye contact. This sole diner is ignored in favour of later diners sitting near my table in the conservatory. I had to get up and flag down a waitress on her way to the kitchen.

Lunchtime – they also open for brunch – has the usual suspects: sandwiches, jackets, toasties and paninis, all at £5.50. There are wraps from £6.50; salads from £7.50 and a Ploughman’s. They do an open steak sandwich, a sausage one or a chicken and bacon club.

Daytime seafood and fish choices are dressed Selsey crab salad or Mornay (£12/£13) and smoked haddock on colcannon with a poached egg (£9.50), while evening dishes are slightly more upmarket and expensive.

There’s a harissa shoulder of lamb with couscous and tzaziki (£11.50); sirloin steak with chips, mushrooms and tomatoes (£14.95) or braised rib of beef with a red wine reduction (£13.95).

There’s a specials board and 12 other main courses too in case there’s not enough going on for you. The printed menu is dirty and written over and no wine list was offered. There was more offhand service, lack of care and attention to detail.

My choice, pan-fried cod fillet with prawn and caper butter with peas and new potatoes, didn’t convince me that the kitchen knows what it is doing. The cheaper type of cod was wildly overcooked and dry, and the prawns received the same kind of cooking. The economy kind of overly-vinegary capers was chosen.

It’s never clever to cut costs, particularly when most of the jar ends up on the plate. Vegetables, plonked on the plate swimming in butter, had to remain or the table would have been covered in grease. Those new potatoes and sweet peas saved this dish from disaster, but one potato wasn’t cooked through.

The dessert menu, on a chalk board brought to the table, was scruffily written up. The only homemade one, I was told, was the custard tart. A great solid slab, it was inedible: uncooked thick pastry, cold, flabby custard and far too much nutmeg sprinkled on it.

To cap it all, mushy strawberries were added.

Clinchs might have been a go-getting, clinching place in the 1980s, but diners are more demanding and savvy today.

This very poor meal and service set me back more than £16, including a glass of mediocre California Sauvignon Blanc.

The competition is huge in Chichester, Portsmouth and elsewhere, diners voting for value, service and decent cooking, all of which were sorely lacking here.

Clinchs, Guildhall Street, Chichester, PO19 1NJ, (01243) 789915. Open all week from 9.30am–4pm (Thurs-Sat until 9pm).

Disabled access: Tricky narrow entrance and steps.

How to get there: Exit on the A27 at Chichester at the Tesco roundabout. Follow the road and exit onto North Street. Guildhall Street is on the left and Clinchs is on the right before Priory Park. There’s on-street parking.

Ratings (maximum=*****)

Food *

Service *

Atmosphere **