The roll of actors who have appeared at Chichester Festival Theatre since its inception more than 50 years ago reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary theatre and film – Ian McKellen, Lauren Bacall, Kathleen Turner, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi, Joseph Fiennes, John Gielgud, Diana Rigg and Henry Goodman are just a handful of the world-class actors who have trod those boards.
Now a newcomer, Field & Fork, takes centre stage, a welcome addition to this much-loved theatre undergoing major refurbishment.
Granted not on stage but taking the lead in catering, a woefully mishandled mishmash over the years at the theatre.
But quality has returned thanks to F&F owners Sam and Janet Mahoney, Roux-trained chef/husband and manager/wife respectively. They opened in April in the Minerva Lounge, for lighter bites including salads and sandwiches, and the large Brasserie under the banner of Field & Fork housed in the theatre’s Minerva Theatre opposite the main house.
Lighting in the brasserie is what one expects in a theatrical location, the interior hexagon within the four-sided glass restaurant overlooking Oaklands Park. There are plentiful colours including light mauve, olive green, salmon pink and cream furniture. The look is fashionably minimal but somewhat lacking in pizazz despite the down lighters, plants and pillars. Maybe this will get a makeover in time?
The set menu of either two or three courses (a reasonable £19.95 and £24.95) of four choices each may feature Serrano ham with buffalo mozzarella and figs; smoked salmon and crème fraîche with beetroot and dill or spiced crab cake with fennel coleslaw and marie-rose sauce.
Move on to herb-crusted confit of duck with Provençal vegetables; slow-roasted pork belly, crackling and cider and mustard sauce; smoked aubergine and ricotta gnocchi with ratatouille sauce and Parmesan.
Service – by mainly young and well-trained staff – is remarkably good, swift and personable.
The menu is well-chosen for pre-performance; the crab was despatched in nanoseconds, gloriously crab-laden, the beautiful-looking cake’s fennel top-notch, but it could have stood some dressing.
A griddled fillet of stone bass from Hayling Island (known also as wreck fish, a cousin to bass), was perfectly executed including its perky skin, the warm potato, caper and parsley salad hitting the right notes; the cream watercress sauce oddly sans watercress but with moreish spinach. Homemade rolls are a given as is chilled water.
From the 17-strong wine list came an excellent Reserve St Marc Sauvignon (£4.20 175 ml).
Finish with chocolate tart and mint ice cream; raspberry parfait with pistachio meringue and local raspberry salad or seasonal cheeses with quince and oatcakes.
In the park the tent has opened for Barnum, the musical following the imagination and dreams of Phineas T Barnum, America’s Greatest Showman. The tent is a clever, temporary measure until the theatre re-opens.
Field & Fork’s food and service now firmly adds quality to match this playhouse and its productions.
I spent a little less than £25. Open to all, not just ticket-holders.
Field & Fork, Chichester Festival Theatre, 01243 782219: 11.30am – 2.30 pm matinée days, 5 pm others. Last orders 7 pm. Booking essential.
Disabled access: plenty of space for wheelchairs. Disabled toilet.
How to get there: exit A27 going east from Portsmouth at Chichester roundabout. Follow signs to theatre. Large car park. Restaurant on left in the Minerva theatre.
Ratings (maximum *****)