Lovely staff, but wait for food was too long

Bills Produce is based at the Butter Market in Chichester
Bills Produce is based at the Butter Market in Chichester
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Bill’s Produce at the Butter Market in Chichester

Chichester’s run-down Butter Market was revamped in 2011, changing from stalls selling sausages, unimaginative sandwiches, china and pet food into a space for smarter outlets to maximise rents.

Today it houses jewellers, a national chain tea room and now Bill’s Produce, which is reached by two staircases or a lift to the first floor.

Don’t let the word ‘produce’ fool you. It’s a restaurant and part of a chain. Bill’s started out 11 years ago in Lewes as a modest, likeable produce/food shed run by Bill Collinson, a greengrocer.

Nowadays, Bill’s is a corporate entity with 12 cafes up and running, Chichester the latest one with two more in the pipeline. Owners of London’s iconic The Ivy and Scotts are in charge now.

The large, noisy space is broken up into sections, some with banquettes, others with tables overlooking the Buttermarket entrance.

Skywards is the must-have exposed metal piping, the industrial look continuing with broad metal hanging lights, a chandelier incongruously pushed into a corner in front of a full-length mirror. A wall painted just one of those fashionable 50 shades of grey over brick adds a muted dash.

I am shown to one of the tightly-packed tables by a friendly, smily staff member and given a menu, the main one (they do breakfasts from 8am and teas too) as busy as the décor.

Although this is a restaurant where just a sandwich or coffee can be had, you can go the whole hog with three courses.

‘Specials’ are incorporated into the menu and are therefore not special.

Hake with spaghetti, savoy cabbage and bacon was one of three dishes.

Puddings include mini cinnamon doughnuts; pecan pie; sundae; Eton Mess and ice creams.

Prices are high-ish: £5.95 for a starter on average, £9.95 for a main course.

Prices rise to £12.95 for Bill’s Fish Pie with queen scallops, smoked haddock, salmon, tiger prawns, peas and baby onions topped with a mustard and cheddar mash, my choice.

Fifteen minutes after the order was taken, a sandwich winged its way through the maze from the kitchen to my table.

‘Not mine, but a fish pie is,’ I said. A puzzled look from the waiter prompted the manager to come over.

‘Our fault, your drink (Bill’s own label wine, a gutsy red) is on the house.’

Ten minutes on, ‘your meal’s on the house’ was the offer as the pie still failed to emerge. A forty minute wait finally yielded the pie, with perfectly symmetrical piped mash and contained in a splendid cast iron oval dish. Why it is seen as a good idea to serve it at an angle on a wooden board which needs adjusting while burning fingers is puzzling.

A very toothpaste-white sauce covered the fish and the baby onions were very sweet, more like eating grapes.

The salmon was cooked, the other fish not. In sushi it’s fine, not in a fish pie. And nor was there any smoked haddock.

I had also run out of time to continue the pleasures of Bill’s, so can’t relay any dessert news to you.

But what I can report is charming, smiling, helpful staff.

My bill would have come to just under £16 if it had not been erased.

Bill’s Produce, 3 Butter market, North Street, Chichester, PO19 1LQ. (01243) 528 607 (Open from 8 am until late)

FOOD Three stars out of five

SERVICE Four stars

ATMOSPHERE Three stars

Disabled access: Lift to first floor. Crowded, tightly –packed tables.

How to get there: Follow the signs to Chichester, then signs to the theatre. At the Northgate roundabout, park in the car park and walk down North Street. Bill’s Produce is on the left.