Reviving the past, but more flair is needed

Vintage Pub Bistro, Westgate, Chichester.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (1318-114)
Vintage Pub Bistro, Westgate, Chichester.''Picture: Allan Hutchings (1318-114)
Credit: Live Anatomy Lab

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Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro

Westgate, Chichester

Chichester is a magnet for new restaurant openings, mostly of the chain variety. More are to flood in, including Cote which opens soon – and there’s a rumour that Wagamamas might grace the city too, making it a vibrant food mecca to rival Portsmouth and other nearby towns.

But what of the independent restaurants? There’s the Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro which opened recently, replacing Number 12 Westgate. Owned by Chichester’s Nag’s Head pub, it pays homage to times past when women dressed up period-style to emulate their favourite film and men wore smart suits and hats, a lick of Brylcreem completing the picture.

Vintage pays tribute to those in the Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart era. Cath Kidston-like furnishings are plumped up on some chairs in the medium-sized room housing a bar in the main part. Slatted blinds, plain wooden tables and chairs, candles, blue-painted tongue-and-groove panelling – it’s all pub-smart and beckoning in that Marilyn Monroe/Barbara Windsor way.

The place was pretty empty. I picked up a menu and waited at the bar. And waited. Finally, a waitress appeared but studiously ignored this new customer holding a menu and looking hopeful. Finally, she noticed a new face on her patch. ‘You all right there?’

‘I’d like a table for one.’

The waitress airily waved her arm around the place. ‘Take your pick.’

The menu is one found in many pubs. No surprises lurking here, pricing moderate, many choices around the £10 mark. Desserts, however, are a pricey £5.50.

Soup might be a tomato and bacon one (not a mix to get my juices going), nor was I excited by baked Camembert, prawn cocktail and king prawns in garlic.

Move on to liver and bacon with mash; a Vintage burger or a veggie one; steaks; lamb shank; fish and chips and changing, differing pies including chicken and mushroom, beef and Stilton with leeks. No vintage Spam lurks.

My choice, Thai fish cakes, came with chips and chilli sauce at £9.95. Perfectly edible, they didn’t raise the bar in any way. The cakes were rather solid and the billed salmon not discernible. If it hadn’t been for the chilli sauce to give them a little Thai-ness, they would have been distinctly dull.

Oddly, with these fish cakes came fat chips, the plate a bland, beige taste and look. Surely a Thai cucumber salad or maybe some coconut rice could have been added to lift this dish?

A chocolate brownie won over the usual pub choices including cheesecake and ice cream. Served with a drizzle of chocolate swizzled by a chef with an unsteady hand, it was topped with a very generous billow of whipped cream and unseasonal strawberries. The brownie was crispy rather than soft.

Service perked up quite considerably, with staff checking to see how the meal was going.

A glass of Ugni Blanc was okay, but the bill felt top-heavy at £19.40 for two courses and wine.

The relaxing vintage style will certainly appeal to many, tapping into our love of reviving the past. It’s a natural home for those going to the Goodwood Revival in September. From the food angle, it’s nice enough but could offer more flair and style.

Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro, 12 -14 Westgate, Chichester PO19 3EU. (01243) 539336.

Open 11am-11pm all week.

Disabled access: Fine.

How to get there: Exit on the A27 at the first roundabout from Portsmouth. Take the turning on the next roundabout, then the second exit onto Westgate. The pub is at the end of the street.

Ratings (maximum *****)

FOOD ***