It is Day 2 of my Sussex sojourn. My husband and I are on our way from The Halfway Bridge in the South Downs (lovely pub, fab food, a furnishing-lover’s fantasy) to The Crab and Lobster down by the coast. We’re feeling good about this not just because The Crab is under the same ownership so we’re confident of the standards that are likely to be maintained, but also because our short road trip is with the owner himself.
If Sam Bakose were a stick of rock he’d have the word ‘hospitality’ written through him. A stint in civil engineering – for a whole three weeks – seems to have served only to have made him more certain that the world of hotels, restaurants and bars was his calling. The denizens of Sussex have long been the beneficiaries of that mission. From being Cafe Rouge’s man in charge of opening new sites in super-fast time, from Trents to Chichester centre, Sam has a good nose for what people want and what works.
He took over The Crab & Lobster about 10 years ago. It is a 350 year old Grade II listed building in a Conservation Area so the 2 years it took Sam to get it renovated and opened seems typically impressive. The timing of the opening was just before the recession. Easy to assume that would have been its death knell, but no. The Crab and Lobster went well straight away and has continued to do so.
The key to that probably lies in how successfully it treads the line between appealing to Londoners looking for a weekend of fresh air, and the locals looking for somewhere to get a good pint. Certainly Sam knows the importance of valuing and respecting the locals. There are locals nights with insanely reasonable prices; and each Christmas the locals help put up and celebrate with mulled wine the ginormous tree Sam gets from the nearby Goodwood Estate to go on the quay. It must be quite a sight and one which adds some jollity to what I imagine can be an austere albeit thrilling outlook over the water in the depths of winter.
The location plays no small part in The Crab’s appeal too. Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve is a short stroll away (and visible from some of the rooms). It is calming and expansive and just the place to breath in some escape. Twitchers take note: resident species include little egrets, ringed plovers and lapwings; in the summer there will be lapwings, little terns and butterflies; while autumn and winter bring a waterbird spectacle of up to 20,000 ducks, geese and waders feeding and roosting across the reserve.
All the fresh air can make a girl quite hungry and certainly it is on the food front that The Crab and Lobster excels. It is more restaurant-y than its pub cousin back at The Halfway Bridge but I don’t mean that as a bad thing, just a warning in case a pub-vibe is what you were hoping for.
The menu is rightly fish-focussed given its location. My lunch was a fabulous local Selsey crab salad. Dinner could kick off with seared scallops, salt baked heritage carrots, sea herbs, scallop roe powder and curried butter; or a traditional fish soup with rouille. Then I’d recommend moving onto fillet of cod, potato, saffron and smoked haddock chowder with scallions and mussels; or the Fish of the Day is bound to be a winner.
A friend of mine lives not too far away and when she saw from Twitter I was there got very excited in sending me her Crab and Lobster dish and wine recommendations. She is a loyal local devotee of their gurnard and calls the jerusalem artichoke pannacotta ‘a revelation’. Actually, my tweets seemed to uncover a disproportionate number of friends with relatives in the area and for whom dining at The Crab and Lobster seems a highlight of seeing them. You see what I mean about it being a place the locals love and are seemingly proud to share with others.
So it was too at the end of dinner as my husband and I were kicking back in the restaurant feeling satisfyingly fed and ‘watered’ when in walked someone we know from London who happened to be staying up the road with a pal and they’d dropped in for a nightcap. We sat together and talked a while and somehow it seemed like exactly just the kind of random but lovely thing that would happen there.
The next morning we woke bright and early so as not to miss their terrific breakfast before heading back to the smoke. We were back in town just a couple of hours later and back at our desks, but feeling the benefit of our few days indulging in Sussex’s fresh air and fabulous food courtesy of The Halfway Bridge and then The Crab and Lobster. Two very different establishments but which share a common sensibility of making you come away feeling a darn sight better than when you got there.
The Crab & Lobster, Mill Lane, Sidlesham, West Sussex PO20 7NB. For more information and bookings, visit www.crab-lobster.co.uk.