Review by Sheila Mills
East Lavant is a very small village in the heart of the South Downs not far from Chichester. It is reached through narrow, twisty lanes and there are some lovely old flint cottages, some thatched, and a church dating from the 12th century. There is also a pub/restaurant, The Royal Oak, and I was fortunate enough to be treated to an overnight stay with dinner.
The pub is some 200 years old and the main bar area is beamed with exposed brickwork and stone flagged, often crooked, floors. It simply oozes charm and character and feels warm and welcoming the moment you step inside. The original building has been sympathetically extended and there is plenty of outside seating/dining space. Hanging baskets and flowers are in abundance. There are five en suite rooms and our room was tastefully decorated and included tea and coffee making facilities and a small fridge. The surprisingly large bathroom housed a full sized bath and power shower. Fluffy bathrobes and some locally produced aromatherapy toiletries were provided for our use. There is a small terrace area serving the rooms on this floor, with a table and chairs which, during the warmer months, invite an early morning cup of coffee or a pre-dinner glass of wine.
The bar has a selection of local draught beers and indeed the emphasis is very much on locally produced food with fish from the coast, Selsey crab, and meat and game (in season) from local farmers and butchers. The restaurant boasts 4 AA stars and as we found, these are well deserved. We perused the menu whilst enjoying a drink on the outside terrace watching the world on its leisurely way past. The inside dining area is attractive and intimate without being cramped and the staff are attentive but not intrusive. Our starters of local crab and perfectly crispy whitebait were delicious and chef Jamie’s homemade tartar sauce which accompanied the whitebait was incredible. Our main course of fish and shellfish fishcakes was equally tasty and the generous portions were accompanied by triple cooked chips and an excellent salad. The wine list is impressive with a very large selection. We chose a 2017 Minala Gavi dry white which fully complimented the fish. Desserts just had to include the home made ice cream and the baked dark chocolate torte was sheer indulgence.
After an excellent night’s sleep we woke to the chirps and twitterings of some highly active sparrows in the greenery which covers the front of the building. Breakfast offered a buffet of fresh fruit, cereals, croissants and yogurt as well as cooked breakfast. The latter included a “full Sussex” which was extremely generous with sausages and bacon from local free range pigs and eggs from free range hens. After this and some excellent coffee, a walk was necessary! The surrounding area is full of lovely walks and some outstanding scenery. The Royal Oak is the perfect place to escape to the peace and tranquillity of the South Downs and its own charm and the hospitality it offers is in complete harmony with its surroundings.
Each season, the restaurant hosts a “supper club” tasting dinner using seasonal meat, fish and vegetables. On Friday 30th August, they will be presenting a 6-course tasting menu paired with fine wines chosen to best complement the dishes. A somellier will be present to speak about the wines and provide information on their compatibility with the food being served. The restaurant will be laid out in banqueting fashion to encourage diners to engage with each other over what is likely to be an inspirational gastronomic experience. £59 per person or £79 per person with wine pairings.
01243 527434 www.royaloakeastlavant.co.uk