Amelie and Friends – A Restaurant review by Heather Boal-Russell
I must be candid upfront – I adore Amelie and Friends. In fact it is one of my favourite restaurants at the moment.
It has that rare capacity to soothe, delight and rejuvenate, as well as set my taste buds alight, and it makes me want to go back.
So, why is this lovely, light, airy, wood-floored restaurant in the heart of Chichester, with its delightful conservatory and decked garden laden with olive trees, so good?
Let’s start with the food. Amelie and Friends do a lunchtime and dinner menu. I have eaten there at lunch several times but had dinner for the first time recently. At lunch time the mix of interesting salads and heartier fare (such as home-made burgers) is a hit with yummy mummies, pre-matinee theatre-goers (Amelie is a five minute walk from the Festival Theatre) and hip young couples with or without children. Their roast pork belly sandwich on focaccia with a caramelized peanut and chilli relish is one of the finest (and most addictive) lunch dishes I have encountered. My children agree.
Yvonne Cohen and her ex-GP husband Andrew took over the business in May, keeping most of the excellent staff including chef Joel Massey (previously at Michelin-starred West Stoke House). They simplified the menu, over-hauled the wine list, and set about making subtle, but thoughtful, changes to what was already a rather lovely restaurant. Now it is simply better. When I was in there at lunch time a few weeks back, Yvonne came to chat, coo over my six-month-old grand-daughter, and find out if everything was all right. She does this frequently and I heartily approve – a proprietor who cares! Sacre bleu.
The evening I visited the restaurant with my husband I had arrived feeling tired and on the verge of a cold, but left smug and satisfied with a huge smile on my face. For the simple truth is that the food at Amelie and Friends is excellent. It is also that rare thing (particularly in ‘fine dining’ establishments); beautifully balanced. And the wine list! A short but intriguing selection, including the delicious smooth Muscadet recommended by the excellent Vikki (Front of House Supervisor). This proved to be a revelation as we had long ago consigned Muscadet to the memory bin as something we used to enjoy before its sharp, somewhat vinegary tones seemed, frankly, rather vulgar. Vikki’s Muscadet was light years away from this, and one we will definitely be drinking more of.
Oh, and another lovely touch; being able to order sparkling wine and champagne by the glass! Why have so many restaurants stopped offering this?
Back to the food: the dinner menu changes roughly fortnightly. On this occasion I had deep fried scallops with sesame seeds, cauliflower puree, pea shoots and apple to start with and it was totally delicious, the scallops cooked to perfection and strangely complemented by their crunchy sesame-seed-coated crust. Guy had the ham hock terrine with a caper-based sauce; hearty but not too overwhelming and deeply satisfying.
We then ate roast venison loin (me) and gilt-head bream (he), and I don’t quite know where to start with these. The venison melted in the mouth and with its accompaniment of sweet carrot puree and tangy braised red cabbage was near perfection on a plate. And the stack of bream, with its aubergine caviar and courgette fritter companions, was a visual, as well as culinary, delight. And we had room for the melt in the mouth (again) moelleux au chocolat with vanilla ice-cream and crushed pistachios, and the superb cheese board with the onion chutney and those dark, almost black, wafery biscuits (which were plentiful – they bring replenishments on request).
Yvonne and Andrew deserve to do well here. They are a rare breed; restaurateurs who actually care about their customers – and show it. My husband has even decided this is now his favourite restaurant, toppling the excellent Tristan’s of Horsham from its throne. Praise indeed.
Amelie and Friends, 31 North Street, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 1LY
Prices: Dinner – approx £26 per head for three courses, plus wine
Lunch – varies (the roast pork belly sandwich is £7.50)