* Prices may differ from that shown
This pub had long been on my radar to visit as it had a good reputation locally for great Thai food. The pub was then known as "The Selsey Arms" with the food side given over to a Thai concession called "Simply Thai". Sadly a visit here was obviously never on the cards as 2012 saw the pub closing, and it remained boarded up for ages. However, at the beginning of 2013, signs of life starting appearing outside the building and it soon became apparent that someone had acquired it and was in the process of refurbishing it.
Spring 2013 saw the reopening of the pub, newly christened "The Dean", and I duly made a mental note to give it try sometime. My mental note was prompted into action by the appearance of a great offer on the website of a local radio station, Spirit FM, where they were offering a £20 voucher giving the holder £40 discount off the price of a meal to the first 80 applicants. I had a look at the Dean's website, but it was very sparse on detail and there was no menu to peruse. I sent an email to the Dean asking for a menu, but heard nothing back. In end I decided to take a chance and purchase the voucher anyway - nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that jazz.
~~~ THE VENUE ~~~
Having never been to this pub in its previous incarnation as "The Selsey Arms", I had nothing to compare it to in terms of the refurbishment. The Dean's website boasts of a high specification refurbishment and the addition of a dining hall and airy conservatory to the building, and it certainly looked very freshly decorated and shiny and new when we entered. Evidently the old barns at the back of the pub have also been renovated and now house bed and breakfast accommodation, but I was there to eat and not sleep!
There's a huge car park at the Dean to the side of the pub. However, you do need to walk around to the front of the building to enter the pub. Once inside, I was rather impressed with the décor. There were lots of leather looking low slung sofas for lounging in and enjoying a drink. Less impressive were the clientele crowding around the bar, who were all rather rough looking to say the least and if we hadn't pre-booked a table in the restaurant, it could well have put me off remaining there. One couple were sharing a bar stool and openly groping each other in full view of the rest of the pub. There were also a couple of greasy looking bikers perched on stools at the bar, who make a great deal of revving their bike engines when they left a hour or so later. Despite the friendly welcome from the bar staff, the overzealously amorous couple and the bikers did make the place seem a little down-market. I was rather glad to leave the bar and go into the restaurant, as the clientele in there looked a lot more sociable.
The dining area of the Dean is an L-shaped room with the alleged conservatory (which looked more like a room with large windows than a conservatory to me) leading off the side of the building. The main dining area has been done out like a medieval banqueting hall. It has a high vaulted ceiling with lots of cast iron candelabra style light fittings hanging down. The walls have been decorated with animal heads, but instead of using the traditional stuffed glassy eyed deer, they're put silver metal ones up instead, which are much nicer, and rather quirky. The room is also decorated with several pieces of interesting looking sculpture, namely a horse's head made out of lots of different pieces of driftwood. I must say that the banqueting hall look would work if the place is busy, but it would feel rather empty and cavernous to any diners visiting on a quiet night. We dined there on a Friday night in July and the place was about 70% full so the atmosphere was buzzy and upbeat. However, I would imagine that the same space half filled would be rather glacial and lacking any atmosphere.
~~~ THE MENU ~~~
The menu at the Dean talks about uncomplicated traditional pub food but "with a twist", so I was rather interested to see what sort of twistyness they'd come up with. The website also makes much ado about using local produce which is nothing new nowadays, but what is interesting is that they smoke their own meat, fish and cheese on site.
The Dean serves both lunch and dinner every day, except no dinners on Sunday evenings. There are a good range of dishes on offer, but I couldn't see much in the way of a "twist" to their menu. To my mind most of the dishes were the sort of traditional pub grub you'd see anywhere in the UK. Lunchtime dishes consist of a range of sandwiches (£5 to £7) and light bites (£3.50 to £10.50) comprising of dishes such as Whitebait, Soup of the Day, Beer Battered Mushrooms and Smoked Salmon. If you're after something a little more filling you can partake of Ham, Egg and Chips (£8.50), Prime Steak Burger (£9.50) or a Range of Salads (from £7.50). The most interesting dishes on the lunchtime menu were an Oriental Ginger Beef Salad (£9.50) or a Ploughman's Platter Sharing Board (for two at £17.50), but I think that the choices are a little safe considering they've tempted their diners with a walk on the twisted side.
I hoped I'd find more evidence of their dark and twisty side on the dinner menu, but here too, I was left rather disappointed. Starters start at £4.50 and run up to £9.00 on their dinner menu and consist of such things as Chicken Liver Pâté, Seared Scallops and Smoked Chicken Caesar Salad. A nod towards more interesting fare can be found with Smoked Bacon and Cheddar Bubble and Squeak Cake and Goat's Cheese and Red Onion Tart, but they still weren't blinding me with their innovation. Main courses range in price from £11.50 up to a whopping £21.50 for a fillet steak. Dishes here are things like Sea Bass with Herb Crushed Potatoes and Fennel and Dill Purée (£17.50), or Mango and Summer Vegetable Curry served with Coriander Rice and a Poppadum (£11.50) or Free Range Chicken Breast with Creamy Dauphinoise Potatoes, Stewed Savoy Cabbage and Smoked Bacon with a Rich Red Wine Sauce (£14.50). I'm afraid to say that none of these choices really blew me away and I rather struggled to find something that appealed.
In addition to the printed menu, there is a chalked up blackboard on the wall by the kitchen hatch which lists the daily specials on offer. On the night we visited this comprised of two starters (Baked Camembert or Scallops) and about three main courses (Lamb's Liver, Lamb Steak or Fillet of Hake).
~~~ OUR MEAL ~~~
I made the reservation the day before over the phone and once we'd ordered our drinks in the bar we were offered the choice of staying in the bar or being shown through to our table in the restaurant. Due to the dodgy looking drinkers in the bar area we opted for the latter and were shown straight through to our table. We were offered a choice of tables and chose one at the back of the room where we had an excellent view of the room.
For my starter I had Home Smoked Salmon served with Horseradish Cream, Lemon, Capers and Homemade Rye Bread (£6.50). The smoked salmon had been smoked in-house and it really did have a lovely oaky flavour to it. I wasn't so keen on the homemade rye bread which tasted a little bit too dry and musty for my liking. However, I smeared some of their deliciously tangy horseradish cream onto the rye bread and it definitely improved the flavour and made it more palatable. The starter was finished off with a nice garnish of salad leaves which had been drizzled with lovely, tasty vinaigrette. The capers I left in a pile on the side of the plate as I dislike them. My partner chose off the blackboard specials at the Dean and went for Smoked Haddock Rarebit served on a bed of Spinach and Summer Leaves at £5.50. He received a fairly thin piece of smoked haddock topped with melted cheese which was served on a nest of spinach and mixed salad leaves. He enjoyed his starter, but thought that the piece of haddock was rather mean.
I was rather tempted by one of the blackboard specials of Rump of Lamb with Redcurrant Sauce, but decided to have the lighter (and cheaper) option of Ale Battered Cod with Pea, Chilli and Lime Purée, Rock Salt Homecut Chips with Tartare Sauce and Lime Wedge (£12.00). I definitely made the right decision here, as my posh fish and chips were absolutely delicious. The cod had been deep fried in a lovely crispy batter and was carefully balanced against a tiny little wire basket containing some chunky chips. I'm not a huge fan of chunky chips, but these were delicious - crispy and salty to the outside but lots of fluffy potato when you bit inside. The dish was a bit of a picture on the plate - as well as the artfully arranged fillet of cod propped up against the wire chip basket, the plate had been drizzled with three large dots of balsamic vinegar and a teardrop shaped pea purée. I detest peas, but this purée was absolutely superb. It tasted fresh and interesting (not to mention adding a lovely colour to the plate) and was the perfect accompaniment to the crispy battered fish and chips. This was a dish I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone eating there.
My partner plumped for Locally Sourced Pork Three Ways - Slow Roasted Pork Belly, Smoked Shoulder and Braised Cheek served with Wholegrain Mustard Mash, Spinach, Butternut Squash Purée and a Quince Jus (whew) at £17.50. He really enjoyed his pork and mashed potatoes, but found it slightly odd that there were no other vegetables served with the dish; it was just the three pieces of pork and a dollop of mash. I tend to agree with him and adding a carrot or two or a floret of broccoli wouldn't have gone amiss here, especially as he was paying £17.50 for the dish. I tried a little of the smoked pork shoulder and it was full of flavour. However, he did say that the Butternut Squash Purée didn't really add anything to the dish, and he had no idea where the Quince Jus had got to as he couldn't find it anywhere on his plate despite hunting high and low.
We both decided we could make room for dessert so our waitress brought over a hand chalked blackboard listing what was on offer. I was tempted by Lemon Posset served with Shortbread Biscuits, but decided instead to have their Chocolate and Hazelnut Brownie with Toffee Sauce and Vanilla Ice-cream at £5.95. This proved to be one of the nicest desserts I'd had in a long time and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The brownie was nicely crunchy to the outside but lovely and moist inside and studded throughout with plenty of whole hazelnuts. It was so rich I rather struggled to finish it... but I forced myself :o) My partner went for Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce and Vanilla Ice-cream (also £5.95). He said that the pudding was nice enough but rather dry and there wasn't enough of the toffee sauce to make it a little more moist. The toffee sauce had been drizzled on the plate but it was rather sparse and he would have preferred a little jug of it to tip on the pudding himself. We rounded things off with two cappuccinos at £2.40 apiece.
~~~ SERVICE, DRINKS AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN ~~~
The service at the Dean was really super-friendly and very efficient. As the Dean is fairly new to the area there aren't all that many reviews on Trip Advisor yet, but one recent one (that now seems to have been removed) was fairly damning of the place, and made specific mention of the manner and accent of one of the members of staff, objecting to being called "my love" by her in a yokel Somerset like accent. We were served by the same said member of staff and we didn't find it at all offensive. Yes she does call you "sweetie" and "my love" throughout the evening, and I guess some would find it a little over-familiar, but it's just her manner and she is not trying to cause offense by it. She was really efficient and enthusiastic throughout the evening which more than compensated for her calling us "my love" about 15 times! I'd much rather be served by someone who is obviously enjoying their job (no matter how effusively!) than a monosyllabic robot who just goes through the motions.
As the Dean bills itself as an Ale and Cider House there are plenty of both on offer, all of which are changed very regularly. Draught lagers are from Carling and Grolsch, with real ales from Sharps Doom Bar, Oakleaf TSB and a house beer called Dean Ale. I'm afraid I failed to spot any of the ciders on offer but the Dean's website states that they have a full range of both ales and ciders on hand pumps as well as by the bottle - "from Craft ciders to new wave North American craft beers to well-established Belgian Abbey style beers and everything in between". My partner had three pints of Carling lager at £3.70 a pint and I had a lovely tall glass of refreshing Pimm's at £4.20 as it's my favourite summer tipple.
The toilets at the place were well stocked and very clean. Like the rest of the pub they'd been recently refurbished and were done out in smart white and grey painted walls with lots of slate tiling splash backs around the basins.
Our bill for the evening came to £73.50 for two three-course dinners, two coffees and four drinks, which we thought was rather good value. Once we'd applied our £40 Spirit FM discount voucher the final cost came down to a rather reasonable £33.50 and we left a £7 tip on top of that.
~~~ RECOMMENDED? ~~~
I enjoyed all three of my courses at the Dean, but most especially the fish and chips and the chocolate brownie. I made some wise menu choices here as all my dishes were delicious. My partner didn't fare so well, and although he enjoyed his meal, his dishes weren't nearly as good as mine. However, all in all, we both thought the food and the service at the Dean were very good and we wouldn't hesitate to return.
The Dean may have some rather rough looking clientele in the bar, but you shouldn't let the hairy bikers put you off a visit here, as the food is well worth a visit. The service was enthusiastic and efficient, and as long as you don't mind being called "my love" fifteen times in one night by a complete stranger, I thoroughly recommend a visit.
Four stars from me.
~~~ FURTHER INFORMATION ~~~
The Dean is located on main Midhurst Road (A286) in the tiny village of West Dean, six miles north of Chichester. West Dean is home to rather splendid West Dean Gardens (http://www.westdean.org.uk) which feature a walled garden and a 300 foot long Edwardian pergola. They also hold annual garden and produce events such as the Chilli Fiesta as well as lectures and open air theatre events.
The Dean Ale & Cider House
- There is an ample sized car park to the side of the pub
- All major cards accepted
- Bed and breakfast accommodation if you fancy staying in the area
~~~ Food Service Times ~~~
Lunch: From 12.00pm to 3.00pm (until 5pm on Saturday and 6pm on Sunday)
Dinner: From 5.30pm to 9.30pm (no food on Sunday evenings)