“ Address: Yapton Road / Climping / Littlehampton / BN17 5RU / Tel: 01903 726354 „
''The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork'' - Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
The Oystercatcher is a pub located in Climping, a small seaside village in West Sussex situated roughly halfway between the towns of Littlehampton and Bognor Regis. The Oystercatcher is part of the Vintage Inns chain, and never having visited any of their establishments before, I had little idea what to expect. My parents booked a table for nine of us on a Saturday night at the beginning of October. They had dined at The Oystercatcher several times with my brother and sister-in-law, and enjoyed the food. Despite it not being my choice of venue, I was keen to see what it was like. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of chain pub restaurants, as their menus might sound innovative and interesting, but the reality on your plate is usually bland and uninspiring taste-wise.
~~~ DÉCOR & AMBIENCE ~~~
I must say that The Oystercatcher looks very welcoming from the outside; it's surrounded by sweeping manicured lawns and plenty of outside seating areas (with some attractive looking parasol shades in the summer months). The pub has a quaint looking thatched roof to some parts, with dark wooden beams to the outside. Evidently Vintage Inns purchased the building from a wealthy Middle Eastern family who fled back to the Gulf in 1992. The original thatched house, remains but various buildings have been added to make the whole place larger.
Although branded as a pub, most Vintage Inns seem to be somewhere you got for a meal rather than just a quick drink, and that was certainly the case at The Oystercatcher. On the night we visited there were a good few diners and hardly any lone drinkers. Although you can pop into The Oystercatcher just for a drink, I'd say that the majority of the venue is set out for dining. It didn't feel much like a pub to be honest. Although the bar area was comfortable enough, there were no stools at the bar and the impression was that it was more of a holding area to wait for a table, or for the rest of your party to join you for lunch or dinner.
The décor is much along the lines of a typical British pub - only smarter. Lots of dark wooden beams and low lighting, with stone floors to the bar area and carpeting elsewhere. I would imagine that the log fire is very welcoming in the winter months, but it was unlit in early October. The furniture is comfortable and functional, and everything was very clean and shiny. I must say I expected the interior to be much brighter than it was. I thought the low level lighting and dark wooden beams gave the place much more authenticity than I was expecting. It wasn't all pre-laid large tables for diners, there were loads of hidden alcoves with quiet tables for two dotted around the room. So the venue is not just for families - it's also ideal for a romantic meal for two.....or the rendez-vous for a blind date (we found out later that The Oystercatcher was the place my brother and sister-in-law had their first blind date two years ago!).
The bar area itself was very well lit with lots of shiny pumps and gleaming optics. The service was brisk and efficient, rather than welcoming. My mother had pre-booked a table, but there was some confusion as to whether our party was already in situ, so we decided to have a wander and see if we could spot them. Although it was a Saturday night, the place wasn't really very busy, and I suspect we could have gotten away without a reservation if we'd needed to....despite being a largish party of nine people.
~~~ MENU ~~~
The pub offers both an extensive lunch and dinner menu, with children also made welcome with a special children's menu. The menu is typical of most pub restaurants - lots of steaks and pies. The menu offers plenty of choice - something for everyone...but gourmet cuisine it ain't (that said, you're not really dining in a chain restaurant if you're expecting haute cuisine...). The food is mostly old favourites, but with a 21st century twist added to the descriptions to make them seem more exciting than they actually are. You don't just order fish and chips, here you get Beer Battered Fish with Seasoned Chips, mushy peas and fresh tartare sauce. Similarly it's not Beef and Ale Pie, it's Slow cooked beef in Black Sheep Ale, baby onions and mushrooms, topped with puff pastry, served with mash and seasoned greens. Vegetarian options are highlighted with a smaller V after the description.
One thing I did like the sound of on the menu were the Sharing Plates - there were several to choose from ranging from a Greek themed Meze, a Frito Misto Platter (deep fried seafood) or a simple bowl of olives. The prices for the sharing platters range from £2.00 up to £11.95, and are ideal for a light lunch or a snack to accompany your beverage. Full marks to Vintage Inns for offering something light, and not insisting everyone has a full meal with them.
Other than the Sharing Plates, starters for one include old favourites like Soup, Prawn Cocktail and Deep Fried Mushrooms, as well as more enticing options like Scallops, Tiger Prawns or Foie Gras. Prices range from £2.95 up to £6.45.
Main courses offer more choice with the ubiquitous range of pies, steaks and burgers, alongside a range of fish dishes. Old favourites like mixed grill, scampi and chips and Lancashire Hot Pot nestle alongside more exotic sounding fayre like Greek Chicken, Slow cooked Pork Belly or Venison. Pricewise you're looking at between £7.25 to £16.45 for a main course. Pleasingly, all main course prices include dish accompaniments - be it salad, vegetables, potatoes or peas.
The Oystercatcher offers a good range of desserts with prices starting at £3.95 up to the £5.45 mark. Old and safe favourites such as Profiteroles, Apple Pie, Treacle Tart and Sticky Toffee Pudding are very much in evidence, and there is rather a lack of anything more imaginative, apart from some Spiced Poached Pears.
Once you decide what you want to eat (no easy feat when there are nine of you), you need to go up to the bar and order your food. I thought this was rather poor to be honest. For a large party it would be much easier if the waiter or waitress came to the table, rather than us having to scrabble around for a bit of paper in order to write everyone's choice down on and then hike up to the bar. Once the order was placed, we were issued with our order number on a big wooden spoon to take back to the table with us. We already had two other numbered wooden spoons on our table from when we'd ordered drinks, so we had to ask to bar staff to amalgamate everything onto one bill.
~~~ OUR MEAL ~~~
Only four of us decided to order starters, leaving the other five in our party to sit and watch us eat. I had Foie Gras Parfait, which was served with toasted ciabatta and juniper and redcurrant jelly. It was a nice tranche of foie gras, but it had a slightly bitter aftertaste to it. I thought nothing of it and just loaded some of the redcurrant jelly (which didn't taste like a juniper berry had gone anywhere near it) onto the pâté to disguise the sour aftertaste. I thought it was a bit poor that there was no butter to spread on the toasted ciabatta, but they obviously don't serve this dish with butter. I didn't manage to finish the foie gras, so my partner, brother and nephew decided to finish it up between them. They all pronounced it horrible and were convinced it was well past its best. They even made me put a tiny bit inside a napkin to take home in my handbag in case I suffered any after effects, and needed to prove a case against the pub. Luckily it had no after effects whatsoever, but I agree with their thinking - it definitely didn't taste like the freshest of terrines. My partner had Sautéed Tiger Prawns which were described as tiger prawns roasted in garlic, tomato and parsley button. He was presented with an enormous white bowl, with five very small tiger prawns swimming in tomato sauce. There was no salad garnish, no bread, not even a solitary croûton to accompany the prawns. For £5.50 we all thought it was a very poor dish - miniscule prawns costing over a £1 each and nothing else. My uncle had some Beer Battered Mushrooms and these came crammed into a soup bowl - again with no garnish....not even a sprinkling of parsley to lift the colour. Basically it was just a bowl full of insipid coloured, greasy looking mushrooms....which reportedly tasted soapy. My nephew and sister-in-law shared a Trio of Seared King Scallops which came served on a bacon mash with a pea and mint purée. Everyone agreed they'd made the best choice of starter.
Having been rather disappointed with our starters, we now hoped that our main courses were going to prove a little more tasty. My mother and I both choose the Handmade Fishcakes , which were described as hand flaked salmon and broccoli with English herb mayonnaise, seasoned chips and dressed mixed salad. The fishcakes were tasty enough, but you did occasionally come across an enormous clump of soggy broccoli in them, which was rather strange. There was plenty of salmon in the fishcake, and crumb coating was quite crunchy...I just thought that smaller chunks of broccoli would have been more appropriate. The dish was accompanied by chips, which unfortunately had the texture and taste of oven chips. The mixed salad was actually a garnish consisting of two quarters of tomato, a twist of cucumber, a bit of lettuce.... and what seemed like an entire diced red onion...so definitely not a mixed salad - more of a raw onion flavoured garnish . My partner had a Mixed Grill which consisted of lamb cutlet, black pudding (which he hates...but I love... so he passed it over), white pudding (not evident on this occasion), sausage, rump steak, sweetcure bacon, egg, roast mushroom, tomato, chunky chips and peas. He said it was a good plate of meat, but nothing particularly special. The sausage, in particular, was very lacking in flavour and undoubtedly 90% bread rather than meat based. My aunt and uncle both chose Greek Chicken, which was described as baked chicken breast topped with feta, pine nuts and basil served on mash with roasted sweet pepper and peperonata sauce. I didn't try it, but they both pronounced it as distinctly average and not what they were expecting. The dish was plonked in front of them with a congealing yellow sauce coating the chicken. My aunt was expecting more texture to the dish - the pine nuts should have given it a bit of a crunch but they were strangely few in number. My nephew had Slow-Cooked Pork Belly served with black pudding, caramelized spiced pear, braised cabbage and dauphinoise potatoes. He pronounced it the best pork dish he's ever eaten...so I'm glad someone was impressed with their food. Personally I thought it looked rather congealed and dry when it was presented. Other dishes served to our party were a couple of Rib-Eye Steaks, with trimmings and Venison Steak Garni.
Whilst clearing away our main courses, the waitresses asked if we wanted to see the dessert menu, which was actually a chalk blackboard that they left with us. We ordered a Treacle Tart (served warm with vanilla ice-cream), two portions of Profiteroles and my nephew chose a Black Forest Sundae. He was well impressed with his sundae as it was an enormous glass filled with cherry mousse and chocolate brownie topped up with vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sprinkles. Not so impressive were the profiteroles I ordered. This is always one of my favourite desserts, but I've honestly never before had profiteroles like they served at The Oystercatcher. Instead of a bowl full of small choux pastry balls, I had two enormous choux buns in a bowl (one of which hadn't been properly filled inside with cream), with a squirt of Chantilly like cream to the middle and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. They were extremely hard going, being very heavy on the choux pastry and very light on the chocolate sauce. I was unable to finish my second choux bun, and it was passed onto another recipient.
~~~ DRINKS ~~~
As you'd expect in a pub, The Oystercatcher offers a full range of drinks. Real ale lovers are offered a choice from local breweries such as Harveys or Shepherd Neame. I also noticed there was a guest ale from Timothy Taylor. Most of the wines are sold by both the bottle, small glass or large glass, and there's a good range from all around the world. We had two bottles of Australian wine with our meal - a red Rosemount Cabernet Merlot (£14.50) and a white Wolf Blass Bilyara Chardonnay (£15.95), as well as a range of different soft drinks.
~~~ SERVICE ~~~
The bar staff greeted us upon arrival, and we were served quickly and efficiently, but without much bonhomie or welcome. There was no obvious mein host like you find in so many pubs nowadays. It was all a bit "what can I get you....that'll be £5 please", and then move onto the next customer without comment or conversation. Similarly, the table service was brisk and efficient rather than friendly. I do think it would have been nice if they could have come to table to take the order instead of us having to traipse up to the bar, but I guess that would be breaking with their policy or tried and tested systems. It wasn't all that busy in the pub considering it was a Saturday night, and the section we were seated in was empty apart from one table for two and our (rather rowdy) table for nine. I'd say that the pub was about 60% full, and there were staff aplenty on duty.
Once the food order was placed at the bar, the food was delivered very promptly. Sadly we must have been about five miles from the kitchen, as it was rather tepid by the time it reached us. Indeed the sauce coating the Greek chicken dishes ordered by my Aunt and Uncle had formed a bit of a skin over it. Not nice :o(
One end of the table was offered accompaniments from a selection of sauces (mustard, mayonnaise, tomato fetch-up that sort of thing), but they didn't manage to make it to the other end of the table, and wandered off having decided by themselves that the whole table had been covered.
~~~ RECOMMENDATION? ~~~
Sadly, as I half suspected before I ate there, the venue was pleasant enough, but the food was at best average. The portions were good and filling, but the flavours were bland and nothing special at all. I certainly don't think I'll be rushing back to dine at The Oystercatcher anytime soon, simply because I found the cuisine to be over-processed and lacking in originality. The menu descriptions were certainly imaginative enough in places, but the reality on the plate in front of me was more than a little disappointing.
The meal wasn't all that cheap; four starters, nine main courses, four puddings and drinks came to just under £200 (working out at £22 per person). For that sort of price I'd expect something a little more special. Next time I'd rather find an independent inn or hostelry where you know the food is actually cooked in the kitchen and not poured out of a packet or reheated in a microwave.
I'm going to award it three stars - despite the average and rather uninspiring food, it's a very comfy venue to meet up for a drink and a chat. The gardens look lovely for a summer drink, and it's nicely placed for a walk to the sea front.
~~~ OTHER STUFF ~~~
The pub is very easy to find as it's just off the A529 - a busy main road running between Littlehampton and Bognor Regis. From the pub, it's just a short walk to the beach at Climping (about half a mile down Climping Street), so it's an ideal location for a walk followed by a drink, or a seaside stroll to walk some of your meal off. Climping also houses an ancient 13th century church, which you'll pass on the way to the beach.
The Oystercatcher is part of the Vintage Inn chain, a UK wide collection of traditional country pubs / restaurants. The Vintage Inn chain is owned and run by Mitchells and Butlers Plc, a truly massive catering company who operate around 2,000 outlets throughout the UK, mostly pubs or pub restaurants. You may recognise some of the other brands in their stable as they also run Harvester Inns, All Bar One, Browns, Crown Carveries, Ember Inns, Innkeeper's Lodge, O'Neills and Toby Carvery, as well as a legion of lesser known names.
Telephone No: 01903-726354
Website: http://www.vintageinn.co.uk/theoystercatcherclimping or Vintage Inn's own website at http://www.vintageinn.co.uk
* All major credit cards are accepted
* The toilets were clean and tidy when briefly inspected, but they are on the first floor up two flights of stairs, so not suitable for the disabled or infirm
* The dress code is very relaxed and informal
* The Oystercatcher has ample free parking and a large outdoor seating area