“ Address: 31 North St / Chichester / West Sussex PO19 1LY / United Kingdom „
★☆☆☆☆ I'm the first to say the customer is NOT always right but my partner receiving raw fish and then being told "that's how we serve it" I'd say is probably the greater problem! The "manageress" compounded the problem by defending her chef in a rude and surly manner, and the replaced the meal with one that was of equally bad quality... Boarder line burnt!
That's not the end of it... The "manageress" then, in some sort of retaliation, attempted to threaten our table saying we had upset her staff!
This place lacks ambience, is noisy due to a total lack of soft furnishings and the menu is singularly unimaginative. The "ribeye steak surcharge" stated on the menu, was applied to two sirloin steaks but by that time frankly I couldn't wait to get out so accepted it!
If you do venture to this place, go with good company and humour... You will need it to redeem the event!
Amelie and Friends is a rather delightfully named restaurant right in one of the busiest streets in the centre of Chichester. Being given the name "Amelie and Friends" you'd think the menu would most likely be French, and the venue bistro like, but it's not. Despite being quirky in both name and décor, this restaurant takes its catering cues from all around the globe, and there is a lot more than a French flavour to its menu. Due to its superb location right in the heart of the city, it's a rather popular venue with ladies who lunch, local office workers and the odd tourist. However, despite opening 2 or 3 years ago, this was the first time I'd eaten at Amelie and Friends, though I'd heard many a report about it - both good and bad. Earlier this year was my opportunity to judge for myself when I finally got to dine there. My boss had invited the team out to lunch as a thank you for all the overtime we'd been putting in recently due to staff shortages. The surgery was closed until 3.30pm and we had booked a table for six for 1pm, thinking we would have plenty of time for a long and leisurely lunch.
~~ ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH DEAR FRIENDS ~~
Amelie and Friends is located in North Street, which is just a hop, skip and a jump from both Chichester Cathedral and the Cross, both of which are the main landmarks/tourist attractions of Chichester. North Street is full of great shops (both high street names and independents), and some good pubs (it also houses a Greggs the Baker, which is best avoided). Amelie and Friends is just a five minute walk away from Chichester Festival Theatre so it's an ideal venue for one of their special pre-theatre dinners (available from 5.30pm to 7.00pm Monday to Saturday 2 courses are £18.00 or 3 courses for £21.00).
Like so many venues in Chichester Amelie and Friends is housed in a Georgian brick built building complete with original sash windows and portico entrance. Despite sharing the building and entrance with an estate agent, Amelie and Friends is much larger than you expect it to be once you get inside. It's light, bright and airy inside due to a huge conservatory towards the back of the building.
It also has a truly hidden gem once you get beyond the conservatory, as the doors open out into a delightful and spacious walled garden. There are plenty of tables and chairs in the garden so you can enjoy some splendid alfresco dining if the weather permits. A city centre garden of this size is virtually unheard of in Chichester so Amelie and Friends do well to make the most of it and advertise their jewel in the crown by placing an A-board in North Street stating "Garden open for lunches today". I would imagine it's a splendid way to attract in both old and new clientele when the sun is shining.
Sadly Amelie and Friends has no parking whatsoever and its entrance is in the pedestrianised part of North Street. Chichester is always a bit of a nightmare to park in, and it can cost you an arm and a leg. There is a tiny bit of voucher parking towards the bottom of North Street, but your best bet to use the large pay and display car park beside Chichester Festival Theatre.
The venue has lovely high ceilings and stripped wooden floorboards. The building used to house an off-license (Arthur Purchase) for many, many years, and someone has obviously spent a fortune updating the décor and converting it into a restaurant. Despite being done out in mainly creams, greys and browns, the lighting is so clever that it's not in the slightest bit drab. Of course, the natural light from the huge conservatory and garden help boost the light enormously but I was rather amazed at just how spacious and light it was inside the place. I can remember how very dark and pokey the off-licence used to be, so they really have transformed the place into a hidden gem.
~~ THE MENU - FLEXIBLE FRIEND ~~
The menu in Amelie and Friends is quite brief, but there's enough to tempt even the most jaded diner. I'd describe the menu as brasserie style favourites, but with a definite twist. For example they serve a duck dish, but it's served with rhubarb instead of the traditional orange and they serve coleslaw with one of the sandwiches but it's made with red cabbage instead of the usual white one. The menu is full of little quirks and unusual ingredient pairings, which tend make you think "that's a nice idea, I could try that at home".
As Amelie and Friends is a restaurant cum brasserie, it's more of a place for a proper sit-down meal rather than a quick snack. As such sandwiches aren't *really* on the menu...well there is one, but it's one of those posh expensive sandwiches (Pulled Pork Sandwich in Foaccia with Red Cabbage Coleslaw at £7) so you know it's going to be a good plateful of food rather than a quick snack. Other items listed on the Amelie and Friends "snack" selection include Quiche of the Day, Eggs Florentine, Eggs Benedict or Eggs Royale all priced at around the £7 to £8 mark.
The main menu at Amelie and Friends is an all day one and has a fairly limited but interesting selection of dishes. Starters range from £2.50 to £6.30 and include things like Baba Ganoush, Hummus and Flat Bread, Duck Egg, Bacon and Watercress Salad or Mozzarella Crostini with Green Chilli and Lemon Zest. Main courses are split into either Fish or Meat sections with about 4 or 5 different choices on offer to each. I'd heard good things about their Homemade Fish Pie - packed with cod, haddock, salmon, shrimps and boiled egg at £11, and one of my colleagues quite fancied trying their Homemade Cottage Pie - enriched with Oxtailat £9. Vegetarian dishes are marked up clearly with a large "V". As well as the main à la carte menu, there is a fixed price lunch menu for £10.95 (2 courses) or £14.50 (3 courses) which offers dishes from the main menu but in smaller portions.
~~ OUR MEAL - FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS ~~
On the day we visited, the sun had finally made an appearance, so Amelie and Friends was very busy. The garden was full to bursting with lunchers, and all the tables inside were occupied as well. We had booked a table for six in the conservatory but rather regretted we hadn't asked to sit outside. However at the time of booking we had no way of knowing the weather would be nice enough to sit outside.
As I said earlier, my visit to Amelie and Friends was at the invitation of my boss and his wife to thank the team for all our overtime of late. We had booked a table for six for 1pm and arrived spot on the dot. There seemed to be some confusion over our booking as we were left standing like a bunch of lemons in the main reception area whilst one of the staff spoke to another member of staff. After a brief confusion we were shown to a lovely table in the conservatory and given a menu apiece and our drinks order taken.
As is the case when you're not paying the bill, you have to wait and take your cue from the person that is! It's no good ordering a starter and the most expensive main course, if the payer is making do with a plate of eggs. I suspected from previous works dos, that starters weren't really on the agenda and we'd launch straight into main courses, and I was right. As a last minute thought, the boss ordered a couple of homemade bread baskets with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar dips, but they weren't huge and we quickly chomped through the lot. I had some trouble finding an appealing main course that was averagely priced and not the dearest thing on the card. I was tempted by the Ribeye Steak with Chips and Béarnaise Sauce as I absolutely adore Béarnaise sauce with a good plateful of steak and chips. However as this was priced at £19.50, I decided it would make me look like a right greedy guts and that I was trying too hard to get my money's worth from the boss. Instead I plumped for the more modestly priced Homemade Fishcakes with Poached Eggs, Spinach and Hollandaise at £11. Two other members of our party also ordered this dish so I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I'd made the right choice. The fishcakes were very obviously homemade and coated in a nice coating of golden breadcrumbs. When you cut into them there was a nice quantity of flaked salmon mixed in with fluffy potato and fresh dill. The fishcakes were balanced on a small portion of steamed spinach, but it was a big enough portion for the dish. There were two perfectly poached eggs sitting on top of the fishcakes and these had been drizzled with Hollandaise sauce and a sprinkling of freshly chopped chives. When you cut into the poached eggs the yolks were still lovely and runny. The Hollandaise sauce accompanying the fishcakes was rich and buttery, but there simply wasn't enough of it to get more than a tiny smear with each mouthful. All in all, I thought the fishcakes were superb, but they could do with upping the quantity of sauce with this dish. I was particularly impressed with the perfection of the poached eggs here having seen what a mess they got into with poaching eggs on Masterchef recently :o)
Two of our party choose Confit Duck Leg with Rhubarb, Bok Choi and Roast Potatoes at £14.50. This didn't look like a particularly exciting dish to me, but both parties said it was delicious and how well the rhubarb worked with the dish instead of the usual orange. The final dish chosen by our party was Homemade Lamb Burger with Tzatziki and Onion Rings at £10.50. The presentation of this burger was stunning as the onion rings were placed on top of the burger in a tower effect. It needed to be quite literally demolished to be eaten.
Five out of six in our party were interested in a dessert so the majority ruled on this occasion. There are a limited selection of desserts (£4.50 to £6.50) on the card at Amelie and Friends but they all sounded most tempting. I quite fancied Affogato (Vanilla ice cream, espresso and honeycomb), but was swayed by noticing one of my all time favourites instead - Eton Mess. Four of us ended up having the Eton Mess and someone else chose Lemon and Pinenut Parfait with Raspberry Sorbet and Raspberry Tuile. Other desserts on offer were Homemade Ice Cream, Crème Caramel, Rhubarb Fool or Moelleux au Chocolat. Without exception we all said how disappointing the Eton Mess was. Instead of it being whipped cream, crushed meringues and fresh strawberries as it should be, the Amelie and Friends version was far too plain and boring - more like "Eton Tidy" as one of my colleagues quipped. Instead of fresh strawberries we had watery cubes of poached red berries, which looked more like beetroot than berries :o( The meringues weren't crushed but just plonked on top of whipped cream and then garnished with the rather dreadful fruity cubes - which weren't particularly fruity. I do wonder if the kitchen had run out of fresh strawberries and defrosted the fruity cubes as a quick standby. They'd have done better to send someone out for a couple of punnets of strawberries in all honesty. No such disappointment was reported from the owner of the Lemon Parfait in our party, who really enjoyed her dessert. She was the only one who didn't wish she chosen something else.
We rounded things off with a selection of coffees - two decaffeinated, two lattes and one cappuccino. I didn't spot the bill at the time, but when we got back to the surgery it was put through petty cash, so I managed to see that it came to £141 with a £14 tip to round it up to £155. Working out at around £25 per person I thought this was reasonable enough for the quality of the food, service and venue.
~~ WHAT ELSE? - FRIENDS, ROMANS, COUNTRYMEN.... ~~
Other than the dreadful Eton Mess, the food was very good at Amelie and Friends. However, it wasn't all perfection on a plate here. I'm afraid that the slowness of the service really let this place down. We had the initial confusion over our booking when we arrived as I've already mentioned, but that was quickly sorted out and we were seated, drinks arrived and orders were placed. We chatted amongst ourselves, and then we chatted some more. I attempted a surreptitious look at my watch as I was getting hungrier and hungrier and there was no sign of the food. Having placed our order at around 1.10pm to 1.15pm, our food finally arrived at just gone 2pm. Yes, I know this is a sign that it's all freshly cooked, but a 45 minute wait for lunch is really not acceptable. People need to eat more quickly at lunch as they need to get back to the office. Luckily the surgery was not reopening until 3.30pm that day, but if we'd had any 2pm appointments scheduled then at least two of us would have had to have gone hungry and returned to work before our food arrived. The place was packed to the rafters due to the unexpected sunny weather, but that's no excuse for not keeping your diners informed. At no stage did anyone from Amelie and Friends come over and explain the delay in the food arriving. By the time 2pm arrived, everyone in my party had foregone the polite chit chat to join in with a good old grumble about the slowness of the food service. We were asked to fill in a comment card when the bill arrived, so we wrote that the food was good, but the service far too slow.
I thought the ambience and surroundings at Amelie and Friends were delightful. I had no idea that they had such a huge garden for al fresco dining and it really is a charming feature of the venue. However, if you visit the place during inclement weather the conservatory is just as lovely a place to sit in as you get a bird's eye view of both the garden and the main dining areas too. Drinks wise we mostly stuck to water as most of us needed to be back at the surgery later on that afternoon. The two that weren't returning to work had glasses of white wine. If you have more time Amelie and Friends do a good range of cocktails from £6, as well as a full range of wines and champagnes. Please note that none of the beer is draught here - it's bottled Peroni Lager, Sussex Pale Ale or Thatchers Cider.
Apart from the awful Eton Tidy and slow food service, the only other thing that let the venue down were the rather miserable staff. They were efficient and polite, but there was little warmth or friendliness to their service. The owner was flitting about in the background throughout our meal but she didn't come anywhere near our table. As we left she was standing behind one of the counters in the main reception area, and she didn't manage to crack either a smile or a thank you in our direction, which I thought was most remiss of her. Her general demeanour was rather cold and I wonder if this has rubbed off on her staff and made them act in a similar fashion?
It has to be said that Amelie and Friends is not really a kiddies venue and I suspect that children are not really encouraged here (there was certainly no evidence of any special kiddies menu or facilities on offer). There's a definite "grown-up" and somewhat sophisticated vibe to the place - it's mainly for "ladies who lunch" or a business people.
Entry to Amelie and Friends is through the front door on North Street and there are a couple of steps up into the building. Wheelchair access may prove difficult even though the steps are rather shallow. Once inside the restaurant, there are no further steps and it's all fairly level (unless you venture out into the garden - more steps down). There are two unisex cloakrooms inside the venue (both of which appear to be wheelchair accessible), which were clean and tidy when I visited them.
~~ FRIEND OR FOE? ~~
We all agreed that the food at Amelie and Friends was reasonably priced and good value for the quality received. We all thoroughly enjoyed our main courses. However, they really do need to go back to the drawing board with their Eton Mess as it was quite the worst version any of us had ever partaken of.
Everyone agreed that Amelie and Friends was a super venue and our table in the conservatory was perfectly placed for a pleasant lunch. However, without exception we were all astounded by the slowness of the food service. Yes, we understood it was perhaps busier than they expected to be due to the sunny weather, but that does not excuse the lack of apology or explanation as to the delay in our order. A wait of 45 to 50 minutes is simply not acceptable at lunchtime as a large percentage of Amelie and Friends diners have desks they simply have to get back to. They really need to up their game or those that are time constrained at lunchtimes will go elsewhere.
Recommended as a pleasant city centre venue for lunch and dinner...provided you have enough time to spare.
Four stars from me - they lose points for the miserable owner, slow food service and that diabolical Eton Mess.
~~ FRIENDS WILL BE FRIENDS ~~
Amelie and Friends
31 North Street
Monday - Saturday: 10.00am - 11.00pm
Sunday: 10.00am - 4.00pm