“ Address: 57 North Street / Chichester PO19 1NH / West Sussex / Tel: 01243 778 000 „
Brookes Bar and Brasserie takes up almost all of the entire ground floor of The Ship Hotel in Chichester. Due to its superb location right in the heart of the city, it's a popular watering hole and eaterie with local residents, office workers and the odd stray tourist. I've now eaten there a grand total of four times, and every single visit has been some kind of works do; I've celebrated three Christmas do's there in the last ten years (one lunch and two dinners). I've since left that firm and changed jobs a couple of times. When I started a new job in the city centre last year, and was therefore unsurprised (but nonetheless delighted) to be invited out for a team lunch at Brookes Brasserie. I was hoping it was going to prove just as an enjoyable experience as my Christmas meals of yonder years, and that the standard of food and drink had remained the same.
~~ CITY CENTRE LOCATION ~~
Brookes Bar and Brasserie is located in North Street, about a five minute walk from The Cross and Chichester Cathedral, which are both regarded as the very heart of Chichester. North Street is full of great shops and some lovely pubs. However, its main selling point is nearby Priory Park, which is a veritable oasis of peace and calm. It's a fantastic place to sit and ponder, and admire the gardens. It's also bounded by the ancient City Walls to its north and east, so it's a good place to walk in as well. Brookes Bar and Brasserie is literally a stone's throw from Priory Park, so you can enjoy your lunch, drink, afternoon tea, and then take a brisk turn to walk it off. Similarly, Chichester Festival Theatre is just a five minute walk away, so Brookes Bar and Brasserie is the ideal venue for a pre-theatre dinner or post-performance drink.
Brookes Brasserie is decidedly larger and roomier than you'd expect for its location. Most properties located within Chichester city walls are of a period nature, and they built them smaller and more compact in those days. It's surprising to come across a building as large and roomy as that which houses Brookes Brasserie, therefore making it extremely popular with local firms looking to host a works do (the reason being that no transport needs to be laid on by the business owner - Brookes Brasserie is within easy walking distance of most city centre businesses, and staff can stagger home under their own steam later on using local taxis or buses).
One word of warning about Chichester is that it can be a nightmare to park (especially during the day). However, Brookes Bar and Brasserie and the Ship Hotel have a rather good sized guests and residents car park to the rear of the property (accessed via a narrow one-way lane called Priory Road). If that's full, your best bet is parking meters surrounding Priory Park or the large pay and display car park beside Chichester Festival Theatre.
~~ INSIDE THE BUILDING ~~
As I described earlier, Brookes Bar and Brasserie takes up almost all of the ground floor of The Ship Hotel. It's a fairly impressive looking building, being Grade II listed and four storeys in height. It looks Georgian in origin, and it's the only hotel in Chichester located within the city walls.
Inside, its chock full of period features. It has lovely high ceilings and spacious reception rooms. There's a striking chequered black and white tiled floor in the entrance lobby, with a gorgeous curved and sweeping flight of stairs to the accommodation on the second, third and fourth floors. But I'm not taking you upstairs to the hotel on this occasion, as my review is all about what's on offer downstairs food and drinks-wise.
The initial impression of Brookes Bar and Brasserie is one of space and light. From the spacious tiled entrance lobby, through to the dining area itself, the high ceilings and picture windows all let in lots of lovely natural light. To one side is the bar, which is surrounded by lots of comfy looking sofas and low tables. This is a popular gathering spot so it can get rather noisy and crowded. Not to worry if you prefer somewhere quieter, as there is a large alcove to one side that tends to be much less populated. It's done out in dark striped wallpaper and low lighting so it feels more like a gentleman's club, and it's an ideal spot for a business meeting or a quiet tête à tête.
Through to the dining area, and there are plenty of seating choices. There's a stunning conservatory to one side, all done out in a colonial style décor. Quieter tables are available in one of the two raised alcoves to the side and back of the room. The décor is modern with light oak coloured tables and chairs, and pale wooden flooring. The atmosphere in Brookes Brasserie and Bar is always very buzzy. It's definitely a place to see and be seen. It's reasonably upmarket, but still very welcoming and relaxing. It's not a snobby sort of place, but you do still feel you need to make an effort to look good and dress-up a little bit. No one is going to look askance at you if you wear jeans, but the building is such a grande dame of Chichester, you'll almost feel like you've let her down by not making a bit of an effort for her.
~~ THE MENU ~~
The menu in Brookes Bar and Brasserie is quite brief, but there's plenty of variety on offer. There's nothing particularly innovative on the menu, but what they do offer, they do well. The menu is populated with lots of traditional brasserie style favourites. You can enjoy a light salad lunch, or go for the full three course works - the decision is entirely yours. As well as the set menu, there is a large wall mounted blackboard (surrounded by a curly edged gilt frame) with daily specials on offer.
Blackboard specials on the day we ate there comprised Seafood Risotto, a dressed Crab salad (locally caught in nearby Selsey), Chicken Breast with Pesto Sauce, Moules Marinière served with chips and a Parma Ham Salad. As my colleague remarked, all the specials were somewhat on the fishy side and not ideal if you don't like fish or seafood.
However, the main menu offered a bit more choice on the meat front, so we were somewhat mollified. There are a small range of starters ranging from Mixed Olives, Soup of the Day, Potted Shrimps, Whitebait (which looked really lovely on a nearby table), baked Field Mushrooms or Chicken Liver Pâté. Prices range from £2.25 up to £6.95. There's a lot more choice on offer for your main courses though. There's a good range of salads, a couple of burger options, a couple of curries (Thai Green Curry or Rogan josh), and a choice of three vegetarian dishes. In addition, you can choose from Beer Battered Fish and Chips, a Roasted Loin of Cod or a Swordfish Steak. Meat eaters can choose from a Rump Steak, a Roasted Duck Breast or Breast of Chicken. Prices range from £9.95 up to £16.95.
To round things off, there are a small selection of desserts all priced at £5.00. The choice of desserts is fairly limited at Brookes Brasserie, but there's a range consisting of things like Tiramisu, ice-creams, sorbets and Summer Pudding.
As well as the à la carte menu, Brookes Brasserie also offers a set table d'hôte / prix fixe menu of two courses for £15 or three for £17.50. This menu is available Mondays to Saturdays for lunches 12.00pm to 1.30pm and dinners from 5.00pm to 6.30pm. There's a small selection of 2 to 3 choices for each course taken from the main menu.
Obviously I'm not going to list the full menu here, but if you're interested you can download it as a pdf at http://theshiphotel.net/documents/TheShi​pMenuMay.pdf
~~ A BIT OF A "DO" ~~
My most recent visit to Brookes Bar and Brasserie was yet another works do. However, this one was not the Christmas themed works do of my previous three visits. This time, it was an off the cuff "let's take the team out to lunch" just for the hell of it. Having only been in my new job for just over three months, this was a lovely and unexpected treat (but does seem to be atypical of the business owners....lucky me).
The table had been booked for 1pm, but owing to some last minute work related emergencies, half of the party didn't arrive until 1.45pm. This wasn't a problem for Brookes Bar and Brasserie as food and drinks are served all day. Half of our party enjoyed a leisurely drink in the bar, whilst the other half (including me) dealt with the work problems.
As we were on a works do, we took our lead from the boss, and worked out that starters were not really on his agenda on this occasion. No matter, we ploughed on with selecting a main course instead. Two of us plumped for the Poached Salmon Salad (£12.50) which was served with lemon mayonnaise and minted new potatoes. I enjoyed this dish, even though there was far too much red onion in the salad (not ideal if you are returning to work in the afternoon and have to breathe onion breathe on the patients). There was a goodly portion of poached salmon, but the mayonnaise didn't taste very lemony to me. What was nice and unexpected with the dish was the addition of a small portion of crab meat in mayonnaise on the plate. It was a nice touch and it complimented the salmon perfectly. My colleague seated on my right has several food allergies and does not eat fish, so her choice was rather constrained. In the end she chose the Mediterranean Feta Salad at £11.50. She asked for the dish to be served without any tomatoes (as they make her lips swell up), and that wasn't a problem for the staff. She received a huge plate of salad (sans tomatoes), garnished with plenty of cubes of Feta cheese and a dressing containing lots of pinkly plump pomegranate seeds. It was a beautifully presented dish and came accompanied by warmed flat bread.
Two of our party choose Chicken Burgers at £11.75 each. This didn't look like a particularly exciting dish to my mind, but it was nicely presented and evidently tasty enough. The chicken breasts had been flattened, coated in breadcrumbs and then popped inside a toasted bun along with some Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Salsa. The dish was served with chunky chips and a small salad garnish.
The remainder of our group were seated further down the table, so I had difficultly in seeing what their choices looked like. However, all plates were cleared in record time, so I can only surmise that they were all enjoyed immensely. From memory, one chose the Dressed Selsey Crab from the daily specials blackboard. The dish came served with salad, but my colleague asked if she could have a small portion of bread with it as well. This was not a problem for Brookes, and no extra charge was levied :o) Another colleague had a nicely presented fish dish, which I think was a Swordfish Steak and the lady opposite him had a grilled Chicken Breast served on a nicely presented bed of vegetables and a pool of jus.
Less than half of our party had desserts, but I was one of the greedy ones. I choose a Tiramisu, which should be a coffee and Mascarpone cream flavoured sponge like confection. Unfortunately, this Tiramisu was rather heavy and claggy and had no discernable coffee taste at all. It was slightly improved by a rather sharp blackcurrant colis decorating the plate, but it was certainly by far from what I'd call a good Tiramisu. My colleague opposite fared better with her choice of a Pear, Almond and Chocolate Tart, which looked wonderful. It was served warm with a delightful "frill" of Chantilly Cream and a fruit flavoured decorative colis. Further down the table, someone else partook of a Passion Fruit Pannacotta, and that looked rather heavenly too.
We didn't linger for coffee as some of us had to be back at work by 4pm ready to deal with a couple of appointments, so the bill was brought swiftly and promptly. I didn't see the bill, but I would imagine it came to around £140-£150 (working out at around £18 per person); not the cheapest of lunches but certainly fair considering the surroundings and quality of food.
The service has always been spot on every time I've dined at Brookes Brasserie, and things were no different on this occasion. The staff were attentive, yet not obtrusive. Food and drinks were fetched with a smile and most importantly for a works do / business lunch, conversations between us remained uninterrupted.
~~ WHAT ELSE? ~~
The bar area at Brookes Brasserie is a great spot to meet up just for a drink. It's really comfy to sit in and just chat, or you can have a swift pre-performance aperitif before heading to Chichester Festival Theatre. If you want a sandwich or afternoon tea after a hard day's shopping, Brookes Bar and Brasserie is the ideal spot for respite and a chance to get your breathe back.
It must be said, though, that's it's not really a venue for children, as it's a fairly "grown-up" atmosphere and somewhat sophisticated. It's more a spot for a business lunch or one for those "ladies who lunch". I suspect that children are not really encouraged here, and there was certainly no evidence of any special kiddies menu or facilities on offer.
Entry to Brookes Brasserie (and the Ship Hotel) is either through the front door on North Street, the side door off St Peter's, or through the back entrance on Priory Road, where the car park is located. Although the Brasserie is located on the ground floor, there are steps up to all three entrances, so that may prove problematical for the infirm or disabled. Another problem lies in the fact that the toilets are located on the first floor, up a rather steep flight of stairs.
~~ RECOMMENDED? ~~
The food at Brookes Brasserie is always perfectly presented and always tasty. The menu does lack innovation, in that they tend to stick to tried and tested favourites rather than doing something new. However, with their super city centre location I guess they don't have to try too hard to attract clientele, and they can get away with offering simple fayre and limited choices. What they do offer, they do well, and no one can fault them on that. It's quite an upmarket venue, but not so "up itself" that you can't enjoy a good catch up with friends, colleagues or family. Recommended as a pleasing city centre venue for lunch and dinner...or just simply a drink or a snack.
~~ OTHER STUFF ~~
Brookes Bar and Brasserie is located on the ground floor of The Ship Hotel. The Ship Hotel has 36 ensuite bedrooms located over the second, third and fourth floors of the building. Looking at their website, prices for a double room start from £110 per night. Having never stayed there myself, I'm not in a position to recommend or discourage a stay there. One of my former colleagues booked an overnight room there (so he didn't have to make the journey home and could sleep off the worst of the excesses he inflicted upon himself at one of our works Christmas do's). He spoke favourably of his room and the breakfast, but whether he was in a sober enough state to make an informed decision is negligible!
Brookes Bar and Brasserie
57 North Street