“ Address: 12-14 Westgate / Chichester PO19 3EU / West Sussex / Tel: 01243 539336 „
Before our visit in November, my partner had twice eaten at No.12 in Chichester and been most impressed both times. I had yet to try it, but No.12 had long been on my ever growing list of local places I wished to dine at. When a rather tempting Groupon** email offer popped into my inbox at the beginning of October, I had no hesitation in quickly snapping up the deal they were offering (and neither did 300+ other people...). The Groupon deal in this instance was an £18 fee which entitled us to two starters and two main courses from their à la carte menu up to a value of £45.90.
Although the deal did not expire until early January this year, we decided to use ours sooner rather than later in order to avoid the disappointment of potentially fully booked tables throughout the silly season that is December. Therefore we popped into No.12 on a windy Wednesday night at the end of November. I had already booked the table some ten days earlier over the telephone and made it clear that we were on the Groupon deal in order to avoid any embarrassment on the night.
~~~ LOCATION ~~~
No.12 has been trading in Chichester for two to three years now. Formerly a rather grotty student infested pub called "The Swan", No.12 arose like a phoenix from the ashes into a rather stylish bar-cum-eaterie that's gained a good reputation for itself in a fairly short period. Although it's a stone's throw from the centre of Chichester, it's set back from the main streets and is located in a fairly quiet residential area. It describes itself as "a friendly wine bar and an elegant yet informal restaurant", and that's exactly what it is...though it does forget to mention that it's also achingly stylish and rather classy.
No.12 is located in Westgate, less than five minutes walk from The Cross, which is generally regarded as the very heart of Chichester. You take an amble down West Street, past Chichester Cathedral, over the mini roundabout and you'll hit Westgate. Like with most of Chichester, parking is a nightmare. There are a couple of parking spaces in Westgate itself (but most of it is resident's parking and woe betide those not in possession of the right permit). Luckily, No.12's saving grace is a small pay and display car park in nearby Orchard Street, which is free after 6pm.
~~~ HIP, HOP and HAPPENING ~~~
From the outside, No.12 looks smart enough, but nothing out of the ordinary. However, as soon as you go through the glass double doors (stylishly emblazoned with a large numeral 12), you enter a completely different ball park. It's immediately obvious a lot of time, money and expense has been put into the décor. The initial impression of No.12 is one of luxury, style and a lot of savoir faire. Everywhere you look you're greeted by little touches than shout interior decorator; from the cushions lined up all around the bar area, to the low mood lighting and the twinkling lights all around the bar area. The whole venue has been painted in khaki green, and it really stands out. Although my mother's kitchen of the 70's was painted exactly the same shade of green, if I walked into that room today it would look horribly dated and garish. However, in No.12 it just looks fabulous - not at all dated - just eye-catching and memorable. I guess that's Farrow and Ball paint for you - they can get away with murder if the accessories and furnishings are bang up to date :o)
As we entered I immediately noticed that the place was rather dimly lit. I'm not sure if that's the usual ambience or whether they'd turned the main lights down low in order to put emphasis on the twinkling fairy lights and Christmas décor. Mood lighting is all well and good and perfectly acceptable during the festive season as it adds to the atmosphere. However, I do think the lighting would be a little too dim at any other time of the year.
The restaurant is dominated by the bar which is directly opposite the double entrance doors. There's plenty of seating in the bar area, so you'd feel more than welcome just popping into No.12 for a drink. The seating area around the bar looked very comfortable with loads of cushions strewn on the banquettes and chairs.
We went straight up to the bar and asked about the table we had booked. We were asked for our printed off Groupon voucher and then whether we'd like a drink at the bar or to go straight to our table. We decided to head for our table as we were both mighty hungry. Our table was located on a raised dias to the side of the room, and was more than adequate space-wise with neighbouring tables placed far enough away to give one plenty of privacy. All the tables at No.12 are solid dark wooden ones, and they all seem to have a medium sized slit across each place setting. I'd never seen this sort of hole in a table before, but it soon became clear what it was for. Each place setting was decorated by an oversized, good quality linen napkin which was threaded through the slit in the table so it sat straight - very stylish. I must also make mention of the chairs and banquette seating, as they were extremely comfy and all done out in some kind of fawn coloured suedette material.
~~~ THE MENU ~~~
The menu in at No.12 is described as "European", which to my mind is rather vague and covers a multitude of options. To be honest, I'd say that the menu is more "British" than "European", but they do tend to throw quite a few olives and sun-dried tomatoes into their dishes so maybe that's where they get the "European" theme from. The menu is rather on the brief side of short, but I never consider that to be a bad thing. I'd rather dine in a place that does half a dozen dishes with very fresh ingredients really well, than in a venue that offers two dozen different choices, half of which are probably in a reheatable bag straight out the freezer.
The menu at No.12 is quite interesting and there are more than a few unusual choices on offer. It's not so often you see things like baked stilton cheesecake, partridge or pork belly on a menu, and I was immediately intrigued. What is very clear from the menu (which is changed every three months or so), is the seasonal emphasis of the dishes. No.12 is very keen on using local suppliers so they go with what is on offer and fresh in the locality. All the dishes are freshly cooked to order and that really shows on the plate you have put in front of you. All the dishes we tried were beautifully presented and all had some kind of innovative little touch that you just weren't expecting.
There are a small range of eight or so starters ranging from Soup of the Day (Butternut Squash), Pâté, Smoked Haddock Fishcakes, Duck Spring Rolls or Smoked Salmon. Price wise you're looking at the £5 to £7 mark. However, my partner and I were most tempted by the Deli Sharing Boards on offer (£14 to £17), which we thought would make an ideal starter to share. No.12 offers a choice of either Fish, Meat or Vegetarian Deli Sharing Boards which feature things like olives, breads, dips, smoked salmon, pâté, Camembert, salami, spring rolls etc. They are, in fact, a veritable smorgasbord of all the different starters on offer at No.12, and they appealed to us greatly.
Main courses at No.12 are divided into two sections - either Stove or Grill. The Grill section includes a couple of Steaks, Fish of the Day (Lemon Sole) or Sausage and Mash. The Stove section consists of dishes roasted in the oven like fillet of Scotch Salmon or Breast of Chicken. Pricewise main courses range from the £9.50 mark up to £25 for Fillet Steak.
To round things off, there are a small selection of desserts all priced at £6.00. The choice of desserts is fairly limited at No.12, but you can choose from Homemade Crumble of the Day, Crème Brûlée, Lemon Tart or various Ice-Creams.
No.12 also do a Light Bites range of things like Haddock Fishcakes, Ham Egg and Chips, Fish and Chips or Burger and Chips (£7.50 to £9.50) if you're just popping in for a light lunch or a bar snack. Obviously I'm not going to list the full menu here, but if you're interested you can view it at http://www.no12bar.co.uk/restaurant.php.
~~~ OUR MEAL ~~~
We were both immediately tempted by the Meat or Fish Deli Sharing Board. However, just after we were seated the waitress informed us that our Groupon voucher did not entitle us to either the Deli Sharing Boards for a starter nor the Fillet Steak and Châteaubriand for the main course. Now we knew that the steaks were off the menu as that was clearly detailed in the Groupon terms and conditions when we signed up to the deal. We also knew that we could have the Rump Steak if we so wished, but there would be a £4 supplement levied. This we knew and accepted. However, nowhere on the deal did it mention that the Deli Sharing Boards were off the table, and we were rather annoyed at being denied the chance of trying them. No explanation as to why they were suddenly off the menu was offered, but to be fair, neither did we ask why. We can only imagine that the kitchen at No.12 had had to draw the line at offering them due to the additional amount of work involved in assembling all the different ingredients. I know there was a huge uptake of 300+ vouchers on this particular Groupon deal, and if the first few who partook of the deal all ordered the Deli Sharing Boards, perhaps the brigade of chefs suddenly realised they'd have their work cut out assembling all those platters, when straightforward platted starters are so much simpler. Either that, or the gross profits were dipping too low!
With the Deli Sharing Boards off the menu for us, we were down to a choice of eight different starters. My partner chose the Crispy Salt and Pepper Squid with Tomato & Chilli Ketchup and Lemon at £6.95. The squid had been cut into extremely thin rings, and coated in a light and crispy batter so it gave a most satisfying crunch as you bit into it. The Tomato and Chilli Ketchup gave a nice spicy tang and worked well with the dish. My only slight criticism would be that the portion was slightly deceptive looking, as it was served in a bowl as a seemingly huge heaped mound. However, most of the bowl was stuffed full of lettuce so the portion was a lot smaller than it looked. I went for Duck Liver and Smoked Pancetta Pâté with Garlic and Rosemary Bruschetta at £6.00. Sadly the Garlic and Rosemary Bruschetta was nowhere to be found and had been substituted with two lumps of rather stodgy brown bread, and no butter. No explanation was forthcoming as to why the Bruschetta were missing, which was once again rather remiss of them. The Duck Liver Pâté was tasty enough, but any duck liver flavour was rather overwhelmed by the Smoked Pancetta in the recipe. This was a pity as I love the flavour of duck livers, but was less pleased with the salty, smoky meaty flavoured result on the plate. I was also not very impressed with the bread, and would have preferred the Bruschetta described. That said, I still managed to polish off the entire contents of my plate, so it wasn't as bad as I am perhaps implying, just less satisfactory than I had anticipated from their menu description.
For his main course my partner went for Slow Cooked Marinated Lamb Shoulder served with Winter Vegetables and Rosemary Dumplings at £15.00. This was a massive portion of a dish and was very good value indeed. There were plenty of good chunks of meaty lamb, which literally fell off the bone, with hardly any fat to be found. The dish was accompanied by a lovely selection of winter vegetables including two baby leeks and some nice buttered cabbage with small chunks of Pancetta. The lamb was accompanied by two large Rosemary flavoured dumplings which were crispy to the outside and warm and fluffy inside. If one could make any criticism of the dish at all (and I really am struggling here as it was superb) would be a slight lack of gravy - a little more sauce or jus would have made the dish perfect. I chose Pan Roasted Partridge served with Sticky Red Cabbage and Apple & Roast Potato Croquette at £14.95. Again, this was a very good sized portion of four separate chunks of Partridge. It was quite a gamey tasting meat, and not one I can remember eating before. The Sticky Red Cabbage worked well with the dish, but I was less impressed by the Apple & Roast Potato Croquettes. This was a huge Croquette and I found the apple added to the potato was rather excessive - it was far too sweet for my palate. I enjoyed trying Partridge for the first time, but found the flavour a little too strong and the meat a little too dry to want to repeat the experience again. I prefer duck or chicken really.
Although desserts were not included in our Groupon deal, it would have been churlish to have refused them. I plumped for a Chocolate Cake served with Double Cream, which was a special mentioned by the waitress. Although it was a truly massive portion of cake, some of the edges tasted rather stale, and it was extremely dry throughout resulting in my not finishing the portion offered. Himself chose Banana and Chocolate Brownie served with Banana & Butterscotch Ice-cream. Although better (and fresher) than my dessert, there was little hint of Banana flavour to the Brownie, and the Butterscotch Ice-cream seemed to have been substituted with Vanilla Ice-cream. Both desserts were priced at £6.00 each.
~~~ WHAT ELSE? ~~~
We didn't linger for coffee and wandered up to the bar to pay the bill rather than wait for it to be brought to us. The final bill came to £21.70 (which was just for our drinks and the desserts), to which we added a tip of £6.50. We paid £18 for our Groupon deal, so adding this in our meal out cost £46.20 including the tip. This was certainly excellent value for money in terms of both the quality of the food, the size of the portions and the service offered. If we'd paid full price for our dinner it would have cost something in the region of £70+.
The service was very good - attentive yet unobtrusive. Drinks were offered and then fetched with a smile, food presented with a flourish and enquiries as to our enjoyment of our meal timely and well meant. My only criticism would be their lack of communication on the menu substitutions.
Drinkwise, No.12 offers a full wine list as well as a good range of draught lagers, bitters, ciders and spirits. From memory, draught lagers were either Heineken or San Miguel (£3.80 per pint), draught Strongbow and for real ale lovers there was Bombardier bitter.
As a foot note, I must say that the toilets were as equally as impressive as the rest of the venue, and well worth checking out whether you need to go or not :o) The whole room is done out in floor to ceiling browny red stone tiles, with the hand wash basin spot light at the end of the room like some kind of work of art.
Although we were not able to take advantage of them, No.12 has two separate outside seating areas. There are table, chairs to the front of the building overlooking Westgate (and I also spotted some patio heaters), or you can enjoy a quieter al fresco drink to the back of the building. One to bookmark for the warmer weather methinks.
~~ TOP OF THE CLOCK OR UNLUCKY NUMBER? ~~
All in all I was impressed with No.12. I thought the venue, the food and the service were very good. I did find the menu substitutions without any explanation slightly irksome. If you're going to put something on the plate that's different to the description, the very least you can do is mention it at the time of ordering so the client can make an informed choice. Failing that, a quick word as you serve the dish would be advised. As this happened three times in one night with no explanation from the staff, No.12 looses a star in my overall rating. If you're going to move the goal posts, tell the customer!
That aside, No.12 is recommended as an out of the ordinary city centre venue for lunch and dinner...or just simply a drink or a snack. The menu is innovative and interesting and the venue smart and eye-catching. I certainly wouldn't hesitate to return for a subsequent visit, and I would even consider paying full price next time. All in all, well worth a visit.
~~~ OPENING HOURS AND FURTHER DETAILS ~~~
Tel: 01243 539336
* No.12 is open seven days a week - Monday to Saturday = 12.00pm - 2.30pm and then 5.00pm - 10.00pm. Sundays = 12.00pm until 4.00pm
* All the major credit cards are accepted.
* Disabled access is good as the restaurant is all on ground floor level.
** In case you're not aware Groupon (http://www.groupon.co.uk) is a deals site. It's free to sign up with and you get daily emails on special offers in your area. The site offers discounts (sometimes up to 70%) in local restaurants, leisure activities, spa, beauty and so on. You purchase the deal direct from Groupon (first going through a site like Quidco or Top Cashback to get a further 5% cashback), and they then email you a voucher which you print off to take with you to your chosen venue.