“ Address: 10-13 St Pancras / Chichester / West Sussex / PO19 7SJ „
Woodies featured in a "Half Price Dining" deal which was advertised on my local radio station, Spirit FM, just before Christmas. The deal was for a £30 voucher to spend on both food and drink for the paltry sum of £15. As Woodies is a bit of an institution in Chichester, not surprisingly the deal was snapped up very quickly and sold out within days.
Woodies have been trading in Chichester since 1972 and it's the sort of place everyone knows. Woodies used to be known as "Woodies Wine Bar", but I noticed that the name has now been changed to "Woodies Bar and Brasserie" to make it more new millennium I guess. Wine Bars (and Bistros) give off a 70's and 80's vibe whereas Brasserie is a shade more continental and à la mode :o)
Evidently Woodies was closed due to a fire in the kitchen last summer and it only reopened its doors in early December last year. The last time I ate there was back in 1998 so I was keen to make a return visit to a previously favoured haunt.
~*~ WEIGHING IN ON WOODIES ~*~
Woodies is slap bang on the side of one of busiest main roads leading out of Chichester. It's on St Pancras so it's very near to the bottom of East Street and Eastgate Square where you can find both Brasserie Blanc and Carluccios. There is no parking to be had outside Woodies so diners need to leave their vehicles in a nearby pay and display car park, either the big Cattle Market one in Market Avenue or the smaller one at New Park Road (lunchers will have to pay, but they're both free to park in after 6pm).
Woodies is located inside a mismatched pair of quaint looking period buildings. On side is the brasserie/restaurant and next door is the bar. Both buildings look rather small and pokey from the outside as so many period buildings can. However, inside the place is rather large and has a surprising depth of space. The décor to the front of Woodies is rather dark and cosy. It's definitely a venue for a quiet romantic table for two. However, towards the back of the venue there's a huge conservatory which really opens the place up and it's much lighter and brighter.
It was a Tuesday evening when we dined there, and the restaurant was rather quiet, probably about 30% to 40% capacity at the most. We had rung and booked a table only an hour or so before we went so we weren't expecting it to be particularly busy...otherwise they wouldn't have been able to accommodate us at such short notice! We were given a warm welcome by the owner and shown to a roomy table for four in the centre of the conservatory. As there was just the two of us dining we were able to spread ourselves out and make ourselves at home.
~*~ THE MENU ~*~
Woodies offers typical brasserie dishes with no particular allegiance to any one country or cuisine. There's a good mix of traditional English dishes mixed in with a little bit of a Pan-Asian and topped off with a European accented flourish. So in essence, something for everyone.
Starters at Woodies all cost around the £5.50 to £6.00 mark. None of the starters are what you would call traditional - they're all fairly innovative sounding dishes. So there's no Pâté and Toast here but you might like to try the Guinea Fowl, Prune and Pistachio Galantine with Beetroot Relish and Truffle Oil. Similarly a simple dish like Moules Marinière is upgraded to Mussel, Lentil and Tomato Broth served with Lemon Dumplings. If you like the sound of the starters more than the main courses at Woodies, many of the starters are also offered as main course options too at a slightly higher price.
Main courses range in price from £11.50 up to £16.00. Sadly there is no steak on the menu at Woodies but there are plenty of other dishes to choose from such as Breast of Free Range Chicken, Peanut Butter, Sweet Cure Bacon and Sweetcorn Pancakes or Braised Funtington Belly of Pork, Black Pudding Mash and Spiced Pear Chutney. There are also a couple of daily specials that change regularly. On the night we dined there we could have had either Stone Bass or a Cod dish as well as all the regular menu dishes. The desserts here are all priced at either £5.50 or £6.00. I was tempted by the interesting sounding Iced Peanut Butter Parfait, Warm Banana Bread and Sauce Anglaise, but went for something different in the end.
Although we had dinner there it's worth mentioning the excellent lunchtime offer at Woodies. They offer a great value deal of two courses at £14.00 or three courses at £17.00 and that includes a glass of wine or bottle of beer. The dishes on offer at lunchtime are the same as those on the dinner menu so I imagine they reduce the portions a little bit at lunchtime as it really is a fantastic deal.
~*~ DINNER FOR TWO ~*~
Whilst we were perusing the menu, we were bought a full carafe of chilled tap water and complimentary dish of honey marinated olives - both of which were a nice touch.
My partner chose Honey Cured Salmon served with Orange, Dill and Pea Shoot Salad (£6.00). This dish was beautifully presented on a slab of grey slate and was a delightful picture of greens, pinks and oranges. The salmon was served raw but thinly sliced and well marinated in honey and spices. He did enjoy the dish but found it overly sweet and I had to agree when I tried a slither. The combination of honey and oranges just made the salmon and accompanying salad a little too sugary. We both would have preferred a touch or lemon or lime in the dish just to give it a hint of acidity rather than 100% sweetness. Nonetheless it was a delightful presentation and a rather interesting starter.
I chose Crispy Filo Prawns served with Lime and Ginger Aioli (£6.00) which was a generous portion of five king prawns wrapped in filo pastry and deep fried. The prawns were very tasty indeed with crispy filo pastry to the outside and I really enjoyed them. I wasn't so impressed with the lime and ginger aioli as it was far too sweet. Traditionally Aioli is supposed to be a traditional Provençal mayonnaise-like sauce made of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. In the Woodies version the overwhelming flavour was of lime and nothing else. I think they should up the ginger and garlic here.
For my main course I had no hesitation in ordering the Crab and Prawn Thai Style Fishcakes with Coriander Hollandaise (£12.00) which sounded wonderful. I was duly served three enormous dome shaped patties liberally coated in breadcrumbs. I was expecting two fishcakes at the most so to receive three was more than generous and I rather struggled to finish them. The shape of the fishcakes immediately confirmed they were homemade as they were rather lumpy and misshapen. That's not a criticism - as a homemade lumpy fishcake wins hands-down over a perfectly rounded defrosted disc. Inside the fishcakes were stuffed full of crabmeat but rather sparse of prawns. As the menu described them as Thai style fishcakes I thought the crab and prawns would be speckled with Thai spices such as chilli, lemongrass or coriander but they were more fishy than spicy. However, the fishcakes were presented on a good dollop of Hollandaise sauce and that had been flecked with coriander so perhaps that the nod in the direction of Thai flavouring. The dish was finished off with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some flat leaf parsley. I did enjoy my fishcakes but would personally have preferred less crab, more prawns and some Thai spices mixed in with the seafood. All dishes at Woodies are served with either fries/new potatoes OR seasonal vegetables/mixed salad. I chose a mixed salad with my fishcakes and it was a nice mixture of cucumber, tomato, salad leaves and red onion. I was offered a jug of vinaigrette to drizzle over the top.
For his main course, my partner chose Slow Cooked Shoulder of English Lamb, Braised Cabbage and Chestnuts with Onion Jus (£16.00). He received two very generous noisettes of lamb which were liberally sprinkled with roasted chestnuts and sitting in a pool of rich gravy. To the middle of the plate was a parcel of Savoy cabbage which was filled with more cabbage and chestnuts. He thoroughly enjoyed this dish and pronounced it delicious. He normally avoids lamb as it can be so fatty, but he thought they'd cooked this to perfection, and he certainly wasn't expecting two such large pieces of lamb on his plate. Himself had chosen Fries with his lamb, but the owner made a mistake with the order and brought me vegetables instead of the side salad I'd chosen. He realised his mistake as soon as he plonked the vegetables on the table (and without us saying anything). He immediately went off to get me a side salad and rather generously left the vegetables with us anyway. The mixed vegetables were served nicely al dente and comprised of carrots, French beans, courgettes and suede. One criticism that we both had of our main courses were that they were not really served piping hot. My fishcakes were very tepid in the centre, and my partner thought his lamb could have been served a little warmer.
Despite the over generous portions on our main courses, we both decided to try and squeeze in a dessert after a short break. I went for the daily special of Warm Marmalade Sponge served with Vanilla Ice Cream and Crème Anglaise (£5.00). If we thought our main course temperatures were rather tepid, there was no such complaint with this dish. The marmalade on top of the sponge was like molten lava! The sponge under the marmalade topping was lovely and light and I thoroughly enjoyed this dish once the lava had cooled down. It was served with a good dollop of ice-cream, a strawberry and a Chinese gooseberry for decoration. I didn't think that the Crème Anglaise / custard added anything to the dish as it was a drizzle rather than a proper sauce, but the ice-cream was very nice.
My partner had a portion of Warm Marbled Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Vanilla Ice Cream, and White Chocolate Sauce (£6.00). The brownie was served warm and also with vanilla ice-cream. The white chocolate sauce was more for decoration than an actual sauce, but the dish was very nice nonetheless. We rounded our desserts off with a cup of cappuccino apiece at £2.20 each.
~*~ DRINKS, SERVICE & EVERYTHING ELSE ~*~
My partner was delighted to find draught lager on the menu at Woodies so he didn't have to lash out for expensive bottled beers. Here they serve draught Coors at £3.30 a pint. I stuck to the chilled tap water they served us when we arrived as it was perfectly acceptable and I was driving. As there is a full stocked bar in the building next door to the restaurant, there is plenty on the drinks menu as well as food menu at Woodies. As well as an extensive wine list, they also do a full range of cocktails.
The service was most attentive and very friendly throughout the night. Evidently Woodies is owned and run by two brothers - one of them being the head chef and the other the front of house manager. We were served several times throughout the evening by the front of house brother as well as a young girl, and they were both very attentive and on the ball.
It has to be said, sadly, that the smell is the only thing that let Woodies down. As you enter the restaurant from the St Pancras side there is a distinct whiff of toilets which is fairly off-putting. I have no idea where this whiff comes from as neither the ladies nor the gents were smelly when we visited them. Both were clean, well stocked and fragrant. Perhaps there is cess pit or septic tank under the floorboards near the entrance and that is what is giving off the nasty niff. It's worth bearing in mind that if you enter the venue via the conservatory on the New Park Road side then you will avoid that pungent pong. And talking of toilets, both of them involve steps (the ladies is upstairs and the gents downstairs), so that's worth bearing in mind if you are visiting with a wheelchair user or somebody with mobility problems.
Our bill came to £28.70 once our £30 Spirit FM discount voucher had been applied and we left a £6 tip. At full price we would have paid around £60 for our meal, and it was definitely worth it. The portions were generous, the food delicious and the service spot on.
~*~ RECOMMENDED? ~*~
This was a return trip to Woodies after an absence of some 15 years and we most definitely won't leave it so long next time. The service was very friendly and the atmosphere relaxed. We both enjoyed our dinner immensely, the portions were generous and the prices reasonable.
The only negative thing to reiterate is the unpleasant waft of toilets, but it's certainly not a deal breaker. Just avoid the St Pancras road side entrance and go into Woodies via the conservatory entrance at the back (New Park Road) and you just won't notice it.
Woodies gets five stars from me despite the stinky sewers. The food was delicious, the menu innovative and the service warm and friendly. Woodies comes highly recommended and is definitely worth a visit.
~*~ FURTHER DETAILS ~*~
Woodies Brasserie and Bar
10-13 St Pancras
* Open six days a week - Monday to Saturday.
* Lunch is served from 12pm to 2pm six days a week (closed on Sundays)
* Dinner is served from 5.45pm to 9.30pm (Monday to Wednesday) and from 5.45pm to 10.30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights (closed on Sundays)
* The restaurant has no private parking, but there are two pay and display car parks nearby - one in Market Avenue and another smaller one off New Park Road (NB: parking charges do not apply after 6pm)
* Dress code is most definitely relaxed and informal