“ Address: Comme Ca Restaurant, 67 Broyle Road, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6BD „
Comme Ça is a bit of an institution in Chichester, and there aren't many locals that don't know about it. It's been trading for 26 years now, and that's no mean feat in this day and age. My partner and I often wondered aloud why it was that we'd lived and worked in Chichester for the past 20 odd years, yet we'd never gotten around to dining at Comme Ça. With a milestone birthday approaching I needed to pull something spectacular out of the proverbial chapeau with which to treat my partner to a special night out. Comme Ça seemed to fit the bill so I duly booked a table for the evening of Good Friday, hoping that it would prove as special as we'd oft heard it to be.
I had some trouble making the reservation, as the restaurant is only open for approximately half the week, and I was loathe to leave a message on their answer-phone. Have you ever noticed the longer a French person spends away from France, the more pronounced their French accent becomes? Such was the case with the owner of Comme Ça. Despite living in the UK for the past 25+ years, his accent is not at all anglicized. When I rang up to reserve a table, the answer-phone message was so overwhelmingly French it sounded as phony as the policeman in "Allo, 'Allo". No matter - the overblown French accent is all part of the charm of this small slice of France.
~*~ COMME CI, COMME ÇA ~*~
As I said in the previous paragraph, it had taken us 20 odd years to get around to dining at Comme Ça, so I was hoping that the long anticipated visit was going to impress. As it was my partner's birthday surprise I directed him on a "need to know" basis all the way there in the car so that he was kept guessing on his eventual destination until the last moment. He managed to suss it out eventually but was not at all disappointed with my choice.
The building certainly looks lovely from the outside - a little piece of typical French architecture which really makes it stand out from the surrounding buildings. It's got those lovely painted shutters you see on so many French buildings and these have been painted in a lovely cobalt blue colour. The building is covered in a profusion of climbing plants, hanging baskets and vines and it really is very picturesque and typically French looking. Inside the building is divided into a spacious bar area and two main dining rooms. There is also a private dining area if you wish to have a private diner, wedding reception, meeting room etc.
The décor at Comme Ça is best described as well loved yet rather dated and somewhat fussy. It's not shabby, but it's been well used. It looks a like it was done out in the late 1980's early 1990's - you know the kind of thing, wall to wall carpets, fussy wallpaper and dado rails. Obviously there is nothing wrong with that, but it does look a little dated compared to the pared down minimalist look so many restaurants go for nowadays. Here there was no mood spotlighting or stripped wooden floorboards - it was all frills, flounces and dried flower arrangements (and somewhat incongruously, a plastic plant on each table). However, it obviously works for them as on the Friday night we dined there, it was fully booked in both dining areas. It must be said that we did bring the average age of most of the clientele down by a few years as it seems Comme Ça is a popular haunt with Chichester's well heeled pensioners.
We went straight into the bar area when we arrived and had a couple of drinks at one of the tables near the fireplace. The bar was decorated with some huge glass jars filled with different fruits and vegetables - they were very eye-catching and colourful. There was also a gorgeous Tiffany lamp which would look nice on my table at home...but was sadly far too big to slip into my handbag. The bar area is dotted with lots of beige coloured comfy chairs, and we were brought a couple of menus to peruse whilst we sipped our lagers (draught Kronenburg 1664). Luckily it wasn't one of those sorts of places that turned their noses up at us for ordering a lager instead of Pastis or Ricard. After we'd looked at the menu for a while, the owner of the restaurant came and took our order and recommended some wines to go with the dishes we'd chosen.
~*~ TABLE D'HÔTE ONLY ~*~
I didn't realize until we got there, but Comme Ça only offers two Table d'Hôte menus, there is no à la carte selection. This wasn't a problem for us, but may be worth bearing in mind if you're a picky eater or like plain food. Comme Ça offer two Table d'Hôte (fixed price) menus which they have entitled Monet and Versailles. The Monet menu is the cheaper one with two courses costing £21.95 per person or three for £24.95. The upscale Versailles menu will set you back £29.95 for two courses or £34.95 for three.
Sometimes a Table d'Hôte menu can be a little limiting in that there is not much choice for each course - sometimes just soup or pâté for starters, fish or meat for main course and then dessert or cheese to round things off. There are no such limits at Comme Ça. Both the Monet and the Versailles menus offer plenty of choice with six starters and six main courses on offer, as well as a separate vegetarian selection if you don't partake of meat or fish. The dessert menu is no less bountiful with five desserts, a selection of sorbets or a cheeseboard to round things off with.
Apart from the price, there was only a slight amount of difference between the Monet and Versailles menus. The choices for each course are just as plentiful should you go for the cheaper option. However, you will find more the expensive food items and ingredients on the Versailles menu. Things like smoked salmon, foie gras and venison only feature on the dearer Versailles carte.
The menu at Comme Ça is unapologetically very, very Gallic. It's all written in French, but it does have very good English explanations beneath. We very quickly made our minds up as there were just the two options - the Monet or the Versailles Table d'Hôte menu. Although the choices on the cheaper Monet menu were perfectly acceptable, the Versailles selection was just that little bit more special and it was a birthday meal after all. Starters on the Monet menu included things like soup, chicken livers or mussels followed by rabbit, oxtail or lemon sole. We went straight over the page for the Versailles option which had a more impressive selection of starter choices from foie gras, stilton soufflé or quail to main courses of turbot, sea bass or saddle of lamb.
~*~ THE BIRTHDAY SURPRISE ~*~
The restaurant is divided into two areas - the dining room and the conservatory (Garden Room). In fine weather there is a third choice which is an outside terrace area with a sunken garden. We had a table in the Garden Room / conservatory and were surprised at how big it was inside. Although our table was more than adequate size-wise for the two of us, it was placed rather closely between another table for two and a table for four. This wouldn't have been a problem apart from the fact that the table of four housed a very loud Welshman. He honestly didn't draw breathe in the entire time we were there and talked non-stop about absolutely nothing.
Our order had been taken in the bar and we were shown through to our table once our starters were ready. The table was nicely laid with a linen cloth and matching napkins. The only slight jarring note were the plastic flowers on the table, other than that it was all very nicely done. We were offered a choice of brown or white bread, which we greedily gobbled up in no time. Sadly no second selection was forthcoming.
For my starter I had chosen Le Saumon Fumé au Glace Raifort (organic smoked salmon layered with warm potato pancakes and served with horseradish ice cream). I must say that this was a mini work of art on a plate as it consisted of a tiny tower of smoked salmon layered between the potato pancakes. They didn't stint on the smoked salmon at all and it was very moreish indeed. I wasn't as keen on the horseradish ice-cream as it was unbearably sweet to my palate; I suspect they need to up the quota of horseradish in the recipe to make it a little tarter rather than so saccharine. Himself went for Les Saint Jacques Grand Marnier (seared English Channel scallops with crispy pancetta lardons and capers served with a Grand Marnier sweet and sour jus). This dish was 6 or 7 small scallops sitting in a rich burgundy coloured jus. It was a delicious gravy, but the scallops were a little on the small side and not as plump as they could have been.
For my main course I was rather torn between La Selle d'Agneau Galloise (roasted boneless saddle of Welsh lamb topped with a nutty brioche crust served with a thyme jus) as I do love lamb when it is cooked well. However, I also adore duck breast and my final choice was the Le Magret de Canard Grillé du Gers (grilled supreme of Barbary duck served with truffled potato and almond croquette with spiced sauce à l'orange). This dish consisted of a duck breast sliced into thick chunks alongside a rich brown sauce. This was a very nice accompaniment to the duck, but I couldn't taste any orange in it at all. The duck was succulent and moist, perfectly cooked in that it was crispy to the outside and slightly pink in the middle; it truly melted in the mouth. The truffled potato and almond croquettes were very tasty, but quite small. The dish was served with a selection of green beans, but that was the extent of the vegetables on offer that evening.
Himself tried to talk me into having the Le Chateaubriand for 2 persons (roasted Angus beef fillet served with a combination of Béarnaise sauce and forest mushroom and red burgundy sauce), but I wasn't having any of it as my eye (not to mention my stomach) had already been tempted away by either the duck or lamb dishes. Instead he plumped for Le Cerf au Boudin Noir Normand (Roast fillet of Scottish venison with French black pudding, pommes fondant and a Port and cranberry jus). This was an extremely rich dish and the flavour of the venison was very gamey and pronounced. Unfortunately it wasn't all that hot when it arrived and the cranberry and port jus was just slightly congealed. He still enjoyed the dish immensely but it had obviously been kept waiting in the kitchen for my duck dish to be ready. Again, his dish lacked any vegetables apart from a few green beans and the fondant potatoes. We both agreed that it would be nice if they served a separate selection of vegetables with their main courses.
We rounded things off by perusing the dessert carte. Desserts consisted of temptations such as Crème Brulée à la Vanille, Le Chocolat à la Menthe (dark Belgian chocolate and Malibu truffle garnished with peppermint sorbet) or Le Parfait au Litchi (iced lychee and walnut parfait). There was also a tempting selection of ice-creams and sorbets, all of which are made in-house. Finally, if you're no lover of sweet things, you can have a selection of French cheeses. I chose the La Tarte à l'Orange (glazed orange mandarin tart served with carrot sorbet and a red fruit coulis). This was a generous slice of tart with a lovely pastry base. Although the flavour was supposed to be orange and mandarin I couldn't taste any citrus flavour in it at all. As with my duck dish, the orange flavour was missing so either my taste buds were totally off that evening or the restaurant had run out of oranges......I suspect it was the former rather than the latter. Despite the missing orange flavour I did enjoy the tart and the red fruit coulis was nice and tart. As for the carrot sorbet, I'll pass next time. I couldn't get my head or my taste buds around the nutty flavour and slightly grainy texture of the sorbet - it just didn't work for me. I did like the imaginative garnish on the sorbet though - this was a paper thin slice of beetroot which had been air dried into a large crisp. My partner dallied between the Crème Brulée or La Corne d'Abondance aux Pommes (hazelnut tuille cone with warm caramelised apples served with vanilla ice cream and a caramel sauce). This dish was an imaginative take on Tarte Tatin and he loved it. It was a picture on a plate with a pretty cone filled with apple purée, a comma of caramel sauce and a rounded ball of homemade vanilla ice-cream. We thought that our desserts were both superb and the portions the most generous of the evening. We asked for two Café Crème to be served with our desserts and these arrived just before the puddings, alongside a tiny saucer with two homemade biscuits and two pieces of chocolate fudge.
~*~ ANYTHING ELSE? ~*~
The service was very good throughout the evening. Most of the staff were helpful and friendly. One of the young waiters was a little haughty, but I put that down to his being French and obviously part of a race superior to the rest of Europe. We were initially welcomed by the bar man who checked us off on the reservation list and then brought our drinks and some menus to the table. The staff were in the main young, polite and smartly dressed in black and white uniforms
The wine list at Comme Ça is extensive and unexpectedly, mostly French. There are the full gauntlet of reds, whites and rosés from Bordeaux to Loire and Beaujolais to Burgundy. There is a brief nod at the vineyards of the rest of the world - but it is only cursory and fleeting. Out of a wine list of approximately 70 different marques, nearly 60 are French. The cheapest bottle in the Comme Ça cellar will set you back £18.95, but they do also sell a good range of half bottles or a good selection by the glass. Birthday boy didn't fancy a whole bottle of wine, and he felt the half bottles were rather too ambitiously priced to offer good value. The owner suggested he have a glass or two with his meal instead, so he chose a white Pinot Grigio to go with his scallop starter and a red Pinot Noir to go with his venison. These were priced at just under £6 a glass.
~*~ COMME IL FAUT? ~*~
Although the food was delicious at Comme Ça, I did feel that the portions were a little on the small side. I think that they could just about get away with small portions for the starters and desserts, but the main courses were a little too meagre. I know it's not the French way, but a separate dish with a bouquetière of fresh vegetables would increase the perceived value for money. I realise that the clientele at Comme Ça are mostly elderly or middle-aged (and they possibly have smaller appetites), so perhaps Comme Ça feel they can get away with smaller portions. For us, we thought the food on the plate was rather paltry for a £35 quid a head menu. It looked good, it tasted wonderful....but there simply wasn't enough of it :o(
I do recommend Comme Ça, but I'm only giving it four stars. The service was good and the food delicious. Unfortunately there was just not enough of it, and for that they do loose one star. Our dinner cost us £95 and we left a £10 tip, so it wasn't a cheap night out by any means. I would dine at Comme Ça again, but I won't be in a desperate hurry to go back unless the prices and the portion sizes have more of a correlation. For the same sort of budget I can recommend The Fish House in Chilgrove instead.
Recommended...if you don't mind smallish portions.
~*~ FURTHER INFORMATION ~*~
Comme Ça is located on the outskirts of the city of Chichester in West Sussex. I say outskirts, but it's no more than a brisk 8 to 12 minute walk from the centre of town. It's near to Chichester Festival Theatre and a popular haunt for pre and post theatre dinners.
67 Broyle Road
* There is an ample sized car park belonging to the restaurant.
* All major cards accepted
* Although disabled access is good with a ramp up to the entrance door, access to anywhere but the bar area would be difficult due to steps into both the dining areas and the toilets
** Opening Times **
Lunch: Wednesday to Sunday - 12.00pm - 1.45pm
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday - 6.00pm - 10.30pm