TUCKED amongst the eclectic mix of period buildings in the heart of historic Arundel is the Bay Tree Restaurant.
It’s snuggled between antique emporiums and old-fashioned tea shops and at a glance, despite its chic colour scheme, there is little to distinguish it from one of the many businesses that make the town such a special place to visit.
But the Bay Tree is not just another bistro serving up fare for a proliferation of summer day trippers.
Too often, tourist towns provide second rate cuisine and third rate service at first class prices on the basis that the customer is just passing through.
Arundel has always avoided falling into that trap and the Bay Tree is the perfect example of what an eating place should be about.
It’s possibly the best restaurant in its class in West Sussex and one of the gems in the town’s crown.
I’m often asked where I eat as a matter of choice.
I have several favourites – and the Bay Tree is among them.
But then I have known owners Val and Mike Moore for more years than I care to count.
Back in the 1990s they ran Dukes up in Arundel High street for 17 or 18 years. Then the moved to the outskirts of the town for another five years, running very successfully the Six Bells at Lyminster.
It was six years’ ago that they returned to the heart of the town where they transformed the Copper Kettle – another old favourite – into the Bay Tree.
Since then, they have brought all their old magic to the 16th century timber framed building.
Their main skill is serving superb food.
The lasagne, for example, is so good it’s the benchmark by which I judge all others when reviewing.
The same is true of their carrot cake.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the cheapest place. On the evening menu, starters range in price from £5.25 for the soup to £7.95 for the lime and sea salt battered tiger prawns.
We sampled the soup – perfect. The extraordinary baked gorgonzola and walnut cheesecake (£6.95) – a fabulous invention. And a special starter from the board, seared scallops on cauliflower puree with a raisin and caper dressing (£9.95).
The scallops required a further 30 seconds cooking time to achieve the standard I would expect.
But the main courses did not disappoint. Another special, grilled spiced-encrusted salmon fillet with a saffron cream sauce (£16.95) was exemplary.
The rosemary and garlic roasted lamb rump on a winter vegetable mash with a red currant sauce (£17.95) was as good as it gets.
Finally, the deserts – priced at £5.95 - where the Bay Tree really excels.
The chocolate brownie is not padded out with sponge. It has a full chocolate texture impregnated with rich nuts.
The sticky toffee pudding is a remarkable combination of lightness and richness.
Overall, the food choices are very British – but with a Mediterranean twist.
The building itself has a clean, fresh, uncluttered quality – with walls painted simply with expensive, classic colours.
The service is always excellent – in no small part due to Alison Whitburn and the team.
And the Bay Tree is now offering accommodation as well.
The Bay Tree, 21 Tarrant Street, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9DG 01903 883679 www.thebaytreearundel.co.uk
Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and Tuesday to Saturday for dinner.