Lee Parsons' Sussex kitchen may be small, but it's got everything this chef needs to impress, says Andy Lynes
As Lee Parsons shows me around the engine room of his 34-seat restaurant, he admits that he's "had walk-in fridges bigger than this kitchen." During his 30-year career, Parsons has got used to working on a big scale in places such as Claridge's (his first job after leaving catering college in his hometown of Salisbury), Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, the Prince of Wales hotel in Ontario and the five-star Wedgewood Hotel & Spa in Vancouver. His new restaurant? The Parsons Table is tucked away in a courtyard off a side street in the Sussex town of Arundel.
"Everything is old school - the way I was trained back in the day," says Parsons. "Sous vide is like an artist painting by numbers."
Parsons keeps things simple with a choice of five starters, six mains and four desserts on his dinner menu (plus a chalkboard of specials) that he changes almost completely every six to eight weeks. "It gives us a chance to move with the seasons and, with the volume of repeat customers that we have, we try to mix it up."
One popular dish that has stayed on the menu since opening is a starter of pulled ham hock croquettes with the restaurant's own piccalilli (£6.50). "The quality of the pork we buy is phenomenal," says Parsons who favours Scott Free Range in Storrington, less than 10 miles from the restaurant. "We boil the gammon hocks, pull them, mix it with a bit of mayonnaise, mustard and local cheese, then pané and deep-fry."
Pork also appears regularly among the main courses, currently in the form of a chop (£18.50). "We serve it with fondant potato, Savoy cabbage that's blanched and finished with a bit of cream, and glazed carrots, radish and golden beet. We let the pork rest in the pan, then deglaze with our red wine sauce to keep it as natural and 'porkified' as possible."
"When I was in Ontario, we had a farmer that grew specifically for the group," says Parsons. "Here, there's such an abundance of food that's locally grown that we've got suppliers that basically do the same job for us."
Fish, including line-caught mackerel and plaice, are sourced from Browns seafood in Littlehampton, while tomatoes from Nutbourne Nurseries in nearby Pulborough are a standby in season, perhaps served as chilled gazpacho with crab from Selsey on the West Sussex coast and basil oil (£6.50).
Selsey crab also crops up on another menu staple: the risotto. "We make a bloody good risotto. We finish it off the heat with the picked white crab meat folded through - the Italians would go absolutely wild!"
With 18 seats in the courtyard plus a private dining room for 10, Parsons has been serving up to 50 people on a Saturday night and has ensured lunchtimes are busy too.
A typical lunch menu might include wild boar ragu with tagliatelle and shaved Padano cheese (£12), as well as an open-face sandwich with gravadlax and forked avocado ricotta and pea shoots (£7) made with bread from the Hungry Guest bakery in nearby Chichester.
The children's menus, priced at £8.50 for two courses and £10.50 for three, have also proved popular. They might include fresh cod, potato purée and crushed peas. "I think it's important to offer something different from chips. We also offer half portions of the main menu at kid's prices."
Parsons says that Arundel is a price- conscious market and admits that his wine list, that starts at £17.25 for Cheval Imperial Sauvignon, is perceived as expensive. "[But] we're not going to put shit wine on because we don't serve shit food," he says.
Parsons is currently planning autumn menus that will doubtlessly include his favourite ingredient, venison. He's previously served it as a roast loin with warm parsnip crème caramel, red cabbage and red wine and juniper sauce. "I love the game season with the local estates and shoots. We're lucky to be situated where we are."
From the menu
Pressing of grain-fed rabbit and apple cauliflower, grain mustard, toasted hazelnuts £7.50
Citrus-cured Scottish sea trout, pickled potatoes, lemon crème fraÁ®che, radish £8.50
Loin of Sussex cod, fennel, cured tomatoes, Kalamata olives, saffron £17
Roasted breast of Gressingham duck, gratin potato, cherry sauce £17
Rump of South Downs lamb, potato and tarragon gnocchi, summer beans, Gem lettuce, pan juices £19.50
Fresh strawberry Eton mess, white chocolate mousse, strawberry balsamic jelly £6.50
The Parsons Table, 2 and 8 Castle Mews, Tarrant Street, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9DG
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