Restaurant review: Comme Ca in Chichester

Michel and Jane Navet have been serving authentic French cuisine to Chichester residents for 25 years. What's the secret of their success? Jenny Mark-Bell finds out

Just across the park from the Festival Theatre, Comme Ca appears from the outside to be a typical, if notably quaint, rural pub: white with blue shutters and an abundance of flower boxes. Inside, however, the place is, like Normandy-born owner Michel Navet, uncompromisingly Gallic. Currently celebrating 25 years in business, the restaurant is old-fashioned in the nicest possible way: the menu is in French with English translations and the service is courteous, even courtly. I find myself wishing I’d brushed up on my language skills before visiting this authentic outpost of northern France. With an enviable local following, Michel and his wife Jane have plenty to celebrate. They weathered the recession stoutly: “We took the decision to do the prixe fixe menu in 2008 when the recession hit. People like to know what they are spending and the customer knows nothing will ever cost extra.” Two menus are available, Monet, which is offered to pre-and post-theatre diners, and Versailles which is, as Michel offers, “for when you want to treat yourself”. Carl and I decide to take one each and I decide that I want to treat myself, so I plump for Versailles.After we order – English Channel scallops for me and rope-grown Cornish mussels for Carl – we take a look around. Jane has been gardening until after sundown and, with some persuasion, shows us the beautiful terrace garden. This is a real boon in the warmer months, as it is separated into ‘rooms’, allowing privacy and intimate dining in the fresh air. Unfortunately the evening of our visit is decidedly brisk, but our table inside proves very pleasant too. Restaurant Manager Anthony, who has been with the Navets for 23 years, pops by our table to say hello. He has a mischievous sense of humour which clearly makes him a favourite with regulars. Our starters are becomingly presented. My scallops are resplendent in their richly-coloured shrimp coulis, which has a pleasing heat counteracting the richness of the shellfish. Carl loves his great, steaming bowl of mussels and uses my bread to mop up the sauce. Michel practically commands me to have a glass of Chablis with my main, and I’m happy to oblige. The restaurant has a comprehensive cellar: “I always choose wines that come from places people have been on holiday, because it brings back good memories,” says Michel. There is a bottle for every budget and for every taste, with the Patron’s Cellar representing the most exclusive, and therefore expensive, wines.After an appropriate interval, our mains arrive. I have saut�ed local monkfish and tiger prawns, presented in a filo basket with a delicate cucumber and chive cappuccino. Carl opts for lemon sole served with chive olive oil, about which he is very enthusiastic. Buttery, herb-tossed potatoes and green vegetables make splendid accompaniments.After watching greedily as various desserts are conveyed to our fellow diners, abstaining is not really an option for us. We share a Belgian chocolate mousse with cr�me anglais, which is delicious. Unfortunately I have filled up on my main which means I have to surrender, with great sadness, part of my portion. This 25th anniversary is a big deal for Comme Ca, and for the Navet family which has grown up in and around it. “When my daughter was two years old she was helping to cook the lobster,” says Michel.It’s clear from the dynamic between the Navets and their guests that they are happy in each other’s company and that this winningly authentic French restaurant has woven itself inextricably into the fabric of a Sussex cathedral city.

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