You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Bay Tree was just another one of the many tea rooms and coffee shops nestled between antique dealers in Arundel, Sussex. In fact, that’s exactly what I thought when I walked past it the first time during the day, not realising that was where I had reservations that night.
The interior is quite homely, lit just right, tables spaced just right and a warm homely service. It’s almost like dining in someone’s front room, which makes it a welcome break from the precise and fastidious service of the eateries I frequent in London. The menu was a welcome diversion too; and wide ranging, importantly not leaving any vegetarians short changed – not that I am bothered by that, but it was noticeable I actually considered non-meat dishes!
My starter was a crab, leek and black pepper brulee with a Parmesan shortbread; the filling was standard crab, well seasoned, and bound in a light sauce, with a Parmesan brulee on top. Only two comments; firstly, the juxtaposition of the refrigerated crab with warm brulee and ramekin from being blowtorched didn’t work so well; secondly the shortbread could’ve done with being a tad thinner – it was borderline cake!. None of that distracts from the taste though; that was sublime across the board.
My friend had the tiger prawn and spinach open lasagne; this was essentially a massive ravioli and full of the prime ingredients, covered in a lemon bechemel. This was very well executed and bursting with lemon flavour (though maybe just a little too much, but that’s preferable to understating it).
Main for me was a six hour pork belly, again well executed and served with a lovely reduction. Friend’s choice was a rump of lamb, which we were warned would be “served medium”. Other than one miniscule bit right in the centre, it was served well done. Alas, this is often a small independent hostelry’s reaction to a complaint – the minority offend the majority unfortunately. It was still very tasty and served atop a sweet potato rosti which was bursting with herb flavours – it’s really good to see a chef not holding back.
Portions were such that dessert had to be declined, though I note the cheese board premium was relatively minimal which is heartening. If you’re in the area, this is well worth a look; it certainly beats the chains on the high street and is actually cheaper, with food to match them than some of its one-starred rivals in the City. If it can work on some of the smaller details, it certainly could one day end up in that league, though the fact it isn’t even listed was surprising.