‘We’re almost there,’ said Mr Smith, leaping back into the car after asking at a garage for directions to the Crab & Lobster. ‘It’s just a few minutes away’. We had only left the A27 and its comforting sodium-orange glow recently, but had quickly plunged into the inky black of a West Sussex night. Reaching the end of a wet, winding road, a stout, whitewashed building appeared.
Even at night, the hotel has an end of the worldish feel to it. Beyond the car park, in the infinite night, was Pagham Harbour, a nature reserve, and beyond that the Channel. All that stood between us and the very edge of England was a 350-year-old inn, its ‘restaurant with rooms’ sign swinging in the night breeze. Taking the last remaining parking space, we headed inside, eager to begin the business of unwinding after a long day.
Walking through the door we are instantly in the middle of the packed dining room and feel, for a moment, terribly inappropriate. Like latecomers to a theatre. Diners look up briefly from their Crab & Lobster fish pies with cheddar mash, then return to their plates. The specials board distracts us for a moment with words such as ‘baked trout’ and ‘lemon posset’, and we remember how hungry we are. It’s just as well we’ve reserved a table.
We are staying in room one, directly above the restaurant. The hum of diners drifts up through the ancient floor as we unpack. There is something very Austen about this room, I decide. The old windows are the sort you’d look out to see Mr Darcy, if I weren’t with Mr Smith. Then there’s the walls’ Farrow and Ball blues and sages, the fresh cut flowers and exposed beams. Yes, we could indeed be Regency travellers, if it weren’t for the flatscreen TV and sound system. Mr Smith gets very excited about the iPod docking station before realising he’s forgotten to bring the iPod.
Dinner gets off to a flying start with salmon parcels, stuffed with crab and crayfish, topped with caviar. The menu here is seafood-centric – as one would expect from an inn with both ‘crab’ and ‘lobster’ in its name – and there is a decent wine list. But, alas, just one flavour of sorbet (orange) is available tonight.
Full and drowsy we trudge up the stairs to bed, far too sleepy to choose a DVD to watch – tomorrow perhaps. Tonight is about the luxury of sleeping in an utterly dark, utterly silent place. Undisturbed by the wailing rubbish vans, police cars and juddering night buses of the city, we drift off dreaming dreams so vivid we both remember every single detail the next morning. On waking, we finally get to see West Sussex by day. Outside is a Miss Marpleish lane, a smart house opposite. Beyond, lies Pagham Harbour and an endless sky.
Breakfast is another fishy affair, with smoked salmon and scrambled egg on English muffins. Mr Smith can’t resist the full English and its locally sourced ingredients. A history of the inn and the harbour hangs on the thick stone wall behind us. Back in the 600s, when the harbour was still called by its Saxon name, Udring Hven, some unfortunate invading Danes were hacked to death in what’s now the car park for refusing to convert to Christianity, it informed us. Centuries later, soldiers heading for Agincourt stayed here on their last night before leaving for France. During the Civil War the royalist Lieutenant Governor and his two nephews met a sticky end just outside the inn’s front door when the area fell to the roundheads. For a barely there spot at the end of the world, this place has seen its share of the action, we think, as we head out on a hopefully-less-eventful walk to the shore.
This is a timeless place. The skyline virtually unchanged since Mr & Mrs Saxon first arrived here, dispatched the Romans and set up house more than a millennum beforehand. This is strangely comforting. We breathe in the fresh, ozone-flavoured air of the south coast and promptly forget about the Danish invaders.
The hides along the edge of Pagham Harbour hint at this place’s ornithological importance. The binoculars in our room, and a kindly lady twitcher, help us spot cormorants, grey plovers and other twig-legged species stepping delicately through the mudflats.
Any weekend here will have a Famous Five sort of wholesomeness about it, we decide, as we crunch along the shingle beach picking up shells. In addition to glorious walks, favourite things to do here are sail and birdwatch. Then head to any one of the Midsomerish towns and villages – The Witterings, Bosham, Midhurst or Chichester – for tea and scones. Goodwood is close by, too. We stop at its farm shop and stock up on interesting jams and exotic pickles.
With the sky turning a rich purple, we return to the Crab & Lobster for a leisurely soak with L’Occitane bath products. We then make our way back down to the restaurant. Yesterday, the gentleman at the table behind us had a rather lovely selection of English cheeses and we are determined to end this meal with a plate of our own. The mood tonight is boisterous, happy. There seems to be a real fondness for this inn at the end of the world, but tonight it feels as though it is at the centre of it.
Anonymously reviewed by Catherine Jones (Journeying journalist)
Reviews of The Crab & Lobster from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
The food in the restaurant is absolutely fantastic: very imaginative, with beautiful combinations of flavours, partnered with an excellent wine list. The restaurant was busy every evening but as residents we were always guaranteed a table. The staff was all very efficient and friendly, nothing was too much trouble. Our room was very comfortable, and so quiet that we slept late each morning – but no matter, as the delicious breakfasts are served till 10.30am. All very civilised, and perfect for the relaxing break we were looking for. Although only a short drive from Chichester and Portsmouth, where we took the opportunity to visit the new Mary Rose Museum, the pub is also perfectly situated for exploring the quiet unspoilt coast around Pagham Harbour, and the extensive beaches around West Wittering. We will certainly be going back for more!
We had only one small quibble with our room, which had very limited drawer space. An additional small chest of drawers would have allowed us to unpack properly and feel even more at home.
Margaret, BlackSmith stayed on 20 Oct 2013
Excellent food, both the breakfasts and the dinners (we were out at lunchtimes). Great room, although Room 1 room hears Room 4's residents walking about above (I expect this in an old place though). Great setting; friendly staff. We would go again.
Serve some peas with fish and chips if they're wanted (included in the price). Perhaps some more local info in the desk folder in the room would be good.
Monica, BlackSmith stayed on 16 Oct 2013
I liked the remote nature of the venue. It was very relaxed and the staff were attentive. The food was beautiful and the beer garden was a real added bonus; it felt like we were hidden away from the world.
Nothing leaps out; a very nice spot!
Neil, BlackSmith stayed on 1 Jul 2013
The food was amazing. I breakfasted on smoked haddock and poached eggs, which was delicious. For dinner I chose stone bass on seaweed tagliatelle. Scrumptious! The room was up in the eaves with views over Pagham Harbour. It would have been better in the sun but it was a very calmimg view. The bedroom was fairly spacious and there was a large bathroom. The details were good. Nice coffee and a cafetiere instead of the ubiquitous Nescafé sachets. An iPod dock and free WiFi. Comfy bed.
Our room had a sloping ceiling which could be difficult if you are very tall. Wardrobe storage was insufficient for more than a night and there was no other storage for clothes. Waitress forgot to bring our coffee after dinner, but at least didn't put it on the bill.
Alison, BlackSmith stayed on 12 Jun 2013
This is the second time we have stayed in this hotel and it still holds a great attraction. The accommodation is modern and spacious – the fresh white flowers in the room are a nice touch. Our main reason for staying here is the wonderful food and wine, and on this occasion there was a good selection of game as well as some superb fish. The staff were attentive and particularly friendly and took care of our every need. The place is always busy despite its location and it appears to be frequented by lots of locals.
For us, nothing.
Ann, BlackSmith stayed on 19 Oct 2012
This is a dear little place. Unpretentious and relaxed - but with great attention to detail. So good to have fresh milk in the room for making tea, plus all mod cons for iPod etc. The food was superb and cleverly presented; fresh haddock was lightly battered and the chips delivered in a little metal tin. Breakfast is another highlight - bacon like we've never tasted. The location is outstanding and our room looked out over the marshes which looked spectacular at high tide.
kate, BlackSmith stayed on 19 Sep 2012
We stayed at the Crab & Lobster on a two-for-one offer which I thought was very good value. We stayed in room four which has views over the nature reserve. The room does have low ceilings becuse it is in the converted attic but unless you are bothered by sloping ceilings, the room was cosy and smart and the bathroom was very spacious with a walk in shower. As the hotel is a pub/restaurant and has four rooms only, it has a lovely intimate feel and we found the service very friendly, professional and welcoming. We enjoyed returning to the hotel and enjoyed a drink at the bar. The reataurant is excellent; this is not a gastro pub and delivers sophisticated dining with prices to match. However, I did not feel that it was overpriced but comparable to a fine dining restaurant. The breakfast menu is very good and fresh, including cooked with haddock, mackerel etc. It is good for walking and for visiting the local area – Arundel and Chichester and Bosham in easy reach. We enjoyed Pagham and West Wittering. The East Head nature reserve, protected by the National Trust, was breathtaking and great for photography. If a quiet break in chic rustic surroundings with good food and easy access to the beach is what you're after, it does tick quite a few boxes. I do not know if this peace exists in high summer however.
Jeannette, SilverSmith stayed on 7 Mar 2012
We stayed in room number 4 in the attic. Being tall, we found we couldn't stand up properly anywhere but the middle of the room. The food for breakfast and dinner was excellent: cooked to perfection and beautifully presented. Chichester is worth a visit and so is the farmers' market held on the Friday we stayed. Go again? Yes, the food is superb.
Dee, SilverSmith stayed on 1 Mar 2012
We had a very enjoyable two-night stay on the 2-for-1 offer which represented very good value. The pub/restaurant with rooms is very nicely presented. It's more of a restaurant than an out-and-out pub; the interior quality confirms that. Food was extremely good quality and well presented, albeit quite expensive for the type of venue. The room (no. 3) was small but of good quality. At the rack rate, £140 per night, at a BB one would expect a small safe in the room, robe and slippers but these were not provided. A great remote location with lovely views – all in all, another good Mr & Mrs Smith experience.
reginald, SilverSmith stayed on 19 Feb 2012