Aqua blue paint, a pretty tiled floor, Mexican lager, and tasty seafood... am I dreaming about being in the Caribbean again?
No, I’m actually sitting pretty in Chichester’s hottest new restaurant, The Belle Isle – clearly the island vibe (and the beer) are going to my head.
The city centre is brimming with places to stop for lunch, but few have hit the spot like this stylish addition.
The Belle Isle’s emphasis on a laid-back atmosphere with an exciting menu packed with locally-produced ingredients has clearly been a hit locally: when we visit on a Friday lunchtime, it’s so packed many tables fill up twice in the time we take to enjoy our meal.
To eat, there is an international range of options from Latino-themed burritos and nachos to Asian beef salad and jerk chicken curry. And the passion for freshness – as well as fresh ideas – shines through, with each meal full of flavour and colour.
Tempura prawns are light and generously dusted with chilli flakes, served with a sweet chilli dip, while roasted pepper soup packs a piquant punch; spicy, flavoursome and well-rounded. And at £3.50 each, they’re also great value – it’s not hard to see why the place is buzzing.
A main meal of mussels (£8.95) doesn’t disappoint, with hefty bivalves drenched in a tasty lime and coconut sauce, with plenty of fresh Thai basil for extra flavour. It comes with lots of bread to soak up that sauce – though I could have done with more napkins to clear up the mess I made!
And seafood paella (£9.95) is similarly strong on taste, with a generous dose of chorizo combining with the salmon, mussels and ‘sustainable white fish’ for a sensational mouthful. But with its sprinkling of fresh red chillies and spring onions, it’s not for the faint-hearted.
This eaterie has the slick service and style of a big chain, but it’s in fact a home-grown hit, which began with a restaurant in Southsea and has now expanded to its second base in Chichester’s Chapel Street.
Since its opening at the end of March, the Belle Isle has expanded on its loyal fanbase. You can sip a coffee or a glass of wine, or enjoy a full three-course meal.
And there are plenty of great deals to be had, with beer and a burrito only £6 on Mondays, and beer and nachos for the same price on Tuesdays.
The roomy restaurant is perfect for group dining too, so why not take advantage of their £20 deals for four, like Alabama hotpot with four bottles of Bud, or mussels and a bread basket with a bottle of house wine?
But be warned, it’s easy to lose a few hours at lunchtime. But then again, we are on island time now...