Brighton is not a typical English town in that it has more restaurants per head of population than any other town or city in England outside London - and I should think we run London pretty close. We have Malay, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Mongolian, Indian, Persian, Lebanese, Brazilian, Mexican, deep South, Greek etc etc. Things were different back in the late 50s and early 60s. Pasta was unheard of but there might have been a smattering of Indian restaurants. For most Englishmen, going out for a meal meant a trip to the local Berni Steak House. As the name implies, this was a chain of look-alike restaurants where the emphasis was on steak and chips. I don't remember all the menu but starters would have included soup and prawn cocktail. There were dishes other than steak for the main course and desserts included Black Forest gateau. That has yet to make a real come back but prawn cocktail is on the menu again everywhere - including Stanmer House.
The Old Bat and I arrived first but I declined to sit in the luxurious-looking leather sofas and armchairs in the entrance hall on the grounds that I would find it difficult to extract myself but we had only been there about a minute when the other three couples arrived and we went through to the dining room. There is a magnificent country house ambience with mismatched tables and chairs - all gleaming and very well polished - and one would really expect the menu to be rather more fine dining than the upmarket pub food that it actually is.
I had heard and read various reports, most of which praised the food but many of which mentioned slow service. We had deliberately booked early in the hope thatthe service might be quicker while things were quiet. Well, we were partly successful. The service was friendly and pleasant but certainly not slick. We actually had to call a waitress over to take our order for food - and then the starters came in fits and starts rather than all together.
Taking a step back in time, I should say that the menu for the day (it was dated) was different from the "today's menu" shown on the web site which I had read during the afternoon.
Despite the fairly slow service, the evening passed very pleasantly - as one would expect with a group of friends, food and wine. The food was good and the portions large (none of us wanted dessert) but...
This all came at a price. Given that we ordered seven starters, eight mains, four coffees, one tea, two bottles of wine, one glass of wine, one tomato juice, one half of lager shandy and a tonic water, I thought the bill for £226 a bit over the top. I could have found numerous restaurants in and around Brighton where we could have eaten just as well, albeit maybe not quite so "up market", for abot two-thirds of the price. As I say, enjoyable but a bit on the expensive side. I'm not likely to be hurrying back.
I am slightly envious of Jean and Peter, one of the couples from last night. They trundled off this bright, sunny morning in their elderly VW camper to take the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe and points south with no precise destination in mind. They intend driving from Dieppe through Rouen and Orleans and then on past Clermont Ferrand to Provence.
On their way they will almost certainly drive over the Millau viaduct, the world's tallest bridge. This is my take on it.