The Ship is back in Chichester - and riding the crest of a wave

It stands in Chichester's North Street like a stately galleon.

The Ship Inn in North Street
The Ship Inn in North Street

The gloriously understated Georgian facade speaks in a glance of elegance and endurance.

Every town and small city requires an hotel such as this.

The Ship is the very epitome of gracious living and a welcome retreat for the passing traveller.

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    The bar

    I say 'The Ship' advisedly. Historically this was its name until three years ago, when it was given a rebrand much to the horror of the good folk of Chichester.

    But now 'The Ship' is back - not merely the historic legend on the hanging sign outside but the name of the restaurant within too.

    The name is important because it is synonymous with the building's history.

    A quick glance at Google or, no doubt, the records of the wonderful Chichester Society, will reveal just how important and vital that past has proved.

    The interior

    But a framed table plan hanging above the hotel's reception highlights one one key moment in its life.

    The Ship hosted a lavish dinner given to General D Eisenhower on the occasion of his visit to Chichester when visiting troops preparing for the invasion of Europe in April 1944.

    The general stayed at the hotel for four days and this particular dinner featured an unparalleled military guest list.

    Quite what they ate is slightly less clear. The writing is hard to decipher, but fillet of beef most certainly seems to have been the key ingredient. What was discussed during that meal might have been pivotal in the success on the Normandy landings - D-Day - at the beginning of June.

    "The dessert presented on a crisp white plate with splashes of vivid colour was reminiscent of an artist's palette."

    Now the restaurant and bar have reinvented themselves once more.

    The style is chic, contemporary, with a nod to history and a warm embrace of comfort.

    The paintings are no mere stash of second thoughts. They are striking, determined and arresting.

    So is the food.

    We visited at the invitation of the hotel and as their guests. But our review is independent and was not part of any advertising feature.

    That creative spirit was very much in evidence in the menu and the presentation of the dishes.

    The dessert presented on a crisp white plate with splashes of vivid colour was reminiscent of an artist's palette. The centrepiece was chocolate and salted caramel praline.

    We had initially decided against dessert. The starter and main were so filling.

    But thanks to a little persuasion from our welcoming host, food and beverage manager Jamie Gahan, we weakened.

    Based on our experience of the one evening's meal, the food here was superb.

    A whole lemon sole (£22) was perfectly served and accompanied by wilted spinach. I had added sides of creamy mash (£3.50) - utterly delicious - broccoli (£3.50).

    If a £29 total is more than you want to spend, there are a range of prices on the A La Carte.

    The 'Ship' fish and chips with smashed peas is a much more modest £14.50, while the superb breast of duck with heritage carrot and cep potato hash is priced at £19.50.

    The starters were a meal in themselves.

    'Alex's twice baked cheese souffle' (£7.50) has acquired legendary status and did not disappoint. The name references Chef Patron Alex Aitken who is at the helm. His aim is to introduce a modern edge on comforting classics at this relaxed all-day bar and restaurant. Alex, who champions local, seasonal and sustainable produce, will be working with local chefs and suppliers to showcase the region’s best flavours

    The New Forest Mushroom Risotto (£8.50) was a joy - although I would not have served it in a Kilner-style clip top jar. A clean, white bowl would have sufficed and been easier to navigate.

    There are offers too. A leaflet announcing The Ship is Back signalled some early year promotions.

    Two course lunch for £15 'plus a drink on us'; a pre-theatre menu for £17.50; and a three course Sunday lunch for £19.95 and a glass of fizz.

    When we dined mid-week the restaurant was very quiet. What a pity. The menu, service and setting are terrific. The Ship is a great part of Chichester's history and this great investment shoud be warmly welcomed by all those who bemoan an ever diminishing city centre.