A couple of years ago my dad retired and my parents moved from Northamptonshire to Sussex. They now live close enough to meet for dinner on a weekday evening.
Where to go though? I had already taken them both to The Great Exhibition (mainly to demonstrate that yes, I had to moved to an area with at least one fancy restaurant) and my mum to Numidie on a solo visit. I wanted somewhere that felt informal but where there was also a high standard of food.
Prelude over. We went to The Alma.
If you’ve been here before on a Sunday and found it too busy, or if you’ve only ever sat in the substantial beer garden you should come mid-week. This is truly the The Alma at its best. There are five or six tables having food and a steady trickle of people popping in for a pint. The bar staff have got enough time on their hands to have a chat with the punters and they’re on first name terms with quite a few of them. It’s got a casual, friendly vibe that you can’t fake. It feels like a village pub in some bucolic setting.
One thing I like about the menu here is that it’s short: three starters and six mains. Many people take that as a sign of quality (do a small number of things really well rather than a large number of things adequately) but I appreciate it mainly because I have trouble deciding in situations like this.
It’s also meaty. The only vegetarian option is a pea risotto, which sounds a bit limp when compared to the pan-fried guinea fowl breast or the Angus Jacob’s Ladder (warning – do not attempt this dish without having fasted for at least half a day). Between us, we ordered two pork chops, a ribeye steak and a sea bass.
Devotees of the We Want Plates movement should look away now – the meaty dishes arrived on wooden chopping boards. To be honest, I don’t mind this at all. I draw the line at a fried breakfast on a coal shovel, but steak and chips on a slab of wood (with a groove to catch the juices) suits me just fine.
If I was being ultra-critical I’d say that the steak was a little on the small side and the fat on the chops could have been a little crunchier, but those are both minor quibbles. They clearly use high-grade meat and know how to cook a medium-rare steak, and the chips fit into that fluffy–crunchy sweet spot.
I didn’t need dessert but the sticky toffee pudding winked at me. It comes with salted caramel ice cream, how could I say no?
On a Wednesday evening in March, The Alma demonstrated that laid back is not the same lazy.