REVIEW: Brilliant staff and unique buildings make Bills unique

Bills

Bills

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Like coffee shop chains, uniform high street restaurant brands now litter every street scene.

They may offer a certain reassurance that you know exactly what you are getting when you walk through the door - but it can be rare to find much personality beyond the designed interiors, the tailored menus, and the customer service script.

Bills

Bills

But there are notable exceptions.

Bills began life in a wholly different way from most.

It was born in a shed just off the Lewes high street where Bill sold fresh fruit and veg - thanks to a leg up from his dad.

When the flood of 2000 destroyed the humble building he came back fighting.

Bills

Bills

A new Bills was created which gave people somewhere they could not only buy their groceries - but sit and chat over a coffee or a meal.

It became an iconic point of community meeting and spread its wings tentatively first to Brighton and then further afield.

Since then it’s been discerning in the venues it’s chosen to make its home.

It had the courage to turn Horsham’s Old Town Hall into a restaurant last year.

Bills

Bills

At the same time, it established itself in one of Chichester’s finest historic buildings - the Buttermarket in North Street.

Both have been soar away successes.

Part of the charm are the conversions themselves. They have preserved these landmark buildings while stamping their own shabby chic homely warmth on them.

The menus, too, retain a sense of the original Bills magic. They are sensibly priced, contemporary in style while reassuringly wholesome in content.

But the real secret is the staff.

Bills trains its people well - then trusts them.

It trusts them to be a little crazy, to get thoroughly involved in the communities around them, to recognise and reward loyal customers - and to make a return visit really special.

We tasted the menu at the Chichester Bills as a family on Sunday.

A mezze board to share for starters (£9.95) and a couple of individual choices as well - the chicken liver parfait with Bills chutney and toasted baguette (£5.85) and the crispy duck salad (£4.95).

For main, the fish and chips were perfect (£11.95) - while the slow cooked pork belly on a salad of broad beans, apple and red chicory,

(11.85) combined a subtle range of tastes and textures.

The steak is always good (the 10oz ribeye at £15.95 is supreme) while the fish pie (£12.95) has become a staple choice for our daughter.

The desserts are always generous - not least the creme brulee with pumpkin and stem ginger (£4.95).

But the real joy is the atmosphere.

The place has a real buzz - and that’s down to the skill of the staff led by general manager Annie Thomas.

She is living proof that Bills look for managers who are full of personality, hard working, prepared to get stuck in - and have a great affinity and affection for the customers.

The Chichester Bills is also true to the firm’s roots.

Downstairs they have opened a smart shop selling all the Bills branded products from Italian Cafetiere Coffee to Chocolate & Brazil Nut Oaties. And you can even order at your table and have the shopping added to your food bill.

Bills may have grown quickly in recent years from humble beginnings.

But it’s remembered its traditions. In a world of restaurant chains it remains utterly individual.

The flood of 2000 may have proved a disaster for many small businesses. For Bills, as Shakespeare might have phrased it, it proved a tide of good fortune.