I HAVE to admit this reviewer has frequently visited the popular Arts cafe many times in the past, but not for a good long while and never to sample its lunch menu.
A staple of the bustling Call Lane scene, Arts has become an institution, with a lively enough atmosphere to enjoy a plate and a pint or a cocktail or two on an evening at the start of a night out.
Its interior is pleasingly simple but made interesting by some abstract paintings hung up on the walls and a particularly airy environment at the front of house where you can watch the world go by and nosey at the clientele frequenting the bars on the other side of the road.
On this midweek lunch hour all but three of the dozen or so wooden tables were full, with a mixed crowd of dinners full of chatter, even so a smiley waitress greeted me with the offer of a table either at the front or the back of the cafe.
Within a few moments of being seated a drinks and a separate food menu listing la carte options and a different list of lunch dishes, was brought to my table.
The a la carte menu is available from noon until late seven days a week and selecting from the dishes here you can expect to spend £20 or more for three courses unless you take advantage of the early bird deal from noon each day, excluding Saturdays, which gets you two courses for £12.50 or three courses for £15.
On the menu are classic British and international dishes, some with an innovative twist: think blow-torched smoked mackerel fillets and twice cooked belly pork.
But it was the dedicated lunch menu that stole my eye and on a warm day the fish plate, one of four ‘plate’ dishes - the others were ploughman’s, Moroccan and Spanish. At £7.50 it included a ramakin of meaty prawns and crayfish bathed in Marie Rose sauce, a cold potato and herb salad in a sharp-tasting marinade, strips of Scottish smoked salmon, one delicately battered haddock and dill fishcake served with particularly tasty and chunky tartar sauce, some dressed salad leaves and a hunk of granary bread.
All this was washed down with a half of 5Points Pale Ale, a zesty and malty drink from London-based Five Points Brewing Co made with Amarillo and Citra hops.
The drink seemed to match the fish plate rather well, with the seemingly homemade tartar sauce served with the fishcake the standout addition - I would have happily scoffed a second.
The service was swift and polite, and the waitress’ smile never dropped. All in I had spent £9.50 and was in and out within 45 minutes, ideal for a lunch-time stop off before heading back to the office.