WORTHING has had a food and drink renaissance over the past few years with an increasing number of restaurant and bar operators bringing a contemporary culinary offering to the town.

The injection of new ideas and entrepreneurial drive has not only regenerated tourism but has also encouraged a new wave of residents to move to the town.

When it opened in 2015, the family-owned Crab Shack rapidly became one of Worthing’s most popular eateries serving up informal dining using quality local seafood at a genuinely affordable price.

It garnered rave reviews not only from restaurant reviewers and food bloggers but also national media for its relaxed and friendly vibe. The Guardian ranked it as one of Europe’s top ten beachfront restaurants in 2019.

“The South Coast seemed to only have expensive, fine-dining seafood restaurants or fish and chip shops,” said co-owner Sarah Tinker-Taylor. “There was nothing in between, so we feel like we fill that gap.

“When we opened there were very few food and drink establishments in Worthing. Over the past four years or so, more and more places have opened.”

Chef Kenny Tutt rose to fame by winning MasterChef The Professionals in 2018. Having lived in Worthing for more than 20 years, he saw the town as the perfect home for his restaurant Pitch – which opened last year – featuring a menu of modern British dishes with Sussex grown produce at its heart.

“Worthing has completely transformed,” said Kenny about his two decades as a resident.

“I love the fact that there has been a big surge in independent shops, cafés and restaurants and I think it is that – and the recent investments from the local authority – which has brought new life to the town and added a real charm to the area.”

While the main clientele of Pitch is local, despite the fall-out of the lockdown Kenny has also seen an increase in tourists.

“We are blessed to have a lot of local regular customers and patrons who basically are the backbone of our business and keep us operational,” said Kenny. “When we hit the summer months we have a great number of tourists from Europe and further afield. We’ve had customers from Thailand to Iceland in the restaurant, which is brilliant. The pandemic has slowed this down for now but local customers and UK tourists are keeping us going.”

The demographics of the town have changed considerably with many young people, families and London down-scalers choosing to locate in Worthing where rents and property prices are cheaper than neighbouring Brighton. But they can still enjoy an increasingly cosmopolitan offering with a seaside vibe, that’s just a stone’s throw from the South Downs and has excellent transport links.

Having traded for 35 years, family-owned Macmillans has witnessed the ebb and flow of the hospitality scene. Serving up a menu focused on fire cooking, high quality grass-fed meats and premium hand-crafted cocktails, general manager Danny Pitson believes Worthing is definitely snapping at the heels of big brother Brighton.

“Worthing is the next up and coming place for creative people and foodies,” said Danny.

Sarah from the Crab Shack agrees: “The restaurant scene in Brighton is pretty saturated now. People are discovering that Worthing is much quieter, has some old world charm and some interesting and funky independent shops, restaurants and bars to visit. The demographic has changed since we opened. A lot more younger families moving down from London and Brighton.”

Brighton-based businesses have also realised the potential of opening in Worthing to feed the changing tastes of residents, demonstrating long-term faith in the local food economy. Following recommendations by customers of his Brighton ice cream shop, Seb Cole of Boho Gelato opened alongside Pizzaface in Montague Street about five years ago.

“Over the last couple of years it’s become busier and busier,” said Seb.

Although UK pubs are closing down at an alarming rate, that didn’t deter entrepreneur John Azzopardi. A relative newcomer to Worthing, he quickly saw the potential to set-up his real ale pub – the Brooksteed Ale House – near Worthing station. Based in a former hairdressers’ premises, it has now been trading successfully for six years.

“Not coming from Worthing we took a bit of a punt on the town but it is a punt that has paid off”, said John. “We feel that the work we have done has helped in creating the market for real ale in Worthing and that has definitely helped to lure real ale drinkers to the area.

“We have become passionate ambassadors for what Worthing has to offer”.

The demand for quality food and drink experiences hasn’t just been limited to restaurants and bars. Retailers and local food producers have also found that locals have become more discerning about their food and drink choices, and want to discover more about what is grown and produced on their doorstep.

Wiston Estate is one of Sussex’s largest and most-renowned English Sparkling wine producers, and is located just to the north of Worthing.

“We are very proud to be working with several of the fantastic local bars, restaurants and independent merchants, such as Pitch Restaurant, Wine & Reason and Imperial China”, said Alex Notman-Watt of Wiston. “Our English Sparkling Wines have also recently been added to the shelves at Bottle & Jug. It’s great to be able to recommend these nearby gems when we have people visiting the estate from outside Sussex.”

The Bottle and Jug Department is an off-licence with a strong focus on locally sourced beers, wines and spirits made by small artisan producers in Sussex and the surrounding counties. Proprietor Tom Flint is also passionate about quality organic drinks, particularly natural wines which are produced with minimal inputs.

As a relative ‘newbie’ – having made the move to relocate from Brighton five years ago – Tom was very much at the cusp of the new wave of food and drink openings.

“When I first moved to Worthing I did not know much about the town”, said Tom. “I was still working a 9 to 5 job and writing about food and drink on the side. I knew that I wanted to do something for myself and work the food and drink industry, but wasn’t sure in what capacity”.

“The shop was the first craft beer shop in town and I had also become aware of Natural wine during my time writing and knew no one locally was selling this unique and exciting product. There is always risk involved, especially when you are going for a higher end product, but Worthing really felt the right place for the shop. We could see the market was increasing in terms of demand and demographic”.

“With easy links to Brighton and London it is ideal for those who want a change but to still be able to dip their toe into the hustle and bustle if need be, although once you have spent some time exploring what Worthing has to offer you may not need to. Currently there is a strong casual dining scene whilst the café culture is really booming, but we are also now seeing some more serious dining venues as well”.