Being totally honest, when I went down to Bournemouth it was without any plans, other than watching the sunset with my book in hand and wandering along the beach for an ice cream. So when I was kindly tipped off that Rick Stein has a restaurant just along the bay in Sandbanks, Poole, I knew that I needed to get a little organised and book myself a last-minute lunch table there.
One of the hardest things that people find about solo travelling, is eating by themselves. Weirdly it hasn’t ever really bothered me – though I’ll confess to ordering room service more often than not – but I’d do that regardless of who I was or wasn’t travelling with – except when it’s in a super busy restaurant, and they seat you at the bar to talk to the bartender.
Personally, I’d much rather be out of sight, on a little corner table where I can read my book and enjoy my oysters in peace – hence the whole solo travel schtick – instead of making nice small talk…
The team at Rick Stein’s were wonderful. Not only did they not bat an eyelid at my solo status, but they put me on the most wonderful table with a view out over the beautiful Poole harbour. In fact, it was probably the second best table in the whole restaurant – the nicest being taken by a family of four who all ordered battered fish and chips. Utter sacrilege.
Ordering a glass of New Zealand wine (Rick Stein personally approved obviously – that man knows how to thoroughly test a wine menu) I sat back and simply relaxed.
Unfortunately, I’d hung up my camera with my overnight bag in reception, so these are all phone photos – but I didn’t want to spend all of my time composing shots – interrupting my seafood feast. First up: freshly baked bread, warmed from the oven and full of treacle richness contrasting with the rock salt studded butter.
My feast began simply, and gorgeously: unadulterated oysters. Porthilly Pacific oysters from Rock in Cornwall, and Brownsea Island oysters locally farmed – served in the half shell with a classic Mignonette (a sherry vinegar and finely chopped shallot) accompaniment that had me closing my eyes in pleasure. Oysters are very much a vegemite dish, but I love their taste of the ocean.
Torn by indecisions, my main was a fillet of Hake en Papilotte with fennel, tomatoes and salpicon dressing. Cooked in a paper parcel to enhance the flavour, the dish is served very theatrically at the table alongside a tarragon and parsley mayonnaise that rounded out the bouquet of flavours beautifully.
Finishing my indulgent lunch with a few spoonfuls of apple tarte tatin, topped with a lovely vanilla ice cream scoop, I was more than ready for a stroll along the harbour side, and then a nap.
It was so far away after all.
In case you’ve lived under a rock (or in a rock pool to keep it nautical) Rick Stein CBE is an English chef, restaurateur, cookery book author and television presenter. He’s written over 20 cooking books, an autobiography and made over 30 cooking programmes. He has also cooked for The Queen and Prince Philip, Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and French President, Jacques Chirac.
And now his team have cooked for a very satiated Kiwi.
I loved the plush, yet beautifully comfortable restaurant – very much in the style that Rick Stein presents, and how one would feel as a guest in his home.
Just don’t do what I did, and accidentally book your table in Padstow… (luckily I realised quickly after receiving the confirmation email, and the central reservations team couldn’t have been nicer!)