Spankingly fresh seafood graces a menu of local Dorset produce in a hotel that recalls the nostalgic notion of a great British seaside holiday. Fiona Sims pays a visit.
You can see from the Isle of Portland to Devon from your table on the terrace of the Seaside Boarding House. Perched on a cliff overlooking Chesil Beach in the well-heeled town of Burton Bradstock, the hotel aims to evoke memories of seaside holidays from years gone by, declares co-owner Mary-Lou Sturridge, who opened the hotel in 2015 with business partner Tony Mackintosh, with whom she created London's legendary Groucho Club.
"We do seasonal hotels rather badly in this country. Very few are affordable with great service and comfort and we wanted to change that," says Sturridge. It was quite a journey to find and transform the 1885-built former tired B&B to its current chic, retro-inspired state. Its nine restful bedrooms eschew nautical seaside clichés (and TVs) in favour of carefully sourced vintage furniture, but it's the 60-seat restaurant and bar and 40-seat terrace that is the heart and soul of the place, she agrees.
The menu was initially devised by the great Alastair Little and that mantle has been passed to head chef Seldon Curry, who worked with Mark Hix for a few years before opening his own place. Bristolians are doubtless missing Curry, who for six years cooked up a storm at popular Clifton bistro Wallfish, but landlord issues and a long-held calling to live and work by the sea prompted Curry to join his wife, Liberty, at her place of work at this clifftop hotel.
"It just all felt so fortuitous. The way the menu was written, the quality of ingredients, and the simple styling of the plates were all so familiar to me," says Curry. The chef actually started cooking here nearly 18 months ago, but with three lockdowns, it's only now he feels like he is getting into his stride.
The way the menu was written, the quality of ingredients, and the simple styling of the plates were all so familiar to me
Local produce is key for Curry. Some of the names at the top of his list include Washingpool and Tamarisk Farms, and an exciting new find in Haye Farm's pork sausages. "It's rare to get so excited about a banger," he laughs. Much of the seafood, which dominates the menu, comes from Portland Shellfish and from the boats at nearby West Bay, with oysters from Weymouth's Crab House Café.
Curry gets through a lot of oysters, which sell for £3 each, and are included in an oyster po'boy, served with a seaweed and chilli mayonnaise at £10. He sells a lot of lobsters, too – Dorset Blues, which he believes are the best in the country. "They have a tighter texture – it's the slightly colder water you get here," he explains. And they are flying off the menu with sea beet and a seaweed and hazelnut butter (£49). "Seaweed is great with seafood – I try and sneak it in as much as possible," he says.
He also regularly serves spider crab, which aren't often seen on British menus, nor at the fishmonger for that matter – as a main course, baked in the shell with a slug of sherry vinegar, garlic, ginger, shallots, cayenne and a cheesy breadcrumb topping, with pickled fennel (£24) "It takes a while to get the meat out, but that's the upside of having two days off work every week – I'll spend an afternoon picking spider crab. I love doing that," he shrugs.
But even with the breathtaking views of the sea, meat still sells well and Curry includes three main meat dishes on the menu in addition to the pig's head terrine on the starters. Most popular is the chicken and wild garlic Kiev with a parsley, pickled walnut and shallot salad (£18), while the rack of lamb with anchovy sauce and potato cake (£25) has plenty of takers. The White Park mince on toast with horseradish cream and watercress (£15) has also proved popular. "White Park is the best beef. We mince it ourselves and made a ragù with stock and brandy then serve it on grilled sourdough cooked in dripping."
Puddings tick the comfort food boxes, from the treacle and nut tart with clementine ice-cream (£7.50) to Valrhona chocolate mousse, cherries and sesame biscuit (£8.50). A permanent fixture – thanks to Little – is vanilla ice-cream with sea salt caramel sauce (£6). "Too many people ask for that – along with the twice-baked Dorset Cheddar souffle," says Curry.
Average spend on food is £45 per head and the restaurant clocks up around 120 covers per day. And yes, the Groucho connection does pull in a lot of that crowd, along with many Londoners who have decamped here permanently, but plenty of tourists drop by too. Thankfully, it's a club we can all join now.
Cliff Road, Burton Bradstock, Dorset DT6 4RB
From the menu
- Monkfish pastrami, sweet mustard and rémoulade £10
- Grilled asparagus, cured egg yolk, Montgomery and nut pesto £12.50
- Mackerel, oyster, kohlrabi and peas £10
- Fritto misto £10
- Pig's head terrine, rhubarb, bacon and bitter leaves £9
- Baked spider crab, pickled fennel and toast £24
- Braised courgette, butterbeans, labneh, charred mushrooms and mint £18
- Turbot roasted on the bone, apple, clams, mussels and monk's beard £28
- Burnt Basque cheesecake, rhubarb £7
- Treacle tart, grapefruit sorbet £7.50
Photography: Ed Schofield
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