Lifelong food and drink enthusiast, Penny Hopkins, blends a background in hospitality with keen journalistic skills, travelling far and wide in search of a tasty bite - by boat, foot and bike.
With the summer season now upon us it is time to get the sand between your toes and enjoy some very British seaside fun in beautiful Dorset.
We borrowed the old Windy and headed to Mudeford Quay, at the entrance to Christchurch Harbour, where you can moor off the beach or tackle the Race and head into the harbour. It has a max draft of 3.5”, so it is worth doing a little research before hand.
Christchurch Harbour was formed at the end of the Ice Age, some 7,000 years ago, when sea levels rose. Wonderful natural beauties were created in the process.
There was a piece published a few weeks ago titled ‘Des res by the sea, no facilities, a bargain at £240k’. It was referring to this magical, money earning spit of sand that has the most glorious stretch of beautifully coloured beach huts, providing real family fun through our long British summer season.
Being mid-week we tied up on the pontoon at Mayor’s Mead, on the Stour, enabling us to get the bikes and find the lovely path out to Hengistbury Head starting on Wick Lane.
We chose The Jetty, right on the harbour in the grounds of the Christchurch Harbour Hotel. Chef Alex Aitken has worked his magic around this area for many years, via le Poussin and Limewood before settling in Christchurch where he runs three restaurants. Move over Padstein we have Mudken now.
The Jetty is a stunning, contemporary timber and glass building, set on the water’s edge. The cloud pruned trees on the terrace add a Riviera feel, helped along by an azure sky with high cloud mottling – beautiful. All diners get a view of the harbour, which is interesting at whatever state of the tide. We watched Highcliffe Sailing Club battle it out against Mudeford SC in their Wednesday evening dinghy race.
We chose the Colombard, a perfect light white to go with our selection of fish. The Jetty’s Villa Saint Michel is a quality example and I can also recommend the Picpoul, though more expensive.
It may be old fashioned but they still do les amuse bouche here, and I have to say it always makes me smile. This time it was a selection of tender warm octopus in a chilli sauce, a dinky seafood scotch egg and some ‘sweet as a nut’ tiny brown shrimp.
Alex believes in local and makes the most of Dorset produce. Starters were bouillabaisse for me (as I can never resist the rouille, spread on bread and parmesan mallarky floater) and the infamous Alex twice cooked cheese soufflé, with crunchy, caramalised edges and gooey, eggy joy in the middle – superb.
The bream on crushed new potatoes was just as it should be; the sustainable fish flaking easily on the fork and the buttery spuds tasting like the first Jersey Royals used to. It has something to do with seaweed I’m told, or rather the lack of it being spread on the land.
And the Weymouth scallops were a delight. Firm, sweet, with a smoked cauliflower puree, apple sauce blobs and cubes of divine pork belly. We could not manage a pudding so went for a walk around the deck before the light went.
The hike or bike
Our old friend Nat Cycle Route 2 takes you out of Christchurch to the sea, Hengistbury Head or to the beach huts at Mudeford and the convivial Beach House Café. The cycle is a doddle along good, level tarmac, enjoying wonderful views and avoiding pedestrians.
If walking the 2 or more miles you can easily catch the train back to Christchurch.
The nature reserve centre at Hengistbury Head is worth a stop off, if only to admire the beautiful carved gates by sculpture Tom Harvey.
Best of the rest
Fish & chips – Alexander’s along the main Mudeford Road, past the Nelson pub and before Stanpit. Great reliable fish and chips and worth the queue. Take them along to the quay and watch the sun go down with salty fingers.
The Beach House – over the water via the ferry. It is a casual café with friendly young staff, great for a coffee break or crab cakes and a glass of rose.
Hops tops – the mussels and salmon niciose. Maybe pricey for the actual quality when compared to other eateries around but for setting and logistics – most of their produce comes over via ferry – just enjoy the moment.
The King’s Arms – walking into Christchurch from Mudeford this pub is on the right just past the bridge. Again run by Alex Aitken who has created a buzzing bar with DJs on Friday and Saturday nights.
Hops Tops – the 15 mile menu is £15 for 2 courses and a ‘Once Upon a Cosmo’ to start.
The Captain’s Table – an attractive minimalist white sugar cube of a building on the river’s edge as you head up the Stour. A great spot for early drinks or cocktails on the terrace but I have not eaten here recently – send your thoughts in if you have please.
Need to know
The Jetty: 01202 400950 / firstname.lastname@example.org