Eating out with Freddie
Published in March ’07
8 Bouremouth Road
The wider the choice of establishments for those of us who like to eat out, the better. In Dorset we are pretty well served: at one end of the range there is the ‘fine dining’ of somewhere like Summer Lodge or Hemmersys, and at the other a selection of village pubs. The middle ground is not so easy, and you have to look hard to find somewhere which is not madly posh but where the highest standards of cooking, presentation and service are maintained within a sensible price-bracket. Mrs Freddie and I reckon that we have found such a place in No. 8.
The secret, we decided, is self-confidence. No. 8 knows what it is trying to do and doesn’t get ideas above (or below) its station. It is comfortable, well decorated and full of imaginative touches but it is not pretentious and the atmosphere is delightfully informal. This is partly because there is a wine bar on the ground floor; you can take your pre-meal drinks there or upstairs, in an ante-room to the rather more luxurious dining room.
The self-confidence comes in keeping the balance. Informality is not an excuse for letting standards slip, and No. 8 does not fall into that trap. The service we received was super-efficient as well as super-friendly. The manager, Roger, and one assistant were looking after both the wine bar and the dining room: they were both rake-thin, which was not surprising in view of the number of times they had to run up and down stairs. The food itself was generally good, with one or two outstanding features.
The menu has at least ten each of starters and main courses, as well as a specials board. Fish figures strongly, and Mrs Freddie had some excellent home-cured salmon. We agreed that modern salmon generally does not have the flavour that it used to have, but this was as good as any we had had for a long time. My starter of a bacon, mushroom and cheese tart was ordinary, but it came on a bed of salad with pesto which was exceptionally good.
Mrs Freddie continued the fish theme with monkfish skewered with prawns and scallops. She particularly appreciated the accompanying rice which, she reported, was just the right level of chewiness, with each grain separate. I had chosen Thai spiced salmon fishcakes with French fried potatoes; Mrs Freddie took me to task for going to eat out and then having fish and chips! But the fishcakes were excellent and spicy, calling for draughts of the South African Riebeekberg Chenin Blanc which we were drinking. We had selected it from a wine list which is more than ample, even if it contains no great surprises. Most of the wines on it come from France or Australia, with a few from South Africa and South America. The French fries weren’t quite up to the standard of the fishcakes – the humble chip may be ubiquitous, but so few people can cook it really well.
We enjoyed the typically imaginative touch of a child’s seaside bucket provided for the debris of Mrs Freddie’s prawns, and while waiting for our puddings we drew on the paper cover of the linen tablecloth, using the chalks which are provided on each table for just that purpose. As far as I know, this alone makes No. 8 unique in Dorset.
Crepes abound on the pudding menu, so I was surprised that the one I had ordered with oranges in cointreau and home-made ice cream verged on the stodgy. However, the oranges and the ice-cream were beyond reproach, and in any case I was distracted by Mrs Freddie’s delight at her white chocolate mousse with bitter chocolate sauce. She had felt rather full after her main course but thought she had better have a pudding (how we suffer for Dorset Life) and was delighted to find how light the mousse was and how delicious the sauce.
No. 8 is deservedly popular, which itself helps to create its happy atmosphere – the two things feed off each other. If it is important for you always to eat outstanding cuisine in the plushest surroundings, with thick linen napkins, speaking in hushed tones and never acknowledging the existence of neighbouring tables, then it may not be quite for you. But for an evening of good food, good company and sensible prices – you could easily have three good courses each and a bottle of wine and come out at under £25 a head – then you could go a lot further and do a lot worse than No. 8.