Eating out with Freddie
Shell Bay Seafood Restaurant Ferry Road Studland Swanage BH19 3BA 01929 450363
Published in May ’07
Regular readers of this page may have noticed that I am rather ambivalent about fish. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I sometimes feel not quite satisfied by a fish main course. So setting out for Shell Bay, which specialises in seafood, I have to say that I was looking forward to the evening more for the setting than for the food. The setting was as lovely as ever – perched at the Shell Bay end of the ferry, with the lights of Sandbanks, Brownsea Island and Poole Harbour twinkling through the gloaming – but a bonus was that the food came close to making me a permanent convert to fish.
Our impression is that the menu has been slightly slimmed down since our last visit, but there are still five starters and five mains, three of each being fish. Mrs Freddie was distracted while examining the menu by the cars going, as she put it ‘bonkety-bonk’ on and off the ferry. An equal distraction was the fresh-baked bread with olives and flavoured oils. The inside of the bread was just the right consistency to soak up the delicious oils, while the crust was as crisp as one could wish. It makes the best possible first impression.
Mrs Freddie eventually opted for mussels steamed in Bombardier ale with pancetta and finished with cream. She couldn’t remember having had pancetta or even bacon with mussels before but reported that it went well, while the sauce was very smooth and rich. My choice of prawns and crayfish tails with chilli lime yogurt sounds a little like boring old prawn cocktail but forget that – this was anything but boring. For one thing, the fish itself was succulent and moist, unlike many places where prawns are so dry that not even lashings of pink dressing can conceal it. There was no pink dressing in sight here – thank goodness, because the yogurt was beautifully sharp. The whole thing came in a spring roll basket which took the richness off. I actually found myself saying to Mrs Freddie that I couldn’t remember when I last enjoyed a starter so much.
After such a filling starter, Mrs Freddie may not have made the wisest choice for main course: linguini pasta with crab, chilli, coriander and lime. The chilli was strong – ‘My goodness, that’s not for the faint-hearted’ was her reaction – perhaps too strong as it tended to mask the delicate taste of the crab. Even though she was filling up fast, she reported that the pasta was perfectly cooked.
I was almost as enthusiastic about my main course as about my starter. It teamed pan-seared salmon with grilled scallops and it wasn’t just the complementary tastes that I liked but the way in which the flakiness of the salmon contrasted with the succulent texture of the scallops. The whole thing was set on a bed of creamed leeks with a wine and cream sauce and made me wonder why I had ever had even the slightest prejudice against fish – or leeks. Both main courses were beautifully presented, too.
Mrs Freddie chose the lightest of the four puddings, a blueberry and lemon posset which was refreshing and not unlike a syllabub. I enjoyed an excellent banana, toffee and raspberry ice cream in which the raspberry dominated, with a hint of banana; my palette was not sensitive enough to detect the toffee.
My memory may be wrong but I believe that when Shell Bay opened, there were as many reds on the wine list as whites: unusual for a seafood restaurant. Now the whites predominate and a most interesting selection they are. We drank a 2002 Chassagne Montrachet and found it both fruity and velvety at the same time: well worth its place towards the upper end of the wine list’s price range.
One of the nicest things about Shell Bay has always been its atmosphere. It sounds like a contradiction but this is actually created by the very plain décor: unclothed tables, a tiled floor and beamed ceiling. The lighting is, to put it one way, restful. To put it another, it is so dim that I was glad that I didn’t have to search my fish for bones.
For three courses without drinks, expect a bill in the region of £23 a head. And if you go with reservations about fish, be prepared for an experience which will change your mind.