Eating out with Bertie
Patrick’s Restaurant 1 Bournemouth Road Lower Parkstone Poole BH14 0EG 01202 734000
Published in December ’08
Once again Freddie and Mrs Freddie have strayed beyond the confines of our beloved county, and once again the Berties have stepped bravely into the breach. Nervously venturing from the peace of rural Dorset into the metropolis of Poole in search of Patrick’s Restaurant, we were comforted to see what looked like a village green close by. It turned out to be Parkstone Park and is indeed known as ‘the village green’ by local residents.
Our next surprise was that that the restaurant didn’t look like a restaurant. Mrs Bertie was convinced that it had been a post office – eminently possible since, horresco referens, so many of them have been closed down recently – but in fact it used to be a bank. This explains the impressive, high-ceilinged entrance hall, which has been converted into a very stylish bar. It is dominated by a spectacular bronze chandelier (although John Betjeman would have insisted on our calling it an ‘electrolier’) made especially for this spot; we later discovered that its dimensions had to be calculated so that it would fit through the front door. Eye-catching, thought-provoking and original, it was certainly unlike anything we country folk had ever seen.
We were put at our ease by Patrick, the eponymous owner, an engaging young man of relaxed demeanour. After many years of working on cruise ships as a caterer, he decided to put down his roots on land and opened this restaurant two and a half years ago. He teamed up with chef Chris Howard and, in an inspired stroke, asked him to design his own kitchen. It is no surprise that Chris is still the chef and that he and Patrick have an excellent working relationship, something which one gathers is by no means the norm in catering circles.
The dining area is beyond the bar, in what must once have been the office section of the bank. The ceilings are lower, giving diners a degree of privacy and intimacy; the décor is modern but not uncompromisingly so, although the art on the walls was definitely non-representational. We sat in great comfort in semi-circular bench seats, with a sense of space which remains even when the restaurant is at its busiest.
Patrick himself brought us the menu. He told us that ‘front of house’ is his territory and that he stays well out of Chris’s kitchen – which probably accounts for the aforementioned excellence of their working relationship. (Likewise, I tend to absent myself from Mrs Bertie’s kitchen, although this is due to simple lack of talent.) The menu is not vast – always a good sign: how wise to do a few things well rather than many things moderately – but satisfyingly varied. To start, Mrs Bertie chose buttered asparagus with Parmesan and balsamic. Asparagus is her favourite vegetable and she has long experience of growing it and cooking it, so for her to exclaim, ‘This is cooked to perfection!’ was high praise indeed. Hearing this, I stealthily purloined a spear from her plate, so I am able to vouch for the accuracy of her claim. My own starter was tempura tiger prawns with a sweet chilli sauce. Mrs Bertie warned me that tempura and prawns is a terrifyingly difficult combination to control; an attempted witticism about my ability to control my tempura met with a steely glare. She needn’t have worried, though, as the prawns were exactly the right texture and taste, and the tempura didn’t dominate. I was understandably distraught when she purloined, with no attempt at stealth, one of my prawns.
Mrs Bertie went Eastern for her main course, choosing a Thai vegetable curry. This was a compliment in itself, as she is a dab hand at making curries and will only have one when eating out if she is absolutely certain that it is going to be good. She was not disappointed: she declared the flavours to be as subtle as could be, particularly praising the use of cardamom. I chose the pan-fried bream in gremalata with olive tapenade, partly because bream is such an unusual fish to find on a menu and partly because I wanted to find out what ‘gremalata’ was. An excellent choice: the bream was most wonderfully fish-y without being overpowering, and the gremalata was a delicate crusting which did not impair the taste at all. The olive tapenade gave the whole dish an unexpectedly exotic flavour.
After her curry, Mrs Bertie fancied something cool and so went for an iced orange and lime curd semi freddo with biscotti. She enjoyed this so much that she actually offered me a spoonful and I, not an ice-cream lover, had to admit that it was delicious. ‘That’s because it’s not ice cream,’ she explained. My choice was a raspberry crème brûlée; I can only say that if I had had room, I would have had another one. ‘You know a restaurant’s first-class when the desserts are as good as this,’ said Mrs B.
The wine list is not extensive, but Mrs Bertie and I prefer not to have to spend a quarter of an hour wading through a large book. All the wines were high quality and we opted for a Thelema Rhine Riesling from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, which went well with both fish and curry.
Given the current financial climate, it is far from unlikely that a few more banks will close down. If they are turned into restaurants even a tenth as good as Patrick’s, this will be one of the greatest benefits of the recession.