The Seaside Boarding House, Cliff Rd, Burton Bradstock, Bridport DT6 4RB
The Seaside Boarding House: How missing-out on Bristol's Wallfish Bistro had me searching out the owner in a new kitchen
Christopher Hitchens once said that as an atheist, his children were his only chance at ‘even a glimpse of an afterlife’ and, given that I managed to absolutely sleep on the brilliance that was Wallfish Bistro, I too was given a second chance of experiencing its reincarnation.
The Seaside Boarding House is where you can find the previous owners of the erstwhile restaurant, Seldon and Liberty- the menu and even plating still reminiscent of all I'd heard and seen of this place. Whose calamari with chili and fennel saw the likes of Jay Rayner jellied at the knees. As if to seem like ghosts themselves, the power couple were conspicuously absent but it was Liberty’s birthday, so I’ll more or less pack in my righteous indignation now.
Eating in hotels is an odd thing; strenuously contrived to give a sense of a home you’d never choose, complete with a ‘library room’ there’s an air of Cluedo about such places and even sometimes an air of The Shining at the bar in the small hours. Entering the dining room of SBH it’s packed with Old Money, pushing their visibly excellent fish and chips about, as if to be too accustomed to the ritual whilst putting bottle after dewey bottle of white wine that no doubt resides somewhere towards the very bottom of the wine list. We are on the Jurassic Coast, after all, so fossils are par for the course.
In a part of the world that screams ‘FISH’ from Britain's tattered soapbox, you’d better believe I went for their biltong. Not over-cured and allowing for a viscerally rewarding affair, these little slablettes fade from mahogany into a rosy centre and are the sort of curveball I personally welcome on a menu.
The oysters come bursting with salinity- a little chewable rockpool with a shallot vinaigrette that, unlike so many before it, is non-abrasive and cuts through the salt without stamping all over it with acerbic Doc Martins. The crab scotch egg is another giggle that’s impulsively ordered because, despite seeming simple, there are a few key things that go on to make or break such a thing. It may ostensibly be about the frying temperature but this has a ripple effect to everything else, namely the yolk which, in this case, is deeply glowing, sticky and adorned with seaweed powder and smoked oil. The watercress puree and light pickles underscore the salt and smoke that culminate in another fine example of considered cooking.
A twice-baked Dorset cheddar souffle jiggles its way to the table, sitting pertly amongst a slow-bubbling dish of cheese. Although listed with ice cider, that doesn’t seem to play a massive part here but, it’s honestly not missed- it’s a spoonable cloud that dissipates to caramelised cheddar that somehow intensifies with every moment it slips into the ether.
Whether it is a little in-joke to the price of such a fish, the tranche of turbot with cimi de rapa and shrimp butter was not something I was going to pass up. Roasted on the bone, every fibre of my being wants to eat it with my hands but instead dissect it with that satisfaction that only meaty fish allows. With a few incisions and twists of the knife, the entire spine and ribs come away without effort- leaving pearly and butter-sodden glory. Wreathed in cimi de rapa (‘turnip tops’ or broccoli rabe) it offers bitter and forgivingly fibrous support to what is really an ode to butter’s role with quality fish.
Having acknowledged a fatal error, we order the chips and bread and butter. The former appears double cooked- richly golden and sparkling with iodised salt. The bread is warm, billowy and tears like an elasticated sponge, contained by a tectonic plate of crust.
Naturally, an ad-hoc chip butty ensued. Eat like nobody's watching, as nobody says.
Having seen this hulking rack of lamb on the way through to our table, I was again left with little recourse. Deeply honeyed with a render that only love and care can produce and sliced into blushing quotation marks around a faggot that is so thoroughly glazed, it reminds me of how Nigella once described a quality of treacle as ‘sombre majesty’. Moist but without compromising its integrity as a whole, it’s a gamey reprieve to the honeysuckle sugars of the fat.
Boasting what are by now, unsurprisingly impressive desserts of Honey and nut tart with clementine ice cream or Valrhona chocolate mousse with tea-soaked prunes and a sesame biscuit, you can bet your bottom dollar I went straight for the vanilla ice cream with warm salted caramel. This, in hindsight and to the dismay of the man to whom I owe this entire experience, is still a move I stand by.
Sometimes we have to give in to the inner child tugging at your leg for fear of a total meltdown in front of a group of strangers just trying to have a nice lunch. With added chocolate ice cream that has me flipping Chris off because it’s walking the line between the intense bitterness of cocoa with all the soothing qualities of sweetened cream, now bolstered to the friend of all that is edible- salt. The warmth of the caramel sauce echoed the hot fudge sundaes I loved as a kid and continue to adore as an adult. Plus I’m on holiday so whatever.
Having moved heaven and earth to get myself and My Editor a table, and with the Power Couple™ still eluding me with good reason, Wallfish still lives. And there is time yet, friends.