A table with a view – Rick Stein, Sandbanks
by Janine Pulford
With a table for two reserved, Ben and I arrived in anticipation, not having eaten at a Rick Stein restaurant before.
Great first impressions were made by the welcoming staff and a rather spectacular fish mosaic on the floor at the entrance.
Arriving at our table, the night vista of Poole Harbour, with twinkling lights and reflections on the water, stretched before us. The open plan design of the restaurant allows diners on the upper deck to benefit from the far-reaching views, which manager Neil Lewis explained are stunning by day.
Neil has been manager of the restaurant since it opened last November and his success was evident on the Monday we visited with over 100 people dining when we arrived.
The menu was presented by Cardi, our waitress for the evening and while deliberating, a couple of bar snacks arrived – cod fritters on tartar sauce with sourdough and walnut breads and Spanish extra virgin pepe olive oil. A dish of olive oil didn’t look appealing, but once the bread was dipped, the marrying of flavours made it clear why these were served together.
For drinks we ordered a Flack Manor, Hedge Hop ale with a spicy hit for Ben and a glass of Gewurztraminer Reserva 2015 from Chile for me. Described as having aromas of rose petals and lychees, I savoured the crisp light flavour, which was beautifully sweet. A wine like this is hard to find in any restaurant.
Though I realise Rick Stein is famed for his fish and I make a point of watching his programmes on TV as he travels around the world, I was drawn to the Pau Bhaji as my starter. The chopped vegetable curry served with green chilli chutney and chargrilled sourdough was heavenly. The bhaji had a lemony zing and my mouth popped with flavours as the intense warmth resonated with notes of tomato, onion, mash, mushy peas and cumin seed. The smooth texture paired well with the soft crunch of the sourdough.
Ben’s choice of Mackerel Escabeche with chilli, garlic and orange was equally enjoyed, “It’s pretty damn good and melts in the mouth,” he said clearing the plate.
Presentation was delightful and portions generous
My main was Sea Bream Alla Carlina, a Venetian recipe of pan-fried bream fillet with sauce of tomatoes and capers, served with new potatoes and hispi cabbage. Call me a heathen, but I wanted butter on my potatoes, yet I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to offend the chef. And true to a well-thought-out dish, the hispi cabbage did the trick. It balanced the flavours, adding that element of je ne sais quoi to the dish. I love capers and had a job finding them because they were so tiny. Not a complaint, but rather a revelation that you can buy capers that small.
Whereas many would eat the fish skin, I took it off and ate only the dazzling white fillets that were perfectly cooked.
Ben had no option but to order Red Braised Pork Belly. He’d watched with relish when Rick Stein was shown how to prepare this melt in the mouth dish in Shanghai by Anthony Zhao on TV.
For Ben, it was the must-have on the menu. Served with rice and bok choi, he was in his element as he savoured every morsel, including the rich soy sauce. It surpassed his expectations.
The star of the evening for me was the side-dish of Tempura Courgette Flowers with chilli dipping sauce. Whoever first created this dish was a genius and the three large flowers set before us at Rick Stein’s were divine. They were light, crispy and a perfect addition to both our meals.
For dessert, I chose the lemon posset with crumble and summer berry compote. The fruit balanced sourness with sweetness and the crunchiness of the crumble combined delectably with the creaminess of the posset. Micro coriander leaves added an additional dimension.
But I can’t deny that Ben’s bitter chocolate custard with honeycomb mousse pressed the envy button. I had to taste. It popped with rich dark chocolate pieces, was so light to eat and the crumb of honeycomb added texture and a saltiness too. It was absolutely delicious and left my posset in its shadow.
The couple next to us who had travelled all the way from Hastings to enjoy the restaurant at Sandbanks whilst on holiday said they could not fault their meal, and we felt exactly the same. Their only observation was that they felt the restaurant gave the impression of being part of a chain. As this is Rick Stein’s third restaurant with the others being in Padstow and Winchester, it seemed a fair comment, but I did wonder if during the day, the spectacular view would take you firmly away from that notion, especially with the doors wide open and a soporific sea breeze bringing a pleasant salty tang with it.
As well as evening meals in the restaurant or bar area at Rick Stein, there is a children’s menu and thoughtfully priced set lunches.
The staff were extremely attentive, well-versed on all the dishes, had met Rick Stein and were happy to answer any questions, so we had a lovely evening all round.
Neil told me that at the weekend, the restaurant can turn around 500 covers at lunchtime and if you sit in the bar area for your lunch, your dog is welcome too.
We would recommend Rick Stein, Sandbanks as a very special place to eat for a special occasion, or for best value, call in for a three course lunch between 12pm-3pm Monday to Friday for £25.