If I had a beach hut I would paint it yellow. Somewhere between canary and primrose, cheerful, bright and full of promise. I would put it facing the sea, surrounded by heather, long grass and all sorts of sea vegetables. It would have a lovely little hob and lots of gorgeous pots and pans hanging from nails on the wall. There would be lots of enamel dishes. I might whistle as I walked there. If I could whistle. (I never could and I spent most of my childhood trying.)
The secret to living in London well is not encoded in the size of your pay packet or the size of your flat. It is in knowing when you need to get out and take a breath, so that you can rush back to go through it all again. I love London, deeply, but I love the sea also. I grew up by the ocean and I miss the clear salt air, the familiar smells, the sounds of the crashing waves, the slippery seaweed, creeping crabs and barnacles, hostile and pointing and telling you what is what.
I know that I am one of those Londoners guilty of not exploring the countryside surrounding. It could be that I don’t have a car, nor do I drive anyway, but that is a poor excuse with the extensive train network that we have here. Life is busy and I am often elsewhere. Last year I decided that I would dedicate more time to exploring the countryside around me, the nearby cities, towns and villages. I made little inroads and so I raised the task this year again.
Bournemouth is only 2 hours from Waterloo on the train. It has a mixed reputation. Some describe it as God’s Waiting Room, others simply describe it as dull. I went along with this for a while until friends told me that this was nonsense, with recent years seeing an influx of interesting places to eat and drink there. And then there is that big long beach and glorious fresh sea air.
Sold! I booked my train ticket and off I went. Being an excessive planner I researched painfully as I always do, and booked anywhere I needed to before I left, leaving enough time to idle or wander, an essential component of any weekend trip.
I stayed at the Hilton in Bournemouth, freshly pressed (not yet a year old) and well located just 5 minutes from the beach. Everywhere you turn you are greeted by a cheerful windmill pattern, on the walls, on the blankets, on the wallpaper, there are even some windmills in your room for you to play with. It is not overdone, though it may sound like it. It is all soothing and lovely. The bed is very comfortable and the sheets are crisp.
We had Executive Lounge access along with an Executive Room, which meant we could goto the lounge for snack and drinks throughout the day (including alcoholic drinks from 6-8pm). We started here before heading briefly to check out the view from The Sky Bar which has a bright white balcony stretching the length of it. From there we went to the restaurant downstairs, Schpoons & Forx, for dinner.
A little about the name, for I thought the same as you are now. WHAT? It is quite sweet really, the restaurant is names after Bertram Bell, a master cutler from the area in times past, who had a speech impediment, and was chosen to speak at the The Cutler’s Feast in 1733. He was nervous, but the audience embraced it, and so the term Schpoons & Forx was coined. Matt Tebutt is at the helm here, behind the stove but also behind the tandoor. They are doing very good things.
Hotel restaurants fail when they try to be all things to all people. A restaurant that knows its mind has a much stronger chance of success. That is the case here, the menu is divided between dishes for the table (snacks, really); starters; tandoor, clay oven and chargrill and sides. Desserts follow on their own page later. The sea has a strong presence, we order some fried cockles which were divine, I was so tempted to order a second portion (and I did when I returned the next day, I ordered 2!). Crisp and light with hardly a trace of grease, we had them with the buttery large nocellara olives and some smoked aubergine with flatbread.
For starters, I had the monkfish “scampi”, firm fresh nuggets of monkfish in a light batter, with some gorgeous fried slices of lemon. A fragrant aioli came on the side. My friend had a small portion of mussels, that came in a fragrant fresh bath of riesling, ginger, coriander and lime leaves. For mains we both had the 400g tandoor rib steak, served sliced in tarragon shallot and port butter with watercress and a sturdy pot duck fat chips. The steak was gorgeous, the tandoor delivering an intense crust, but it was tender and rare inside (as I had ordered it). The port butter added a layer of indulgence. I will by trying that at home in BBQ season (of course, now I want a tandoor!).
Lemon posset was large and tart, with raspberries on top. I was full but it served well to cut through everything that I had eaten before. I battled a little but I couldn’t manage a lot. To drink we had the Portillo Malbec from Salentein, a wine that I have not had since I visited Salentein in Argentina in 2011. Seek it out, it is very good, and well priced.
We were woken early by breakfast in bed (which I had ordered the night before). Poached eggs, sausages and hash browns. No bacon, as I have eaten SO much of it recently in the final (final!) round of Project Bacon testing. Then to the beach to hire some bicycles, we had a plan for lunch booked before we had ever boarded the train from London.
We cycled along the beach, hugged by beach huts on one side in varying degrees of gorgeousness. Some bright and cheerful, others concrete with pale enquiring faces made of windows. We boarded the ferry at the Sandbanks crossing, and 2 minutes later continued our journey through the National Nature Reserve that is Studland and Godlington Heath. Furze bushes, soggy marsh, proud rushes. One cow grazing announced by numerous signs.
After an 8 mile cycle in total, we arrived at the Pig on the Beach, a hotel and restaurant set in a rambling old house with a kitchen garden and garden wood oven. Deck chairs and tables are dotted throughout the garden, overlooking the white cliffs and the sea nearby. The day was absolutely gorgeous, so bright, so blue. We sat at a table outside on the terrace for our Sunday lunch.
The kitchen garden provides much of the vegetables and salad, the pigs nearby the meat and there are chickens also. Everything that isn’t sourced in house is sourced from within 25 miles. I can never resist crackling, even if I am going to order a pork roast for main course, and so we had that to start with apple sauce. Also house fish fingers which were pleasant, although I would have preferred them with a mayo based sauce.
The pork loin came in slices, which were nice and moist, the yorkshire was large and proud and the potatoes crisp from their roast in beef fat. Mustard sauce came in place of gravy, which worked quite well. House ice cream came for dessert, in 3 flavours (chocolate, mint & thyme) with a pig shaped cracker. We had some lovely Cote du Rhones white throughout. Service was charming and the day cheerful, we didn’t want to leave but we had to get back on our bikes.
We finished our short trip with drinks at The Library, above the Larderhouse in Southbourne. The Library is the last thing that you would expect in Bournemouth if you listened to those that rehash its old reputation. The Library, complete with taxidermy and quirk wouldn’t be amiss in London. Perhaps that shows the sometimes small mind of the Londoner, there IS life outside the capital after all (I jest but you know what I am saying). The menu is delivered in a bronze tube and is written over a map. We opt for the Peruvian and the Madagascan, both so lovely we immediately order 2 more, the Haiti and the New York. Salvatore was manning the bar, with white jacket and bow tie. I dragged myself from the table to get my train. And I had a couple of portions of fried cockles back at the Hilton when I collected my bag.
A lovely 28 hours, it felt longer, and just 2 hours from London! Gorgeous.
What You Need to Know
With thanks to the Hilton Bournemouth who hosted us for dinner and our room. We spent £90 on lunch at the Pig on the Beach with drinks and service. Cocktails at The Library were £10-12. We hired bicycles for £16 each from Front Bike Hire on the beach, and I paid £2 extra for a basket. Our train fare paid in advance was £56 return each.
Eating and Drinking Map of Bournemouth (for a weekend break)