Best restaurants in Dorset: where to eat, drink and stay

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Best restaurants in Dorset
Best ice cream in Dorset
Foodie neighbourhood spotlight: Lyme Regis
Where to stay in Dorset


Best restaurants in Dorset

Brassica, Beaminster

Run by a culinary dream team of chef Cass Titcombe (ex-Daphne’s and Canteen) and interiors guru Louise Chidgey (ex-Conran Shop), Brassica in Beaminster is the classy but unassuming provincial restaurant you always hope to find but rarely do. Luckily for anyone visiting Beaminster they’ve succeeded. The restaurant’s cheerful dining room (exposed stone and brick, sheepskin, floral fabrics, rainbows of candles in antique holders and bright little posies of fresh flowers on each table) works just as well for a casual lunch as it does a romantic supper. As for the menu, it changes daily and is reassuringly short, with a smattering of seasonal drinks (a chilled glass of Manzanilla, perhaps, or an alcohol-free spiced quince soda) and snacks (fluffy focaccia with aioli, antipasti) to start, a few seasonal sides and a choice of five starters, five mains and five desserts. All of which can be ordered separately except on Sundays (when there’s a Sunday lunch menu) or ordered as part of a great value prix fixe menu on Wednesday to Saturday lunchtimes. Keep an eye out too for occasional evening events (foodie film nights, paella suppers, street food takeovers…). brassicarestaurant.co.uk

Brassica

Soulshine Café, Bridport

This colourful, welcoming café is the perfect chillout space if your feet are sore from pounding Bridport’s pavements in search of its best independent shops (there are many of them). Pull up a chair at one of its simple wooden tables, let the kids run off to explore the stack of vintage Fisher Price toys and order a freshly pressed juice (maybe a Soulshine – carrot, apple, pineapple, ginger and orange – or a Care Pear – pear, apple, fennel and lemon), smoothie or coffee (the house blend is from Extract Coffee).

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Bread is baked fresh every morning. There’s a pile of blankets to help yourself to if you’re mulling over whether it’s warm enough to sit out in the little courtyard garden. The cake selection is both whopping and attention-grabbing (anyone for a raw, vegan, gluten-free chocolate beetroot bar with rose petal sprinkles?) and, while carnivores can get their meat fix with Moroccan chicken salads and posh bacon butties, there are also plenty of veggie and vegan choices on the breakfast and lunch menus, from veggie chillis to a ‘vegan English’ (corn fritters with tomato, mushrooms, homemade beans, toast and olive oil). Kids are well catered-for, too, with a dedicated menu that ranges from veg sticks and hummus to cheese on toast. If you’re staying locally, keep an eye out for the café’s occasional evening supper clubs; tickets tend to sell out early for these, from Christmas tapas evenings to burger, curry and Mexican nights. soulshinecafe.co.uk

Soulshine cafe

Dorshi, Bridport

If there were a more surprising location for Dorshi, tucked down an alleyway in the unshowy historic English town of Bridport, it would be hard to imagine what that might be. Founders Jolly Carter and Radhika Mohendas started out running supperclubs serving sushi made only with Dorset ingredients (Dor-shi, geddit?). Now the business has branched out into a small, fully-fledged restaurant.

Dishes follow the brand’s surprising but successful combination of local and Asian flavours (the secret ingredient in the winning chicken dumplings, for instance, is Dorset Red cheese, slipped in along with lime, four types of pepper and mushrooms). Also a hit is the cauli popcorn, served with a punchy Dorset honey and kimchi dressing. To drink? Craft beers, ciders, cocktails, wines and sakes all feature on the drinks list, as do brews from local tea specialist, Comins Tea. dorshi.co.uk

Dorshi

Crab House Café, Weymouth

On the water’s edge where Weymouth meets Portland Bill, the Crab House Café is essentially a weather-beaten shack attached to an oyster farm. The oysters and local crabs take star billing on the menu, which can change twice a day depending on what’s landed by day boats working out of Poole, Weymouth or Brixham. The view from the restaurant and tables on the shingle outside looks across Chesil Beach to some of the fishing boats supplying the kitchen. crabhousecafe.co.uk

A beach with restaurant perched on the edge. There are tables and chairs on the beach

The Anchor Inn, Seatown

The Anchor Inn is a dining pub serving fish caught just offshore, in Lyme Bay, and crabs from within scuttling distance. The real draw here is the setting – a scene-stealing cottage almost right on the sand, with a great curve of shoreline sweeping away from it.

Order a glass of local Furleigh Estate Bacchus, or one of the bar’s 46 rums or 34 gins (Conker or Lilliput are both distilled in Dorset: here are our favourite British gins) and carry it up to the terrace at the side of the pub to sit and sip with one of the best beer garden views in the country. theanchorinnseatown.co.uk

The anchor inn

Bodega, Christchurch

Megan Spink and Andy Fielden’s wine bar, deli and shop has picked up countless accolades including two in the Observer Food Monthly Awards. The pair pride themselves on searching high and low for products from the very best artisans and producers. The wine menu and cheese/cured meat selections change regularly and there are weekly events including wine tastings, cocktail masterclasses and cheese and wine pairing nights. bodega-christchurch.com

A wooden table is laden with wooden platters of cheese, charcuterie, olives and bread

Deans Court, Wimborne

A beautiful old manor house that hosts occasional food-focused events, Deans Court is also home to a quirky homewares shop, set in a former squash court (look out for household brushes, crockery and aprons), and a cosy café scattered with mismatched wooden tables, salvaged metal chairs and glowing tealights.

Much of the produce served in the café’s salads, quiches and soups is grown in Deans Court’s extensive kitchen garden – delicious and zero food miles. Grab a snug corner table and settle down to a slice of caramelised fennel and red onion tart with homegrown salad slicked with peppery olive oil, a warming bowl of red lentil and chard soup, a gooey pumpkin blondie or just a pot of Dorset tea. deanscourt.org

Deans court café

Best ice cream in Dorset

Baboo Gelato

Baboo Gelato, with six sites across Dorset including kiosks in West Bay, Lyme Regis and Weymouth, has grown a dedicated following across the region, and beyond, for its short but sweet range of artisan gelatos and lollies; look out for gooseberry and elderflower, Nutella, pear sorbet or Sumatran Bourbon – the latter made with coffee from Read’s Coffee in Sherborne – among more classic flavours such as mint choc chip, raspberry ripple and honeycomb. baboogelato.com


Gelateria Beppino, Bridport

Baboo has competition in the shape of Gelateria Beppino. Not only does this café and ice cream parlour do a brisk trade in gelato (flavours such as cookies and cream, salted caramel and liquorice are made with Dorset milk) and seasonal sorbets (did someone say blood orange?) but its other big draw is freshly made cakes. gelateriabeppino.co.uk


Foodie neighbourhood spotlight: Lyme Regis

We’ve long been fans of Ammonite Fine Foods, a deli and grocers in Lyme Regis that’s one of the region’s best destinations for foodie stocking fillers (including several great local gins, cheeses and teas). Head up the road from here and you’ll find Ryder & Hope, a stylish homewares store where sleek black Crane casseroles are among its shelves of cool kitchenware, cookbooks and knives. Carry on a little further around the coast and you’ll soon come to The Oyster and Fish House by Mark Hix. The restaurant, perched above the harbour, has a cool, coastal vibe, with panoramic windows and a menu packed with sustainable seafood.

We went in the opposite direction, however, downslope to Red Panda, a tiny Asian take-away selling pots of steaming ramen, superlative salads fresh from local supplier Trill Farm, expertly made sushi and chicken satay, and pork belly bao, all in cute biodegradable packaging. While fish and chips might be more traditional beach food, our top tip is to pick up a box of salad leaves, edible flowers, homemade kimchi, teriyaki tofu and toasted sesame seeds and head just around the corner to enjoy an al fresco seaside lunch.

If you’re looking to cook your own supper, sign up for one of Fore Adventure’s coastal foraging and food trips. We like the sound of its Kayak, Fish, Forage and Feast tour – half or full-day trips that take participants out by kayak to catch their own fish before returning to shore to cook up seabass parcels stuffed with herbs and lemon back on the beach.

Red Panda, teriyaki tofu

Where to stay in Dorset

The Ollerod, Beaminster

The Ollerod is a great base for a weekend escape: stay here and you can choose between forays into picturesquely rambling countryside or salty sea air (the nearby Jurassic coast is just a pebble’s throw away). The style remains traditional, highlighting the property’s stately original features.

Each of the bedrooms is uniquely decorated – stylish and homely, with a hint of countrified opulence (updated rooms have less patterned wallpaper and more understated glamour but all are decadent, with Frette linen and organic toiletries). All are large in size, apart from one Tiny Double, described as “perfect for the solo traveller, but can sleep two if you’re happy snuggling”! The rooms in the neighbouring coach house all have showers over bathtubs, with the two ground-floor rooms dog-friendly (the third of an acre of garden will keep children and canines happy).
Doubles from £165, check availability at booking.com

Photo: © Pete Millson 2018. Phone: 07768 077353 (UK). 25 July 2018.

The Pig on the Beach, Studland Bay

One of a mini-chain of The Pig hotels created by Robin Hutson, founder of Hotel du Vin, this one perches on a clifftop, surrounded by sweeping lawns – and fields full of pigs (Oxford Sandy and Blacks), chickens (Legbars and Burford Browns) and sheep (Dorset Horn). Set in a 16th-century manor house, rooms have cosy, country-house style with rolltop baths in some of the more luxurious rooms. There’s also a walled kitchen garden where the hotel grows both traditional and sea vegetables – menus operate on a 25-mile radius, sourcing everything locally. Join a free kitchen garden tour every day at 11am. In between meals and exploring Dorset, relax in the spa treatment cabins for a facial or massage using Bamford products.

Doubles from £305, check availability at mrandmrssmith.com


The Alexandra Hotel, Lyme Regis

With its spectacular view across Lyme Bay and Lyme Regis’ famed harbour wall, The Cobb, the Alexandra is in prime position if you’re looking for a luxury seaside escape. The crowd here is a reassuring mix of locals and tourists. Sunset ramblers from the public gardens below are enticed onto its well-kept lawns or wisteria-draped terrace, where bar staff linger to take orders. Have dinner at Ammonite, the hotel restaurant which is partially supplied by a small patch of herbs, salad leaves and sprouting vegetables in the hotel’s gardens.

The pinnacle of the accommodation is the sizeable Countess’s Room, with its towering headboard, floral furnishings and grand bay window overlooking the rear gardens and sparkling coastline; plus a rather opulent master bathroom, with walk-in shower and a bath with a built-in television. At breakfast, fresh juice and strong coffee are accompanied by none other than local success story Dorset Cereals, homemade granola, pastries and Moore’s Dorset Preserves, plus a hearty West Country breakfast with local sausages and bacon.

Check rates and availability at hotelalexandra.co.uk

Relax and rewind in the beautiful gardens of the hotel

The Seaside Boarding House, Burton Bradstock

It’s all about location at the Seaside Boarding House. This smart seaside hotel sits so close to the coast above Burton Bradstock’s beach that it’s practically surfing; most of its nine bedrooms have sea views. Décor pays an ironic nod to boarding house chic. Tables are laid with paper cloths printed with the hotel’s name, there’s a piano in a backstairs hallway for anyone to play should the urge strike and bedrooms mostly have baths for deep, post-coastal walk soaks; if you want a shower you can take one of the shower rooms on the ground floor. In keeping with the retro theme, bedrooms don’t have TVs, just radios and books – a brave move but one that promotes a restful feel. Huge beds are brilliantly comfortable.

Food is a highlight. In the dining room, an elegant space overlooking Lyme Bay, tables are laid with bone-handled cutlery and monogrammed crockery. The kitchen team is headed up by another London settler, Dan Richards, who puts his former experience at St John to good use in understated but punchy modern dishes such as marinated beetroot with super-fresh goats curd, dill and toasted seeds on citrusy Tamarisk Farm leaves. For lighter lunches and dinners there’s also a (well-priced) bar menu, serving fish soup with rouille, gruyere and croutons, kedgeree, crab sandwiches, chips and Dorset cream teas. (Read our guide to the best afternoon teas in the UK, here).

Breakfasts tie in with the rest of the hotel’s understated ethos; don’t expect a vast amount of choice on the continental front (fresh orange juice, yoghurt, homemade berry compote, croissants and a bowl each of bananas and satsumas). For anything else, however, they prefer to make it on request. Hence a made-to-order breakfast menu that covers everything from a traditional fry-up to French toast, pancakes, boiled egg and soldiers and bacon sandwiches.

Make sure you save space for one of the hotel’s ice creams later in the day. Order a couple of scoops out on the terrace if you want to enjoy them, retro-chic, in a silver coupe. Or wander over to the ice cream cart perched out on the grass at the top of the cliffs in the summer months and grab a cone to take down to the beach. We kept it simple with a scoop of fresh strawberry and it was a world away from the industrially produced stuff; not overly sweet, the perfect creamy consistency and jam-packed with the flavour of fresh strawberries. We would happily drive all the way back to Dorset just for a second scoop. theseasideboardinghouse.com

Seaside boarding house, turbot and cavolo nero

River Cottage HQ, Axminster

The 17th-century whitewashed farmhouse on the Devon/Dorset border that was first brought to foodie attention by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (it’s at the heart of his River Cottage HQ) has long been a place of pilgrimage for those wanting to learn how to bake sourdough, cure and smoke pork, cook over fire or preserve hedgerow finds. In the past, however, the site was only open to visitors during the day. Now, the farmhouse has been cosily kitted out and opened up to overnight guests, too.

The master bedroom is spot-on – sleek, lots of beams, pale hues, and a big bathroom stocked with Bramley products and a basket of fluffy white robes. Soak in the stand-alone tub and take in views of the rolling hills beyond the kitchen garden. The two other rooms, equally as stylish and with timber beds, share a bathroom complete with rain shower and more naturally-scented Bramley products. Sheepskin rugs warm up flagstone floors, a muted grey palette offsets original beams and squishy sofas sit beside crackling fires, encouraging conversation among guests. Share a bottle of Lyme Bay wine or pour yourself a nightcap from the honesty bar stocked with local spirits – Black Cow vodka, Somerset cider brandy or Conker gin. Time your stay to coincide with one of the River Cottage feasts for a full foodie experience. rivercottage.net/accommodation

Bed in farmhouse suite at River Cottage

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