West Beach has been a Bournemouth staple for many years now, and has generally been thought of as one of the best restaurants the town has to offer. Surprisingly, for a seaside holiday resort, there are only a handful of decent eateries actually on the seafront, so West Beach is popular for its beachfront location, near the pier. It is right on the promenade, with a terrace outside and a deck bar on the other side of the prom. We booked a table on Friday night so that we would be in prime position for the Friday night fireworks that take place at Bournemouth Pier every Friday night throughout the summer.
Unsurprisingly, given its location, West Beach is predominantly a fish restaurant. Its speciality is crustacea, with lobster, crab and oysters all available, plus a spectacular seafood sharing platter for two if you are prepared to part with the princely sum of £80. We weren’t – at least not for that!
We decided to start with a portion of mussels between us. We asked for a starter portion (mussels and chips are available in a larger portion as a main) but asked for a portion of chips on the side which admittedly is odd with a starter but we fancied them along with the mussels. The portion of mussels that came was just right, and they were plump and tasty with a generous amount of mariniere sauce (although they weren’t drowning in it – if it’s possible for a sea creature to drown in anything!) We didn’t have to discard any of them either, which is unusual even with the best mussels. The chips, however, left a lot to be desired. The portion size was ridiculous and would have been enough for a table of four people to have with a main course. Also, they were overcooked, dry and generally very disappointing.
Mr W made an instant choice of main course, going for orange braised halibut with white and green asparagus, fennel and saute potatoes. He thoroughly enjoyed it and the mouthful I tried was excellent, very orangey without being too sweet or overpowering the flavour of the fish. The combination of white and green asparagus was an interesting touch too.
I spent ages trying to decide on my main. I rarely order salmon in a restaurant as I frequently cook it at home, but for some reason I was really in the mood for salmon. Unfortunately, though, there was no salmon dish on the menu, and nothing on the specials board either (there were two or three starters and mains respectively on the specials, as well as a price for a whole lobster or crab). Many of the fish dishes on the main menu seemed to have slightly odd accompaniments with them, as if they were trying a bit too hard – quinoa and cous cous both put in an appearance! I quite fancied a pasta dish with lobster and crab, but this was priced at £19 and I just couldn’t bring myself to part with that money for a bowl of pasta, even if it did have lobster in it!
In the end I opted for pan fried hake, with a white bean and chorizo cassoulet, aubergine puree and black olive tapenade. Sadly, this just didn’t work. The hake was cooked beautifully, but the accompaniments were all wrong. The beans, if anything, were slightly undercooked, and the flavour from the chorizo didn’t seem to be coming out at all. The aubergine puree was nice, but this, and the tapenade, were underneath the cassoulet and the fish. Tapenade is a very strong flavour, and it’s nice to have a little bit with a mouthful of fish, but with it being underneath everything else it was impossible to avoid sometimes getting a huge mouthful of salty tapenade which completely overpowered anything else and especially detracted from the aubergine puree.
The service was so-so. Our waiter was trying hard to look after us, but seemed rushed off his feet. West Beach has a reputation for slow service, and although this time it was okay, we certainly weren’t blown away by it. The place was incredibly busy, and we had an unfortunate table that was in the middle of the restaurant and quite near the door, so we constantly had people walking past us – either guests or waiting staff – and with it being a busy Friday night there were a lot of people coming and going. It didn’t feel very relaxing, and despite the undeniably beautiful location, the restaurant itself doesn’t seem to have an atmosphere of its own, other than one of everyone being a bit frantic and run off their feet. Even when we’ve been on quieter occasions, the service has been very hit and miss.
I’ve kept going back to West Beach, probably no more than once or twice a year, but I think for me it’s had enough chances now. Although Mr W’s main was lovely, I was disappointed with mine, with the chips, and with the odd menu choices. With almost all of the main dishes over £15 and starters around the £8 mark, it is by no means cheap, and I actually think it is now over priced for what it is. A minor detail, but relevant I think, is that when I went to the toilet part way through the evening, I noticed that there was a huge amount of graffiti on the wall in the cubicle – not written with a pen, but actually scratched into the paintwork. This wouldn’t have happened overnight and looked like it had built up over time. Things like that really let the side down, and don’t make it feel like a good restaurant – certainly not one that charges the prices that West Beach does. There are definitely better restaurants in Bournemouth now, and I think it may be trying to trade off its location. On the plus side, the fireworks were great, and are highly recommended, but I’d suggest finding somewhere else to watch them from!
Food: ** Service: *** Ambience: **
West Beach, Pier Approach, Bournemouth, Dorset BH2 5AA