It’s a shore thing – Restaurant Review: Cafe Shore, Sandbanks

This weekend’s unexpected and unseasonably glorious weather saw Mr W and I take a leisurely bike ride along Bournemouth seafront from the Eastern end of the bay all the way along to the West, and the famous (thanks in no small part to Piers Morgan!) Sandbanks peninsula, renowned for its sky high property prices and array of celebrity residents. We had no definite lunch plans, but popped in to Cafe Shore for a drink and Mr W was very taken with the restaurant, which is a definite favourite with the Sandbanks elite (various friends have had numerous celeb spots in there over the years), so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch there – fuel for our bike ride home!

The restaurant, like the bar, is very stylish and contemporary, with a range of different furniture and decor, and unusually it states a smart/casual dress code on the door. Fortunately for us (dressed more for cycling than dining!) they didn’t seem very concerned about enforcing this on a Saturday lunch time – possibly because the restaurant was all but empty! There are a few tables outside on the terrace, and even though these unfortunately don’t get the sun until the early evening, we decided this might be our last opportunity in 2011 to dine al fresco (at least in the UK) so we chose to sit outside.

The view from our table on the terrace

The menu has a good range of options to choose from, with seafood featuring prominently, along with steaks and grills. As we were planning to dine out again in the evening, we skipped the starters (they would have set us back anything up to £11 each if we’d had one) and went straight for the main event.

Mr W decided to try the Moules Marinieres, which came either in a starter portion, or a larger portion served with French fry style skinny chips. This was an excellent choice in that the mussels were delicious – plump and juicy, with very few that needed to be discarded, and a tasty, creamy sauce with lots of finely chopped herbs, carrot and onion that added a bit of extra bite and adorned even the uppermost mussels in the bowl. It was, however, an absolutely enormous portion – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large bowl of mussels, and even as a main course at dinner I think it would have defeated all but the largest of appetites. The size (and depth) of the bowl also meant that it took quite a while before Mr W could even get to the sauce, which was languishing at the bottom under layers and layers of shells – but all that said, on the whole the dish was excellent, just rather too big. The main course portion, with the chips, was £16.

An enormous portion of moules

I went for one of my favourites: beer battered haddock, which was served with hand cooked chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce. When done well, fish and chips is one of the best meals you can get in my view – but equally when done badly it can be a disaster (The Beach House, please take note!) but I had high hopes, and fortunately my optimism was rewarded as it was fantastic. The batter was light and crispy, the fish cooked just right, and the chips were out of this world. Hand cooked chips can often be very disappointing, as cooking them right on the inside and the outside at the same time seems to be beyond many chefs, but these really were perfect: crunchy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. I easily could have eaten more, but in reality the fairly frugal portion was just right for the size of the fish. The mushy peas were more like crushed or pureed peas, which was also a good thing, although they could have perhaps done with a little bit of mint to set off the flavour, but all in all it was a delicious meal. My main course was £14.50.

Near perfect fish and chips

We topped off our meal with a bottle of wine – there is a good selection on the menu, although the cheapest bottle is £20.00, with prices rising sharply from there upwards.

Despite some of the desserts sounding interesting, we decided not to indulge, but we both had a cup of coffee, which came served with a chocolate on the side. This is where our waiter deserves a special mention, as he looked after us very well throughout the meal, but really came into his own with our coffee. I asked for skimmed milk, and he said if they didn’t have any, he’d go next door to the shop and get some (which apparently he did). We also commented that we’d enjoyed the chocolates, so he brought us an additional selection to keep us going while we finished our coffee. He stopped and had a chat with us and was a thoroughly nice chap, as well as being spot on with the service.

Coffee is so much better with a chocolate!

We had a fantastic lunch at Cafe Shore, but I will caveat that with saying I’ve heard varying reports about it as a dinner venue, but I definitely left on Saturday feeling very keen to go back there and sample it in the evening when it’s a bit busier and we feel more like sitting inside and enjoying the decor and ambience of the restaurant itself. It’ll no doubt be a different experience then, so I shall blog again when we do.

On the basis of our visit, I’d highly recommend it for a lunch, perhaps for a special occasion or just when you fancy treating yourself. I had thought that we were choosing from a special lunch menu, but a subsequent check of the website revealed that the dinner menu is the same. It’s really not cheap, though, and for a three course meal for two, with wine, you could easily be into the realms of a £150 bill (to which they add an optional service charge – again, a pet hate of mine in a place where you would expect the service to be excellent, and therefore worthy of earning its own tip, which in this case it was). I am sure there is an element of paying for the location (or the name and reputation that it has built for itself over a number of years) but I don’t mind doing this when the food and service matches up to expectation. I felt that the quality of the food was what I would expect for the price, and far superior to somewhere like West Beach, which would probably consider itself to be in the same league, and is certainly in the same price range.

One small, but not insignificant, issue (and the reason why this review nearly ended up being entitled ‘Toilet Trouble’) for me was the ladies’ toilets. People often say you can tell a lot about a place by its toilets, and had I not known a little about Cafe Shore beforehand, I could easily have been put off by my toilet visit while we were having our aperitif in the bar. It featured a cubicle with no paper, empty soap dispensers, and two out of four taps that were broken (with the broken metal parts lying on the side of the sinks). This was very poor, and certainly not in keeping with the standard of the rest of the facilities, and more importantly with the price of the food and drink in the venue – and the reason why I’ve only awarded 3 stars for ambience, as I really would have expected a lot more. I’m hoping that when we return for dinner the toilet experience will be as good as the restaurant!

Recommended for lunch.

Food: **** Service: ***** Ambience: ***

Cafe Shore, 10-14 Banks Road, Sandbanks, Poole BH13 7QB 


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