Hidden along a row of unassuming shops – Co-op, Beds Are Uzzz (sic) – in Southbourne, Dorset, Restaurant Roots is so hidden that if you blink you might miss it. Run by a husband and wife team, it’s a tiny restaurant managing to squeeze in just 26 covers. Stacey was born and raised in Bournemouth before going on to curate an impressive CV as a pastry chef in English country house hotels, and Berlin-born Jan worked in several Michelin-starred kitchens across Europe before settling in England.
It’s not the obvious location for a restaurant, but the room is small and comfortable, with simple wooden tables and exposed brick. The décor is a bit stark; the lighting is a little too bright and the walls could do with some artwork to soften, but the food makes up for this. We chose the five-course tasting menu, which changes weekly, and kicked off with ‘bread and dip’ which delivers so much more than the name suggests: homemade breads including wonderfully light ciabatta with chive butter, a sinfully good beef-dripping candle (granted this could perhaps be an idea borrowed from Restaurant Story in London, but we didn’t care), and a deep bowl of hummus topped with pumpernickel ‘soil’ and lightly pickled vegetables.
Next was a delicate ceviche of rich, oily mackerel served with sharp pickled apple and a rich, salty oyster cream which came together beautifully, and got us excited for things to come. This was followed by quail which, although cited as one course, came in multiple ways on various dishes, giving the impression that they were in fact separate. Jan endeavours to use the whole of any ingredient in his kitchen. ‘Quail’ came as a quail scotch egg which, unfortunately, didn’t deliver the strong flavour and oozing yolk that we’d hoped for, and a divisive quail and mushroom ‘cappuccino’ (a term we’d be happy to put on our banned list here at olive) which, while my guest loved the earthy flavours, I struggled with the too-smooth texture. This was followed by a plate of quail breast and leg ‘lollipop’ with mushroom, which finally delivered all the gamey richness that we had been hoping for all along.
Pre-dessert delivered ‘carrot and tarragon’ which was translated onto the plate as a rich, dense carrot cake with refreshing tarragon cream, the aniseed flavour of which worked as a palate cleanser. This would have been enough for us, and the addition of a passion fruit granita jarred with its texture and temperature. Dessert proper – which, frankly, there isn’t enough of in our lives – was a rich, moist chocolate stout cake with a slight savoury edge, filled with oozing salted caramel and a skilfully thin tuile.
There are a few dishes that, for us, didn’t quite hit the mark, Stacey and Jan’s aim is to bring innovative dining to an otherwise lacking scene in Stacey’s home town is admirable, and you can see the passion as they explain every dish to their guests. There isn’t this kind of food coming out of the majority of kitchens in this area, and at just £33 for five courses, it’s staggeringly reasonable for the level of cooking on display.