Best places to eat and drink in Dorset
Take a trip to Dorset, on the stunning South West coast of England, in search of rooms with sea views, posh bacon butties and traditional Dorset cream teas
Want to know the best places to eat in Dorset? Read our expert guide to Dorset restaurants, fine dining in Dorset and best places to stay in Dorset. Including hotels in Dorset, Lyme Regis restaurants and Bridport restaurants.
One of the richest corners of the UK for food, it would be easy to spend three months eating your way around Dorset and still not try all that’s on offer. With only a weekend to play with we skipped the places we’ve featured before (for more info on those you can read our On The Road feature on Dorset) and focused on some of the newer cafes, bars, restaurants and street food spots popping up on our radar.
Run by a culinary dream team of chef Cass Titcombe (ex-Daphne’s and Canteen) and interiors guru Louise Chidgey (ex-Conran Shop), Brassica Restaurant & Mercantile, in Beaminster, is the classy but unassuming provincial restaurant you always hope to find but rarely do. The couple wanted to open a restaurant that wasn’t concept or trends-led but focused instead on good local ingredients (especially fish) and good times.
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…).
Visiting for lunch on a chilly late autumn day, we started with fat, glossy, garlicky crevettes, spiked gently with chilli and salt and a slug of lemon, before tackling what should surely be dubbed the Hugh Jackman of pheasant curries, its gorgeously sticky hunks of meat all muscular, hardman bravado on the outside, but all-singing, all-dancing softness inside – and served with peppy side dishes of spicy cauliflower and squash, and cooling minted yoghurt. As one fellow diner said, this is exactly the kind of deceptively ‘simple’ food that’s hard to do well.
If you find yourself swooning over the restaurant’s green speckled crockery, head to the couple’s shop next door and you’ll find it on sale, alongside pretty wine glasses, cool French kitchen knives from Opinel, the best new cookbooks, candles and more.
THE SEASIDE BOARDING HOUSE, BURTON BRADSTOCK
It’s all about location at the Seaside Boarding House. This smart, sassy, 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. Owned by former Groucho Club managing director Mary-Lou Sturridge, there’s an admirably easy-going breeziness about it that belies the close attention to detail behind the scenes.
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.
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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. And though frills may be scarce, those that are there have been painstakingly chosen. Huge beds are topped with Naturalmat mattresses, handmade in Devon (read our foodie guide to Devon here) and brilliantly comfortable. Water in the gleaming bathrooms is hot and powerful. The short cocktail list is a roll-call of the classiest choices (go for an expert Negroni, or an Original Hix Fix - Champagne spiked with a Morello cherry soaked in eau de vie from Somerset Cider Brandy - and have it brought up to your room quicker, almost, than you could jiggle a cocktail shaker).
Food is a highlight. In the dining room, an elegant space overlooking Lyme Bay, tables are laid with bone-handled cutlery and monogrammed crockery, and operations are gracefully managed by Esther (ex-Modern Pantry). 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. And the highlight of our stay, a main course of local turbot cooked simply (crisp on top, mallow soft beneath) and served with an intensely creamy, slightly smoky mussel sauce; the perfect pairing with buttery, peppery cavolo nero.
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 - easy croissant recipe here - and a bowl each of bananas and satsumas). As with the bedrooms, these basics are covered well. For anything else, however, they prefer to make it (or supply 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.
Most visitors to Dorset make a pilgrimage to Lulworth Cove and neighbouring Durdle Door to gaze at these iconic coastlines. For fish-lovers there is another reason to make the pilgrimage to Lulworth Cove, however. Buy anything from Cove Fish, the little wet fish shack you pass on your way down to the shore, and it’s likely to have been caught (very possibly the same day) by fisherman Joe Miller or his son, Levi. The last fishermen left in Lulworth, the two men are following a long tradition. Very long; unbroken generations of their family have fished the same stretch of coast since the 1670s.
Whether you’re in the market for crab, lobster, grey mullet, seabass, turbot and more, or you just want to go for a scenic stroll beware that both sites get very busy in the summer tourist season. For your best chance of any kind of serenity, get there for a sunrise walk, then warm up with a coffee and a bacon sandwich overlooking the water at the Boat House Café (later in the day it serves crab sandwiches and cream teas).
RED PANDA, LYME REGIS
Read our longer Dorset feature and you’ll know that 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 town’s biggest food fix, Hix.
We went in the opposite direction, however, downslope to Red Panda, a tiny new 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.
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).
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.
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?). Then came dumplings, fragrant salads, warming noodle bowls and homemade kimchi… and a roving street food stall, serving these crowd-pleasing East Asian favourites at festivals, food fairs and weddings. 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. And Thumper’s Feast, a cooling salad of lovage, celery, cucumber and herbs with cashew-nori cream and sesame. For dessert expect edible flower jellies set in local honey and lavender milk, or sesame fudge brownies with matcha cream and crushed peanuts. To drink? Craft beers, ciders, cocktails, wines and sakes all feature on the drinks list, as do brews from local tea specialist, Comins Tea.
ICE CREAM, BRIDPORT
Bridport-based Baboo Gelato, with kiosks in West Bay and Lyme Regis, 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.
Now, Baboo has competition in the shape of recently opened Gelateria Beppino, also in Bridport. 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 Italian doughnuts.
THE ANCHOR INN, SEATOWN
The chef at this dining pub, Jean-Paul de Ronne, used to cook at Mat Follas’ Wild Garlic in Beaminster and the bar manager, David Smith, arrived fresh from a stint at Hix. But while The Anchor Inn serves 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.
FORE ADVENTURE, DORSET COAST
If you’re looking to cook your own supper, you can go one better by signing 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.
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.
Words and photographs by Rhiannon Batten
Other places to eat and drink in Dorset…
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.
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.
Words by Mark Taylor