Guest blogger Alix King reviews one of Bournemouth’s most popular drinking and dining destinations…
Bournemouth is known for its golden sandy beaches and cute wooden beach huts and is one of the most popular family holiday destinations in the UK. Founded in 1810 by Lewis Tregonwell, the town itself is relatively new yet is the largest in the county of Dorset. This beautiful coastal spot enjoys balmy weather for much of the summer, but not to worry if the weather isn’t on your side as there is a wonderful mix of traditional and modern eateries to retreat to.
I was lucky enough to try the delicious delights offered at 1812 Bar & Restaurant, which has a fine reputation among locals and visitors alike as a chic and elegant venue for an enjoyable evening out. This buzzing bar and eatery boasts a fabulous position next to the central gardens and within a stone’s throw of the pier and sandy beaches of Bournemouth, and is part of the stylish and historic Royal Exeter Hotel.
The hotel was originally a mansion built in 1812 for Lewis Tregonwell, who resided there and frequently invited friends to visit and enjoy the nearby beaches – the beginnings of the traditional British seaside holiday. The bar and restaurant’s name pays homage to the historical impact this building has had on the town over the past two centuries. The refurbished building has kept some of its original Victorian features while incorporating some clever modern contemporary design. Walking into the cocktail bar entrance, passing by the outside tables (complete with heaters for chilly evenings), I found myself stepping upon a red carpet runner lined with soft spotlights – my first (and definitely not my last) dazzling moment of the evening.
I’d heard that the award-winning cocktail bar is manned by the finest-trained cocktail mixologists on the South Coast – an invitation to sample their creations for myself if ever there was one! Sitting upon a stool at the bar, the knowledgeable bar staff talked me through the selection of rare liquors, their traditional mixing methods and the importance of finishing touches. After a quick chat about my preferences, they carefully and beautifully produced in front of me a Space Gin Smash – a lip-smackingly satisfying mix of Bombay Sapphire gin, elderflower, lemon juice, apple juice and fresh mint leaves. My second (well, of course I had to taste a second) was an original Mai Tai, with light rum, dark rum, lime juice, orange Curaçao and orgeat syrup. Mai Tai translates as ‘out of this world’, which indeed it was.
We then took a seat in the restaurant, a wonderfully secluded space in which to enjoy dishes from the wide-ranging à la carte menu, with the benefit of a glass front allowing front-seat viewing into the bar and the live music which is offered there a few evenings a week.
Now I’m usually particularly fussy when it comes to choosing from a menu, but in my many years of dining out I have to admit that this is the first time that I would (and could) have chosen anything.
While making my decision, I was treated to some freshly baked bread – two flavours, with an oil and balsamic dip and some room-temperature butter (a gripe of mine is being served chilled butter, which always rips the bread). I finally made my choice: hot foie gras served with outdoor rhubarb and almonds. It was absolutely the correct choice – it was both tangy and sweet and came served with crisp breads which married the two flavours with a very satisfying crunch. My second choice, if I could have fitted in a second, would have been the salad Lyonnaise – I saw another diner enjoying this interesting starter, featuring bacon, poached egg, shallots and dandelion, and it was a work of art on a plate.
Choosing my main dish was as tricky as deciding on the preceding course. Although I usually order seafood when dining in seaside locations, I made went against my usual grain and opted for the 9oz 28-day-dry-aged sirloin steak, served with triple-cooked chips and purple-sprouting broccoli. I like my steaks medium-rare, and here mine emerged from the kitchen not only looking wonderful, but cooked to perfection. My steak knife sliced through it like it was butter, and the triple-cooked chips were so tasty that I was tempted to ask for seconds.
The attentive waiting staff were very clued-up about the food and which drinks should accompany each dish. I didn’t fancy drinking a rich red wine, and so tasted a few dry whites before settling on a Chilean sauvignon, which complemented my food choices perfectly.
I’m not sure how I managed to leave room for dessert, but am extremely glad I did, as I just had to have a ‘taster of two’ – the chocolate fondant with raspberry sorbet, and the house dessert, the 1812 Peach Melba. A deconstructed version of the classic peach Melba, it featured unique touches including a warm meringue and even some popping candy, which added a real fun factor.
After trying some dessert wine and enjoying a revitalising filter coffee, I made my way to the exit, passing the now jam-packed cocktail bar where the patrons were enjoying some live music and the cocktail bar team were mixing up a storm.
1812 restaurant may not always get the recognition it deserves, with its fabulous, well-established bar often taking the spotlight, but I highly recommend sampling the wares of both. 1812 offers fine dining with delectable choices and inventive extra touches. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time here though, as you’ll certainly need it to choose from one of the most appetizing menus I have ever seen.