Pebble Beach, Marine Drive, Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire

"Pebble Beach, far away in time," you find yourself adapting Martha and the Muffins as you park the car on the clifftop drive. "Pebble Beach, far away in time, Pebble Beach..." And as you push the door, you feel you've stepped back 20 years in time, to a kinder, simpler age when all restaurant menus came in floppy leather (with photos of the shellfish platter), all dining-rooms were on a split level, with fleshy-orangey chairs, tables and curtains, and a wrought-iron fence as a "feature".

The owners have tried to modernise this old-fashioned seaside eating house – there's a small bar area and an 'oyster bar' where you can perch on a stool to watch the chefs in action – but they're both empty at 8.30 on a Wednesday night. All the action is in the restaurant, which is packed out with chattering trippers.

Then you venture outside, and all your ignorant metropolitan carping evaporates. The view from the terrace is wonderful: you're looking at the western tip of the Isle of Wight, and the trio of chalk rocks called The Needles that poke out of the sea and used to be a menace to shipping until they stuck a lighthouse in front of them in 1859. It's a beautifully tranquil scene, with Barton beach on your left, Poole to your right and the millpond of Christchurch Bay in front of you. Gulls fly overhead, barking discreetly, as though reluctant to disturb the calm. We ordered cocktails from one of the pretty waitresses, sat on the black chairs beside the patio heater and thought, ooh yes, we could stay here for hours...

The menu features lots of shellfish, 'Lighter Options' for those who want fish and chips or sole goujons, vegetarian options, half a dozen char-grill specials. But the chef here is a serious player: Lyons-born Pierre Chevillard, who was head chef at Chewton Glen (the country house hotel and health farm in nearby New Milton) for 24 years. He combines absolutely precise cooking skills with a generous hand in portions and presentation.

Angie's gravadlax was cured to a phenomenally silken texture, liberally Jackson-Pollocked with scribbles of tarragon cream accompanied by triangles of toast. My scallops and tiger prawns came à la nage, that is, poached in a court bouillon, with the liquid included as a soup. The prawns were perfect, tightly al dente and full of flavour, the scallops a little spongey (I don't think poaching scallops is a terrific idea) and the julienne of celery, carrots and tomatoes floated blissfully in the chardonnay broth.

Main course stir-fried lobster tempura was almost perfect. The stir-fried vegetables were soy-drenched but delicious. The shellfish itself was faultless. The batter, however, was too hefty – it clutched around the lobster like a soft, thick cardigan. My pan-fried duck breast was astonishing, two thick tranches roasted and basted until the skin shone with umami moistness. They sat like twin behemoths amid a multitude of broad beans, peas, carrots, courgettes and dauphinoise potatoes with a cheese crust. Much work had gone into the sauce – a reduction of chicken and vegetable stock, with caramel, vinegar and blackcurrants. I felt like bounding into the kitchen and thanking M Chevillard for keeping the fruit quotient (that has ruined so many duck dishes) to a succulent minimum.

Outside, the almost-full moon rose and played hide-and-seek amid an armada of fluffy clouds, occasionally casting long shafts of glowing moonlight on the sea. Romantic couples d'un certain âge stood on the terrace in elderly bliss. Our waitress asked if we'd like to see the pudding menu. Yeah, I said, and perhaps another glass of this excellent Malbec...

Moments passed. Then I turned my head – and blow me down. Everybody had disappeared. All the diners had gone. The tables were deserted. The room was empty. Our beautiful waitress had simply dematerialised. Even the terrace canoodlers had vamoosed. I looked at my watch – it was 10.21pm. In response to an unheard signal, the entire clientele of the Pebble Beach restaurant had vanished. It was like the end of The Tempest: "These our actors,/ As I told you, were all spirits and/ Are melted into air, into thin air".

Had a charabanc arrived and driven them all to Poole? Had we entered some gastronomic Twilight Zone? Eventually, after half an hour, a charming woman appeared, nonchalantly took our pudding order (chocolate Liégeois, involving parfait, rum granita and meringue, quite yummy) and explained that "People around here do rather like an early night". Well I dare say they do – but I've never been deserted for half an hour by a whole restaurant before. The Pebble Beach is well worth a detour by anyone venturing near Bournemouth, but it must be careful not to turn into the Mary Celeste at 10.30 each night...

Pebble Beach, Marine Drive Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire (01425 627777)

Food 3 stars
Ambience 5 stars
Service 2 stars

About £110 for two, with wine

Tipping policy: "No service charge; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Briny bites

The Crab House Café

Try chef Christian Lohez's sand sole with lemon butter, caraway seeds and saffron yogurt at this idyllic eaterie.

Ferrymans Way, Dorset (01305 788 867)

Whitstable Oyster Company

Start with Whitstable natives followed by a main of whole roast local wild sea bass with garlic and rosemary.

Whitstable, Kent (01227 276 856)

The White Horse Inn

Try the chilli giant prawns while taking in the breathtaking panoramic views of the tidal marshes at this legendary Norfolk pub.

Brancaster Staithe, Norfolk (01485 210262)

Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
News
politics
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker