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)

Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'