Tuna fish, unlike scallops, are not indigenous to Dorset - but in Wareham they seem to like that Riviera touch

If Poole and Bournemouth in a good light have a touch of the Riviera about them, how far into Dorset is the effect felt? To the east of Poole Harbour the hills above the coast are built up with the luxury homes of sportsmen retired (Geoffrey Boycott) and reasonably active (footballer Darren Anderton), and others who do not wear their earnings lightly, nor disguise them in their choice of architecture. Harry Redknapp razed the property he bought here and started again.

If Poole and Bournemouth in a good light have a touch of the Riviera about them, how far into Dorset is the effect felt? To the east of Poole Harbour the hills above the coast are built up with the luxury homes of sportsmen retired (Geoffrey Boycott) and reasonably active (footballer Darren Anderton), and others who do not wear their earnings lightly, nor disguise them in their choice of architecture. Harry Redknapp razed the property he bought here and started again.

Look out to sea and there's gold on them there waves. Poole Harbour has a floating petrol station for filling up motorboats at £200 a tank; perhaps last week saw a queue on the water of panic-buying playboys. The coast and harbour gleam with dinghies and gin palaces, and buzz with jet skis and power boats.

It's not all glamorous - check out the tattoos outside the chip shops on Poole Quay - and it's not like this all year round. But, after the mass exodus from the coast at the end of August, the impression of sunshine will remain. Nomad will see to that. Opened barely two years ago, too recently to make an impression in the current food guides but unlikely to be overlooked for the autumn's 2001 editions, it's a relatively new perennial attraction.

In fact, although it would fit comfortably into the bright lightsand sophisticated beach scene,this restaurant started by a Bournemouth-trained party caterer from London, is inland in Wareham. You wouldn't expect him and his photographer business partner in the catering business to have set up camp in this quiet old town. At night it's dark and empty save for a few disconsolate youths. They hit Bournemouth for kicks.

By day, Wareham's as afflicted with its share of twee as any pretty town. Ironmongers and gent's outfitters are outnumbered by teddy bear tea and gift shops. In this quaint, if zimmer-framed scene of aimless retailing, the purposeful Nomad seems determined to radiate heat-drenched style. Not sun-dried, mind. Its tomatoes are sun-blushed, bruschetta is oil-fired, vegetables and even fruit wood-roasted, tiger prawns stir-fried, croûtons oven-baked. It's thoroughly au fait with tricks higher up the evolutionary scale of cooking fashion than buying-in ready-dried tomatoes.

The colouring of the restaurant generates more warmth. "This could be Santa Fe," my consort said of the laterite-red painted bar with sinuous blond-wood counter, Georgia O'Keefey prints and flower arrangements. It leads on to an elegant dining room with exposed beams and stone walls. Though it's not the short straw, the adjoining conservatory left us feeling a little unrewarded on the decor, and occasionally overlooked on the service, front. Customers, like the ingredients deftly combined in the kitchen, ranged from a robust local element to tanned, flashier visitors. A couple at the next-door table, retired naval possibly, keeping abreast of food trends represented the elders of the ruling tribe of rural Dorset. They ordered Caesar salad and lamb.

Cooking is pared-down, simple but precise, flavours original but not intrusive, presentation stylish but not silly, ingredients respected; although many are sourced locally they may not always give that impression. Though I'm sure scallops were local (I'd swum round a scallop-fishing boat in Lulworth Cove earlier in the week), main course yellowfin tuna and black marlin are not what you immediately think of as indigenous. Nor are tiger prawns - stir-fried with ginger, sweet chilli and lemon grass on sesame noodles.

Wareham's fishmonger has closed, fresh fish is maddeningly hard to buy round here, and I hadn't come all this way for a Caesar salad. But the scallops, not monstrously large but sweet and perfect, on a purée of peas, with enough balsamic vinegar to caramelise the juices, were all I'd hoped for. Wild mushrooms, sliced and sautéed just so, with lightly roasted plum tomatoes and peeled broad beans, produced a plate (an unnecessarily turquoise plate, the scallops had come on a glass one) of naturally bright colours and maximum impact from its components; impressive. But for the choirzo oil (which gave it a suggestion of meat the already fleshy mushrooms didn't need), this would have been a good main course for vegetarians.

It's not minimalist cooking, but less is, well, certainly no more than expected. It's good, though. Tuna (sparingly smoked with oak and ginger) shaped like a map of Africa on a wooden board on a large white plate, was billed with support from those sun-blushed tomatoes - lightly oven-roasted - and lemon. Just a wedge of lemon. At this rate they'll be listing salt and pepper on menus.

Rack of lamb was lovely; so sprightly it almost sprang off the plate, so luscious it didn't need any distracting jus. It came on a purée of haricot beans only faintly flavoured with vanilla, with rocket for leafy contrast to the woody sweetness. Separate vegetables were let down by a dull dauphinoise potato, but it didn't dim the brightness of the meat and fish.

When it came to pudding, though, there was a cloud - of wood-smoke - on the horizon. A wood-roast peach in Amaretto had a whiff of the public bar, and the accompanying apricots seemed to be the victims of passive smoking, too. They were so tainted they could have sued for compensation, and for being described as a compote. Nevertheless, generous provision of mascarpone helped us consume these strange-tasting fruits. We even managed to do the same to paired chocolate mousses, white and dark, though the former was yukky enough to keep the Milky Bar kid quiet.

Even these didn't cast a long shadow over a fine dinner. Nor did a bill of £30 a head. Nomad should stop anyone who wanders inland from the coast in their tracks.

* Nomad, 12A North Street, Wareham, Dorset (01929 556164). Dinner Wed-Sat 7.30-9.30pm. All cards except Amex and Diners accepted. Limited disabled access

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