To cut the mustard as a fashionable resort, a seaside town needs the right sort of restaurant. Think of Whitstable and Padstow, the New Angel in Dartmouth and the Black Pig in Rock. Dorset lags well behind Devon and Cornwall in the dining department, but since May The Broad Street Restaurant in Lyme Regis has been doing its bit to help it catch up. The locals, some of them, anyway, have welcomed it.
"It's got white tablecloths and big wine glasses," said one who's been ogling the menu and peering longingly through the basement window. For these are locals who decamped from London a couple of years ago, and such a restaurant makes an attractive addition to the ammo they use to persuade visitors to join them. After the envy-making tour of their bigger and lovelier home and garden, and a fishing trip in Lyme Bay followed by a late lunch of barely dead-on-arrival mackerel barbecued on the beach, they ended their offensive by sending us there for dinner.
I mention the barbecue because it's relevant. The only fish main course was mackerel. Even with a warm lentil salad, we weren't in the market for more of the two-a-penny fish, however fresh. Nor for pesto linguini with slow roasted tomatoes and shaved Parmesan. Which left chicken stuffed with pork, apple and sage, lamb chops, and steak.
Ideally a professional kitchen should know enough to find great ingredients that the rest of us can't easily buy, and cook them better than most of us can. How hard can it be? Beyond the ken of plenty of them, actually. But Broad Street's menu reads like a shopping list that far exceeds the first ideal. They've schlepped around Devon and Dorset's many dedicated small producers; the mixed leaf salad with broad beans, goat's cheese and poached egg alone took trips to four different farms. One thing let down this unique assembly. Any swimmer knows you need to towel off before putting on your clothes, and drying off before dressing should be the salad maker of Lyme Bay's watchwords too, because these leaves were as damp and scantily dressed as an impatient sea bather.
Another starter of scallops (dredged in the Bay that day) with a carrot purée would have been improved by sharper seasoning. Pigs raised on Portland and cured in Axminster had been turned into a gently jellified ham and parsley terrine that spread willingly on toasted sourdough; shopping and advance preparation paying off brilliantly. We'd have preferred more exciting cuts for our main course but couldn't fault the meat, and the sweet-tasting vegetables - shredded kale with mustard seeds with the steak, glazed baby carrots with the chicken and French beans with the mighty meaty chops - were the (not agri) business.
If a distinction can be made between the menus and cooking in gastropubs and restaurants then Broad Street's food tends to the more yeomanly gastropub variety. They do the ingredients justice, but bolder menus, and more focused and consistent seasoning would promote it to restaurant status.
For dinner, children have smaller portions from the three-course menu for half the price. This exemplary system puts into practice one of its framed food-related aphorisms: "Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he's paying," - Fran Leibowitz. There's no Coke if they ask for it here, either.
With well-chosen ingredients doing all the work, a third course of Dorset Blue Vinny cheese with Lyme Regis honey and date and pecan bread from the Town Mill Bakery would have been a good safe choice. Then we'd have missed what they cook best: the gooseberry crumble had a really buttery coarse crumble top, not a thin sandy one, offsetting the tartness of the fruit below. Nor had they wimped out of giving the lusher fruits the necessary sharp nudge with redcurrants in the supreme summer pudding.
Use of impeccable raw materials extends to the flagstone floor, tongue-and-groove panelling, fine hessian cloths overlaid with that nostalgia-assuaging white linen. Broad Street has the metropolitan aesthetic of elegant, knowing and deceptive simplicity. Easily the most up-to-date place on the Jurassic Coast, it's exactly what estate agents, the tourist office and incomers would wish for Lyme Regis.
The Broad Street Restaurant, 57-58 Broad Street, Lyme Regis, Dorset (01297 445792)
£24.80 per person for three courses without drinks
SIDE ORDERS: BESIDE THE SEASIDE
By Caroline Stacey
The Crown Hotel
Hotel, restaurant and brasserie that's a jewel in the town. The black slate appetiser plate is a long way from trad seaside fare; the Kiwi chef's fine cooking make it a destination.
The Buttlands, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk (01328 710209)
36 on the Quay
Change out of your shorts for the £60, 10-course tasting menu. But this harbourside restaurant in a sailing-fixated town isn't stuffy, despite a reputation for outstanding food.
47 South Street, Emsworth, Hampshire (01243 375592)
Pinch yourself: you're in Southport in this buzzy brasserie with a talented French chef with perfect command of a menu ranging from bangers and mash to a Thai red curried duck.
30 West Street, Southport (01704 544662)
The bar's a top hang-out in town, the restaurant tables sparkle. Cooking adds Mediterranean brightness to Welsh ingredients: Gower seabass, grilled polenta and sauce vierge.
Aberaeron, Ceredigion (01545 570755)Reuse content