The Jetty, Christchurch
Over recent years I had become rather familiar with Christchurch Harbour Hotel’s The Jetty restaurant, with long, lazy lunchtimes sitting outside in the sun with my border collie and a glass of chilled, aromatic Gewürztraminer, watching the swans among the reeds and sunlight glinting on the water. Now, I was experiencing the restaurant – Christchurch Harbour Hotel’s offering for more discerning customers – for an evening meal. The restaurant is located right by the sea, with the outside decking area where Krishna the collie and I used to sit shaded by heavily pollarded trees, directly overlooking the gently lapping waves of the bay, a lamentation of swans, boats and the beach huts of Mudeford. It is an immensely peaceful setting; contrasting with the bustling interior. The building itself is modern, but not unattractive – predominantly glass and wood, surrounded by brushed steel railings.
The interior continues the theme with dark wooden tables, a lighter wooden floor and wooden chairs with comfortable patterned seats. Almost three sides of the parallelogram-planned building are windows (which can be slided back in hot weather, thus completely opening the restaurant up to the fresh air), overlooking the water. The far end houses the facilities, with shimmering beige mosaic tiles and round windows imitating portholes. The ceiling is comprised of swirling wave-like layers and patterns. Lighting is by means of recessed angled downlighters at the room’s edge and recessed halogen lights in the centre. The bar is constructed of fairly light wood (matching the floor) with a darker glossed top. A selection of spirits is on view behind the bar, with wine racks completing the bar furniture.
Bread and butter is placed on the table for nibbling whilst one peruses the menu – this is served on shells, continuing the marine theme; I was delighted by the addition of extra virgin olive oil on the table. The bread – a white with caraway seeds (with a deliciously salty taste) and a wholegrain brown – were superb: a good contrast of textures and excellent combination of chewiness and softness.
The menu itself is rather splendid: a nice choice of nibbles “while you choose”; starters – from pigeon breast to scallops; mains from a trio of pork through to duck and shrimps. There is a tasting menu and fresh catches of the day – several different types of fish, including bream, sea bass, rock oysters and a mixed fish grill. All of these are from the Dorset coastline but many are caught on right on this spot. There is also an immensely inventive selection of side orders, all of which sound delicious, such as chorizo cassoulet and bacon salad.
The wine list is also very good, offering an excellent range of wine types and prices (though the Gewürztraminer had gone from their list, I noted with sadness). However, there are no descriptions so those who don’t know their wines will be left floundering a bit. Two glass sizes are offered and many wines are available by the glass. There is also a good range of sparkling wines, some roses too, and some local Dorset wines – top marks for all of these.
We chose the Bernadi Prosecco, which was perfect – very light indeed, but sophisticated with a tight bead and lemony tang without being too citric. In fact, it was probably the best prosecco I’ve had (and given the number of bottles of this delicious beverage I have consumed over this years, this is quite an accolade!).
Jetty bites are served first – taramousalata, smoked salmon and caviar roulettes, smoked fish mini quiches, and octopus. All of these were excellent – the octopus quite unexpectedly so – delicately flavoured and pleasantly meaty in texture. The quiches were light and flavoursome – not at all heavy; the taramousalata was, again, very light yet evocatively flavoured; whilst the delicately flavoured salmon roulettes worked extremely well with caviar and sprig of dill on top.
An amuse bouche followed, of tomato and basil velouté (it tasted as if there might be some red pepper in there too), and this kept up the high standards already delivered, with a good balance of sweetness from the tomato and savouriness. So far, everything we had been presented with was guaranteed to whet the appetite without in any sense destroying it.
On to the starters – I went for Alex’s Twice-Cooked Cheese Soufflé (an old favourite!), which I found not quite as flavoursome as usual but still feather-light – very delicate, and with the cheesy sauce very tasty. My husband’s asparagus was cooked to perfection: in fact, the word ‘cooked’ is somewhat misplaced, as the spears were very lightly steamed, leaving them slightly crunchy and firm. As such, the accompanying egg and salmon were ideal foils, providing excellent contrasts of textures and flavours, whilst the sauce added richness and depth.
For mains, I chose the lemon sole, which was served on a bed of spinach with a butter sauce. I was very impressed to be offered the option of filleted or whole (I’ve never encountered this choice before – it’s always come either one or t’other in my experience). I went for filleted, and was brought an immensely delicate fish, but with a wonderfully mildly salty taste. It was superbly cooked – just very lightly, leaving the fish tender whilst not at all underdone. To accompany it I chose mashed potato, which was good and creamy albeit possibly slightly too salty.
Mr Marshall-Luck’s steak was also very good indeed – it perhaps did not have the intensity of flavour it might have had, but, on the other hand, it wasn’t at all gamey, as steaks so often are, and was pleasantly lean. The chips were crisp and crunchy but fluffy in the middle – proper chips – clearly cooked in something delicious such as duck fat or beef dripping.
For desserts, the mascarpone tiramisu with cappuccino ice-cream was pleasantly light but with a very intense flavour. Although a seemingly small helping, it was exactly right in terms of “flavour loading” (to adapt a term from acoustic and sonic measurement). The accompanying ice-cream was also excellent: a similar intensity of flavour ensured balance; but the coffee was not at all bitter or dry. The vanilla panacotta with rhubarb was also wonderfully light on a by-now full stomach. The sweetness of the panacotta was admirably balanced by the tartness of the rhubarb, which was, however, so perfectly judged that sweetening was unnecessary.
I was unable to resist a dessert wine with the tiramisu, and was delighted to find an ice-wine on the list. The Pellers Estate wine had a wonderful golden-orange colour, and a nose that was quite citrusy but also had sweetness – quite a complex nose, and with a matching complexity on the palate. There was a wonderful mixture of well-layered flavours – the sweetness of caramel, then the high flavours of Satsuma, with some burnt toffee adding darkness and depth: exquisite. Altogether a very smooth and beautifully balanced wine.
At the end of the meal came good, freshly-made coffee and plate of petit fours – fudge, a pleasantly bitter chocolate truffle, a Florentine, and very light meringue with lemon curd on the top. All very civilised.
The service we also found extremely professional and polite; and we were impressed by the odd touch, such as a waiter assisting my reaching of a glass when I would otherwise have had to lean over the table to reach it – laptop (for this review!) in the way. However, we did occasionally find it slightly difficult to catch a waiter’s eye and there was a bit of a delay between visits to the table (occasionally we were left with empty plates in front of us and empty glasses for too long).
We were overjoyed by the fact that there was no piped music in the restaurant, except some inoffensive Spanish guitar music towards the end of the meal. I was subjected to some rather ghastly popular music in the ladies, whilst my lucky husband experienced Frank Sinatra informing him that he filled his heart with song.
In fact, the only downside of the entire experience was the party of noisy nouveau-riche on the adjacent table, who seemingly delighted in chewing with their mouths open and shouting at each other at volume, in order to inform the rest of the restaurant about their petty lives.
A few weeks prior to this visit, we had tried the Upper Deck restaurant, actually sited inside the Christchurch Harbour Hotel, but had been more disappointed with this experience. Our first impressions had not been particularly positive – a mass of humanity crammed into a rather small space, the most awful “music” booming out offensive beats and waiters carrying trays bearing prawn cocktails that looked as if they had stepped right out of the 1980s.
The restaurant here is divided by a wall with large aperture in it into eating and waiting areas; the palette is grey, brown and off-white – brown wooden tables and flooring; pale grey walls and chairs, off-white ceiling and surrounds. Lighting is by art deco-type chandeliers and industrial-looking metal desk lamps affixed to the walls. Walls are adorned with an eclectic collection of wooden-framed black and white photographs, mainly of old beach scenes, along with the occasional barometer and luggage rack. At the far end is the bar in the same colour scheme: all glass, mirrors, metal and pale grey / off-white wood. French windows with beige curtains look out onto the deck and, beyond, the sea. The room felt rather unnaturally warm, especially given that it was a cold, rainy day.
We were seated after just a short delay. Staff are very friendly but a little on the gawky or gauche side, exemplified by the chef coming up and placing his hand very familiarly on first my shoulder and then later my lower back. On another occasion, when I went to take our wine out of the ice bucket to read the label, it was snatched up by a passing waitress who then hovered, pointedly, whilst the main courses were placed on the table; then the wine glasses were ostentatiously topped up (without asking whether either of us desired such a top-up) accompanied by the statement “I’ll fill the wine glasses, madam”.
Water was brought speedily and menus also, which sported blank pages patterned to resemble the wooden deck of a ship but with no explanation as to why they were blank; one has to persevere with turning these over to reach the wine list. Featured dishes included starters of tiger prawns, goats cheese, salads, scallops, boards and platters (meat, fish or fried fish), and mains which offered good, inventive vegetarian options (braised leeks or wild garlic risotto), a rather delicious-sounding lamb, liver and onions, lots of fish, and more unusual dishes such as monktail fish curry. There was also a good selection of side dishes. The oddness of the menu, however, was exacerbated by the fact that it abounded with hilarious typos and a lack of punctuation. Our favourites – which at least delivered intense amusement value, leaving us clutching our sides in merriment were: “The perfect apertif [sic] for every occasion from our house Champagne to my favourite Billecart-Salmon or evendom [sic] Perignon by the glass………”; and “We are currently working on a wine list befitting of [sic] the menu watch the constant evolution as we add more and more gems this list of contents gives you a sneak preview of whats [sic] to come!”. One hopes that as patrons watch the constant evolution they witness a correction of errors, typos and grammatical mistakes!
The wines were broken down by regions and offered a decent range of different types of wines at reasonable prices (and a particularly good range of wines by the glass) – but no descriptions. We were rather bemused by the appellation “Whites Wines” and slightly disappointed by the not especially grown-up reference to “Pinks and stickies”. I was also a little surprised that, when I ordered the wine by its name, I was immediately asked for the number, showing a lack of familiarity with the wines available. We ordered a Martin Zahn 2011 Gewurztraminer – although we were brought (with no word of explanation or apology) a different vintage. The wine was a pale straw colour and had a nose that was at once floral and spicy. On the palate were minerals, a bite of white pepper, sweetness and richness. The wine itself was very fine indeed, although it was not quite cool enough, despite being served in an ice bucket. The bottle also had its cap screwed back on as soon as our glasses had been poured, throttling the poor wine!
The food was generally good, but a far cry from the superlative fare of The Jetty – an amuse bouche of gazpacho that was served neither hot nor chilled but vaguely coolish was rather watery, whilst my cheese soufflé was a pale imitation of The Jetty’s airy creation: very eggy and quite heavy. My husband’s asparagus tasted fine, but he pronounced his steak rather flavourless (I, however, enjoyed his chips). My lemon sole was a slightly greyish colour and rather salty, but otherwise delicate and fine. It was accompanied by new potatoes, and the fish was topped by crunchy buttery Savoy cabbage that, despite being far more al dente than I’d usually like, was thinly enough shredded and buttery enough to be really rather delicious. For desserts, the tiramisu was covered in a slightly odd sauce that wasn’t part of a traditional recipe and I’m not sure worked. It was also accompanied by a blob of raspberry coulis and a nice shortbread biscuit. Mr M-L wasn’t quite bowled over by his sticky toffee pudding, either, which had a rather rubbery sponge and a toffee sauce that was sadly lacking in luxury.
I had, as so often, decided that the meal wouldn’t be a meal without a dessert wine and so asked the waiter to describe the differences between the two dessert wines on offer. I received the expertly succinct response: “Well, one is sweeter than the other and they come from different parts”. This was not particularly illuminating, as the description of one quite clearly stated that it was Chilean, whilst the Sauternes was obviously French. I went for the latter, which was slightly sharper than I was used to, but otherwise nicely light and with a rather delicious nose.
If you enjoy the hustle and bustle of people, have yearnings for Cunard cruise-style surroundings, or perhaps want a less formal and expensive meal, then the Upper Deck restaurant may be the place for you; if you want the very finest cuisine, with the freshest ingredients, in a meal that is at once refined, elegant and sophisticated, then I cannot recommend The Jetty highly enough. I could only make one suggestion for improving The Jetty, and that would be for a bird spotting document on the table for identification of all the waders and ducks!
Em Marshall-Luck is QR’s food and wine critic